The Utah 3Rs Project fosters an understanding of religious liberty, religious literacy and civil dialogue through the First Amendment principles: rights, responsibility, and respect. Our civic learning programs teach that everyone has rights, everyone has the responsibility to protect the rights of others, and everyone has the duty to respectfully contribute to civic discourse. The project promotes the public’s understanding of the religion clauses in the U.S. Constitution and their relationship to public schools. We equip teachers and parents to prepare Utah students to apply the 3Rs to their citizenship in a modern pluralistic society, empowering them to wrestle productively with our deepest differences.

Rights ∙ Responsibility ∙ Respect

Every person has rights. Everyone has the responsibility to protect the rights of others.

And every American citizen has a duty to respectfully contribute to civic discourse.

The Key to Living With Our Deepest Differences

The religion clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are the boldest and most successful part of the entire American experiment. They protect the individual ways we act on our consciences. They guarantee the state will not require any particular expression of faith or penalize someone for their choice not to believe. They protect what it means to be fully human and the essence of what it means to be an American. 

How can we be fully human while respecting the rights of others to express their humanity in different ways?  The answer lies in the fundamental principles embedded in the religion clauses of the Constitution.  These principles provide the guidance for societies to exist together in harmony despite their strikingly different ways of living.  While the religion clauses of the First Amendment are the most integral, they are also among the most difficult to navigate. If we can master the principles behind them, then our command of the other First Amendment freedoms, namely, press, speech, petition and assembly, will follow.

Teachers play a crucial role in preparing young Americans to be good citizens who understand that correctly applying the principles of religious liberty is the key to finding common ground with our neighbors despite our deepest differences with them.  They are charged with transmitting these principles to the next generation while instilling them with an unwavering commitment to democratic values.

The responsibility of teachers to help our youth internalize the principles of the First Amendment cannot be understated.  They are pivotal in helping students understand their rights, feel a responsibility to protect the rights of others and engage respectfully in civic discourse. The fidelity with which they teach these principles in their classrooms will determine the future vitality and strength of American democracy.

Utah's Living Legacy

Dr. Charles C. Haynes, founder of the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute, and Dr. Oliver “Buzz” Thomas, the legal architect of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and former head of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, trained public school teachers and administrators about the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Their efforts, as captured in the landmark book, Finding Common Ground: A First Amendment Guide to Religion and Public Schools, sparked a movement to create “3Rs” projects in various states, including Utah.

These projects were based on the premise that every person has rights, everyone has the responsibility to protect the rights of others, and to respectfully contribute to civic discourse. The 3Rs framework inspired leaders throughout the country to create constitutional-friendly curricula for use in public schools to teach two fundamental civic competencies: religious literacy and legal literacy.

Utah was one of those early states that adopted this approach in their public schools. In the last decade this effort waned because key leaders retired. Yet, the demand remains high. 

Now is the time for its revival.

A Vision Renewed

The Utah 3Rs Project promotes understanding of:

  • Religious liberty, the freedom to believe or not believe, as an inalienable right of every person.
  • The religion clauses of the First Amendment as the guides for living with our deepest differences as a society.
  • The responsibilities of every citizen to protect the freedom of religion or beliefs of others.
  • Religious diversity in American society as a civic good.

The project fosters legal literacy and religious literacy to prepare citizens to fully engage in American society in a productive wrestle with our deepest differences.

Four Civic Approaches

The Utah 3Rs project invites leaders to engage students and families in a conversation about the civic competency of religious literacy. The program will also expose teachers to national educational standards for the academic study of religion. To achieve these goals in a constitutionally-sound way, we will apply the following four civic approaches:

Approach 1. Apply Consensus Statement

The Utah 3Rs Project applies a consensus statement endorsed by twenty-one national education, civil liberties and religious groups disseminated by the U.S. Department of Education in 2000 to every public school in the country. We have amended this consensus statement by replacing the term “the school” with “The Utah 3Rs Project,” as follows:

▸ The Utah 3Rs approach to religion is academic, not devotional;

▸ The Utah 3Rs Project strives for student awareness of religions, but does not press for student acceptance of any religion;

▸ The Utah 3Rs Project sponsors the study about religion, not the practice of religion;

▸ The Utah 3Rs Project may expose students to a diversity of religious views, but may not impose any particular view;

▸ The Utah 3Rs Project educates about all religions, it does not promote or denigrate any religion;

▸ The Utah 3Rs Project informs the students about religious beliefs, it does not seek to conform students to any particular belief.

