The subjective, largely speculative & controversial nature of law can make addressing this essay question particularly challenging. Moreover, the term “religious symbols” is ambiguous. To alleviate this, it shall henceforth be defined as “representations in any form that hold significance to a particular faith or belief system by conveying a certain aspect of the said religion." While some may advocate for a ban on the display of religious symbols in schools, I hold the opinion that such prohibition should not be enforced for reasons which I explore throughout this essay.
Firstly, the freedom of religious expression is a fundamental human right that’s exercised as an absolute right in many countries - one that cannot be interfered with by the state. This indicates that banning the display of religious symbols in schools as the absolute right is being constricted. This constriction can lead to the affected parties (students, teachers, and other employees) being unable to feel comfortable or confident in their own culture and religion. This not only diminishes their faith from a religious standpoint but also lowers their potential and contribution toward the school in fear of intolerance. This can reduce overall well-being and morale, effectively lowering the quality of human capital of both active and potential workers in the economy. Ultimately, this could harm society and its economic condition as a whole.
Additionally, the “absolute” nature of the right indicates that its establishment and practice would likely only allow for leniency in exceptional/extenuating circumstances, for example, disruption of the education process. This disruption can take multiple forms, with the main one being conflict.
The prominent display and exposure of various religious symbols can trigger conflict among students, teachers, or staff, through disagreement or disdain of different cultural or religious backgrounds. This can lead to tension between peers and educators in the school and can harm the school environment, making it hostile and isolating. This erodes many of the values that should be/are expected to be upheld in schools, making the main priority of learning more uninspiring and laborious. Thus, striking a balance between safeguarding this fundamental right and managing disruptions is essential to ensure that schools remain inclusive and conducive to learning.
Secondly, some symbols hold significance beyond their religious connotations, proving to be historically and culturally relevant as well. For instance, classical Indian dance forms like Bharatanatyam and Odissi often incorporate religious themes through the depiction of ardent devotion, but they also serve as a means to preserving India’s cultural heritage. Banning the expression and display of these art forms by restricting students the ability to perform or recognize them can deprive them of valuable cultural education. It is also important to acknowledge that schools are not solely a place of learning, but also environments with exposure to a wide range of people, encompassing diverse perspectives and cultures. Allowing the display of religious symbols, in every sense of the term, can foster cross-cultural understanding and appreciation. This promotes tolerance and inclusivity and cultivates students to be open-minded individuals - a skill that will aid them immensely in the real world.
Moreover, the display of religious symbols in schools can open up opportunities for critical thinking and stimulate thought-provoking discussions and debates. When students encounter unfamiliar religious symbols they may naturally seek to understand its meaning, significance, and other contextual references. This curiosity can give way to vital conversations about interactions within a community and can foster intellectual growth, which is essentially what a school aims to accomplish.
However, the ban could eliminate religious coercion. This is because in certain instances, especially in an environment like schools where the student body is vulnerable, easily swayed and not fully capable of making independent decisions, the display of religious symbols can be used as a means of pressuring or promoting a particular faith - usually, over other beliefs. Students or teachers might feel compelled to conform to the prevailing religious norms, especially through peer pressure or fear of being outcast. This can infringe upon their own beliefs.
Ultimately, while it is important for educational institutions to maintain a secular nature and prioritize learning over religious practice/advocacy, banning religious expression overall constricts cultural and personal beliefs as well, which can overstep boundaries and prevent optimal potential and co-existence of students, teachers, and other staff. Therefore, schools adopting a non-restrictive mehtod that accepts and respects a diverse range of religious is the most legally favorable outcome.