stories from teachers on addressing religious questions in the public school classroom

Hi, I am teaching 7th and 8th graders at a rural school and am just wondering how other teachers handle questions of religion coming up in the classroom.  My students are from an immigrant community that is strongly religious (Christian) and I have been asked point blank by 4 different students, "Do you believe in God?"  They are just naturally curious and have a hard time imagining lives different than theirs, so it is not offensive but I worry about how to be honest about my beliefs without getting myself into trouble.  Also, I have no desire to change their beliefs but I am teaching science this year and it leads to awkward questions about the origins of life and the universe (made all the more awkward because they are ESL and don't have a lot of the vocabulary for a nuanced discussion!)

Anyway, just curious as to your experiences.  I usually deflect by turning questions about a Christian belief by turning it into a discussion of hey, there are lots of other religions that believe very different things - bringing up the Hindus-won't-eat-cow-meat is usually more fascinating than any other questions they may have about my personal beliefs!

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Hmm, this is a difficult topic that I have been struggling with. I also teach science and have been asked point blank if I believe in god as well, though I do not have the ESL issue. From what I can tell, the legal standpoint would be that you can say what your beliefs are as long as you are not preaching those beliefs to students. When I am asked I unabashedly state that I do not believe, because I think it is important for the students to know that their are other options out there and that it is ok to question. I generally tell students who press me further, and I become uncomfortable saying more, that I read the bible and made my own decisions based on that. I also try to say something along the lines of, I have no problem with people believing different things than I do, so long as they know why the believe them and have thoroughly questioned their own beliefs, blindly believing something I do not respect. This way I tell them I am ok with their beliefs while at the same time encouraging them to question and not be indoctrinated and hope they will come closer to free thinking. I hope this helps, sorry for rambling.

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