California’s Diversity: Past and Present
Lessons for the Fair Education Act of 2011

Lesson 3: Religious Diversity in California


In this lesson, students focus on one specific facet of California’s diversity: religious diversity. First, they engage in a focus discussion of the meaning of freedom of religion. Then they read a profile of religious diversity in California, focusing on a few examples of the variety of religious expression in the state. Finally, students learn about deliberation as a form of discussion and take part in a deliberation on the issue of whether schools should allow kirpans (symbolic blades sacred to Sikhs) in school as part of religious freedom.


One to two class periods.


Students will be able to:

  • Explain the difference between establishment of religion and free exercise of religion in the First Amendment.
  • Explain reasons for religious diversity in California.
  • Deliberate about a controversial issue of religious freedom on a school campus.
  • Present reasons either for or against a school policy that affects religious freedom.

Compliance With the Fair Education Act

This lesson is designed to comply with requirements under California enate Bill 48 (“SB 48”), signed into law as the Fair Education Act in 2011. The act amended California Education Code Section 51204.5 to read as follows:

Instruction in social sciences shall include the early history of California and a study of the role and contributions of both men and women, Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups, to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.

The act also amended California Education Code Section 60040 to direct governing boards to “include only instructional materials which, in their determination, accurately portray the cultural and racial diversity of our society….”

Common Core State Standards Addressed

SL.8.1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

RH.6-8.1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

RH.6-8.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.

Materials and Preparation


A. Reading and Discussion: Religious Diversity in California

1. Focus Discussion. Ask students: What does it mean to have freedom of religion?

Accept reasoned responses. Look for: Freedom of religion means the freedom to believe what you want and to respect others’ beliefs at the same time. It could also mean the freedom to have faith in something (e.g., a higher power) and to respect others’ faith, even if they are different from your own.

2. Tell students that today they will be reading about freedom of religion in California. Assuming they have already done Lessons 1 and 2 from this series, they will know about cultural diversity in California. Religious diversity is a part of cultural diversity. There are many religions represented in California. There are also those who are non-religious.

3. Distribute Handout A: Religious Diversity in California. Explain that it describes examples of diverse religions in the state and also conflicts that had to be solved in courts of law. The reading should take approximately 10 minutes.

4. After they finish reading, hold a discussion using the For Discussion and Writing questions:

  • What is the difference between the words about “establishment” and the words about “free exercise” in the First Amendment? Why do you think it is necessary to have both?

    The words about “establishment” mean that the government cannot create an official religion. The words about “free exercise” mean that the government cannot interfere with each of our religious beliefs. It is necessary to have both to protect individual rights of citizens from intrusions by the government.

  • What are some of the reasons for religious diversity in California?

    Diverse migrations of people have come to California from Asia, Latin America, Europe, and elsewhere in the United States. People established cultural communities that expressed religious beliefs and practices.

  • Do you think these legal cases described in the reading deal with free exercise or with establishment? Why?
    • Gabrielli v. Knickerbocker.
      Accept reasoned responses. Gabrielli claimed her right to free exercise was infringed.
    • Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery.
      Accept reasoned responses. The Native Americans claimed their right to free exercise was infringed.

5. Tell the students:

Now that we have looked at different examples of religious diversity and conflict, we are going to take a look at one conflict that happened at a school.

B. Activity: Deliberation: Should Knives Ever Be Allowed at School?

1. IMPORTANT NOTE BEFORE BEGINNING: In this deliberation activity, students will learn a little about Sikhism and about kirpans. The kirpan is a bladed instrument and a sacred symbol in the Sikh faith. A Sikh student may be sensitive to having the kirpan referred to as a “knife” or a “weapon.” It may be necessary in your class to remind students beforehand that in this deliberation the kirpan is only referred to as a “knife” because that is what the principal thought it was. No offense is intended. (See Mayled, John. Sikhism. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers, 2002. Print.)

2. Remind students of their Focus Discussion. Ask: What is a discussion?

Look for: A discussion is when a group of people talk and share ideas.