Approach 2. Apply the 3Rs of Religious Liberty

We will also emphasize “The 3Rs of Religious Liberty” as articulated in the Williamsburg Charter, which was signed by 100 national leaders on June 22, 1988, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Virginia’s call for a Bill of Rights. The 3Rs illustrate that everyone has rights and that everyone has the responsibility to respectfully protect the rights of others.

Rights: Religious freedom, liberty of conscience, is a precious, fundamental, and inalienable right for people of all religions and none.

Responsibility: Central to the notion of the common good, and of greater importance each day because of the increase of pluralism, is the recognition that religious freedom is a universal right joined to a universal duty to respect that right for others. Rights are best guarded and responsibilities best exercised when each person and group guards for all others those rights they wish guarded for themselves.

Respect: Conflict and debate are vital to democracy. Yet if controversies about religion and public life are to reflect the highest wisdom of the First Amendment and advance the best interests of the disputants and the nation, then how we debate, and not only what we debate, is critical.

Approach 3. Apply the Four Premises of Religious Literacy

Professor Diane L. Moore,  director of the Harvard Religious Literacy Project, articulates four basic assertions about religions and the study of religion. These help us counter problematic misperceptions about the academic study of religions while creating a useful method for inquiry.

▸​​ First, there is a difference between the devotional study of religion to encourage religious commitment and the nonsectarian study that seeks to understand religion without promoting or discouraging adherence to it. This premise affirms the credibility of particular religious assertions without equating them with absolute truths about the traditions themselves.

▸​​ Second, religions are internally diverse and not uniform as is commonly represented. Scholars recognize that religious communities are living entities that function in different social/political contexts.

▸​​ Third, religions evolve and change through time and are not static or fixed. Religious expressions and beliefs must be studied in social and historical context as they are constantly interpreted and reinterpreted by adherents.

▸​​ ​Fourth, religious influences are embedded in cultures and not separable from other forms of human expression.

Approach 4. Apply the 3Bs of Religious Identity Formation

The Utah 3Rs Project recognizes that individuals and communities construct their religious identities in complex ways. Special advisor to the Foundation for Religious Literacy, Benjamin P. Marcus, notes that studying “religious identity development” requires recognition of the historical, political, geographic, and economic factors that shape the beliefs people hold, the behaviors they exhibit, and their membership within multiple intersecting communities.

Put simply, beliefs, behaviors, and the experiences of belonging to communities—including but not restricted to only religious communities—shape and are shaped by one another.

Beliefs and values include theological, doctrinal, scriptural, and ethical evaluative claims about daily life as much as those about a transcendent reality or experiences of the divine.

Behaviors include practices associated with rites, rituals, and life both inside and outside of strictly religious settings.

▸ Experiences of belonging include membership in religious communities and other social communities with intersecting racial, national, ethnic, familial, gender, class, and other identities.

Summary of Approaches

In summary, we apply four civic approaches in designing and implementing the Utah 3Rs program.


First, we draw upon national consensus statements to promote the academic study about religion, not the practice of religion.


Second, we apply the 3Rs of Religious Liberty to emphasize that everyone has rights and that everyone has the responsibility to respectfully protect the rights of others.


Third, we apply academic methodologies to the study of religion—teaching that religions are internally diverse, they change over time, and are embedded in all aspects of culture.


And finally, the curriculum will apply age-appropriate ways to study the complex ways people form religious identities, with different emphasis on beliefs, behaviors, and experiences of belonging.

Guiding Principles

The Utah 3Rs Project draws upon the following statement of principles as articulated in the chapter, “Religious Liberty, Public Education, and the Future of American Democracy” in the landmark book, Finding Common Ground: A First Amendment Guide to Religion and Public Schools by Charles C. Haynes and Oliver Thomas.

I. Religious Liberty for All

Religious liberty is an inalienable right of every person.

