Adolescents in Religious Systems
One of the most important developments in adolescence is the development of a conscience, which can be viewed as the complex of ethical and moral principles that guides individuals’ actions and thoughts. When it comes to adolescents, the legal system essentially has ignored the importance of their consciences. It generally leaves matters of conscience to families and parents charged with guiding their development. But, the legal system still addresses matters relating to adolescents’ conscience through the “first freedoms” of speech, religion, and assembly. This chapter focuses on religious freedom, as adolescents’ rights relating to religion are those that come closest to directly addressing their conscience. While those rights may not necessarily relate to what typically is viewed as “religious rights” in the sense of being attached to formal religions, they do address the critical issues relating to the ability to think about fundamental moral values that would guide one’s actions, who can influence the development of those beliefs, and the government’s role in shaping that socialization. The cases in this chapter focus on two contexts. The first involves social services supported by the government that can lead to supporting religious beliefs at the exclusion of others. The second addresses the government’s role in supporting prayers in public schools. These cases reveal how popular visions of the government’s role in shaping the development of religious beliefs fall apart when laws are implemented. The cases again raise the importance of considering the roles of parents and communities in shaping adolescents’ rights. At their core, the cases provide a sense of who controls socializing institutions that can highly influence the development of people’s sense of self and their general orientation toward others.