Write the term deliberation on the board. Explain that today students will do a special kind of discussion called deliberation. Explain that a deliberation is a discussion that leads students to make a decision in answering a yes-or-no question. It is not a debate with winners or losers. It is a way for everyone to understand different sides to an issue.

3. Organize the students into groups of four, with each group divided into two pairs.

Deliberation Steps

  1. Learn about the topic.
  2. Form “Yes” and “No” groups.
  3. Share and listen.
  4. Switch.
  5. What do you think?

4. It will be helpful to have the following steps written on a poster or projected large enough for the whole class to see throughout the activity. NOTE: The steps here are a simplified version of “Deliberation Procedures” available at Deliberating in a Democracy in the Americas (

5. Review the steps before starting the deliberation.

1) Learn about the topic.
Students should read the text carefully and underline interesting facts or ideas.

2) Form “Yes” and “No” groups.
Working with a partner, students should discuss the reading and make sure they understand it. Together, each pair will list the reasons to answer the Question for Deliberation either “yes” or “no,” depending on how they were assigned. They will put a check next to their best (most compelling) reasons.

3) Share and listen.
Starting with the Yes Groups, each pair will take turns explaining to the opposing side their best reasons. While the Yes Group speaks, the No Group listens carefully. There is space on the Deliberation Steps Handout Step #4 (“Switch”) to take notes while listening.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Remind students this is not a debate. Therefore, they are not trying to win an argument, but just to understand both sides of an issue.

4) Switch.
Again starting with the Yes Groups, each pair will take turns explaining the best reasons of the opposing side that they heard. This will show that they were listening and understanding.

5) What do you think?
In this step, each group of four tries to reach an agreement. Students may express what they really think the answer to the Question for Deliberation should be, even if it is different from what they were assigned to do before. It is okay if a group cannot reach a final agreement on the answer to the question, as long as everyone in each group has a chance to express their own reasons.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Students may draw from the information in the reading as well as their own prior knowledge to do this step.

6. Follow Steps 1 – 5 above, beginning by distributing Handout B: Should Knives Ever Be Allowed At School? and have students read it (5 minutes). Check for understanding, especially of the Question for Deliberation: Should the principal allow Rajinder to wear his kirpan?

7. Follow the remainder of the steps, giving students about 2 – 3 minutes each to complete Steps 2, 3, and 4.

8. Allow students 5 minutes to complete Step 5.

C. Debrief

1. Debrief the activity. This may be done with students sitting in their groups of four. Another effective way to do this is to have the whole class rearrange their seats into a large circle. Questions to ask:

  • What was the issue that had to be solved at Rajinder Singh’s school? (His last name is pronounced the same as the word “sing.”)

    Rajinder’s religion is Sikhism. One requirement for Sikh males is to carry a symbolic dagger called a “kirpan” with them at all times. Rajinder had a short, round-edged kirpan on campus, but the school policy was: No weapons allowed at school.

  • Did any groups reach an agreement? If so, what was your agreement?

    Accept reasoned responses.

  • Did any groups find it hard to reach agreement? Why or why not?

    Accept reasoned responses.

  • Were there any reasons you heard in your deliberation that sounded particularly persuasive to you?

    Accept reasoned responses.

2. Inform students that this comes from an actual case in California from 1994. The court ruled that Rajinder had the right to wear the kirpan, provided it did not endanger anyone at school. In other cases, school districts have allowed students to wear kirpans to school. One school district insisted that the kirpan be put in its jacket so that it couldn’t be removed. Many kirpans are stitched tightly into closed cases and have dull edges, to show schools that they are only ceremonial blades, not weapons.


The California Three Rs Project co-sponsored by Constitutional Rights Foundation,
California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, and the Religious Freedom Education Project at Newseum

DISCLAIMER: This site is for educational purposes only. Constitutional Rights Foundation and the California Three Rs Project are not legal advocacy organizations and do not
provide legal advice or representation. If you have a particular legal question, CRF encourages you to talk to an attorney or advocacy organization that specializes in religious liberty issues.

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