As Americans, we all share the responsibility to guard that right for every citizen. The Constitution of the United States, with its Bill of Rights, provides a civic framework of rights and responsibilities that enables Americans to work together for the common good in public education.

II. The Meaning of Citizenship

Citizenship in a diverse society means living with our deepest differences and committing ourselves to work for public policies that are in the best interest of all individuals, families, communities and our nation.

The framers of our Constitution referred to this concept of moral responsibility as a civic virtue.

III. Public Schools Belong to All Citizens

Public schools must model the democratic process and constitutional principles in the development of policies and curricula.


Policy decisions by officials or governing bodies should be made only after appropriate involvement of those affected by the decision and with due consideration for the rights of those holding dissenting views.


IV. Religious Liberty and Public Schools

Public schools may not inculcate nor inhibit religion. They must be places where religion and religious conviction are treated with fairness and respect.


Public schools uphold the First Amendment when they protect the religious liberty rights of students of all faiths or none. Schools demonstrate fairness when they ensure that the curriculum includes study about religion, where appropriate, as an important part of a complete education.


V. The Relationship between Parents and Schools

Parents are recognized as having the primary responsibility for the upbringing of their children, including education.

Parents who send their children to public schools delegate to public school educators some of the responsibility for their children’s education. In so doing, parents acknowledge the crucial role of educators without abdicating their parental duty. Parents may also choose not to send their children to public schools to have their children educated at home or attend private schools. However, private citizens, including business leaders and others, also have the right to expect public education to give students tools for living in a productive democratic society. All citizens must have a shared commitment to offer students the best possible education. Parents have a special responsibility to participate in the activity of their children’s schools. Children and schools benefit greatly when parents and educators work closely together to shape school policies and practices to ensure that public education supports the societal values of their community without undermining family values and convictions.

VI. Conduct of Public Disputes

Civil debate, the cornerstone of a true democracy, is vital to the success of any effort to improve and reform America’s public schools.

Personal attacks, name-calling, ridicule and similar tactics destroy the fabric of our society and undermine the education mission of our schools. Even then, our differences are deep, all parties engaged in public disputes should treat one another with civility and respect and should strive to be accurate and fair. Through constructive dialogue, we have much we can learn from one another.

This Statement of Principles is not an attempt to ignore or minimize differences that are important and abiding, but rather a reaffirmation of what we share as American citizens across our differences. Democratic citizenship does not require a compromise of our deepest convictions.

C3 Framework National Council for the Social Studies

In 2014, the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) reaffirmed its longstanding position that study about religions should be an essential part of the social studies curriculum in ways that are constitutionally and academically sound. In 2017, the organization adopted a supplement for the College, Career and Civic (C3) Framework (p. 92-93) that includes guidelines for religion in public schools.

NCSS emphasized that knowledge about religions is not only a characteristic of an educated person but is necessary for effective and engaged citizenship in an interconnected and diverse nation and world. It recommended that state departments of education work to ensure inclusion of study about religions, including the role of religion in history and society, in all social studies programs. Teachers teaching such courses should have appropriate professional training in the academic study of religion in order to facilitate meaningful, constitutional classroom dialogue grounded in content knowledge. NCSS affirmed that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides the civic framework for achieving these goals.

In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state sponsored devotional practices are unconstitutional in public schools. At the same time, the Court made clear that the study of religion—as distinguished from religious indoctrination—is an important part of a “complete education.” Justice Tom Clark wrote for the Court: “[I]t might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religions or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization.” Building upon the Supreme Court’s guidance, NCSS joined with sixteen leading educational, religious, and civil liberties groups in 1988 to reaffirm that the study of religion is essential to understanding both the nation and the world.

Additionally, in the year 2000, NCSS joined twenty-one national organizations, and the U.S. Department of Education to publish consensus guidelines about the constitutionality of religion in public schools. These were disseminated to every public school in the United States and state:

  • The school’s approach to religion is academic, not devotional.
  • The school strives for student awareness of religions, but does not press for student acceptance of any religion.
  • The school sponsors study about religion, not the practice of religion.
  • The school may expose students to a diversity of religious views, but may not impose any particular view.
  • The school educates about all religions; it does not promote or denigrate religion.
  • The school informs the students about various beliefs; it does not seek to conform students to any particular belief.