Religious education is always a sensitive subject, especially when it comes to public schools. Yet religion has played an important part in the history of the world - both western and eastern. The flap comes when one tries to teach about it, and the relevant belief sets, but not indoctrinate the student.
Government (school) promotion of religion is bad. It's not their place, and it's against the US Constitution. Yet the government also can't escape the obligation to teach history, including religious history, in a fair, unbiased manner. The trouble is, most schools don't know how.
I'm a pagan, over 40, who's been to college. I realize that isn't the demographic of "Middle America", but it does give me a better understanding of the issue.
I was raised Christian. When I was young, I thought nothing of the "God" stuff all over the place- it was part of my expected aculturation. But I did squirm at overt "Jesus" stuff - what about my Jewish friends? Weren't they being left on the fringe? Now it's even more pluralistic, and the members of the "dominant" faith need to get it in their gut that they no longer are the "sole" creed in the public eye.
The dividing line between teaching about religion, versus religious instruction, or indoctrination, is the real problem - no one seems to know where it is. This to me is stupid.
Teaching about mythology (and "ancient" religions) is good. Many of those myths and beliefs shaped our current culture - from the Egyptian deities, to the Jewish Exodus, to the Greek, Roman, Celtic and Norse histories, to Christianity, with it's schisms and changes, to Islam, Bahai, and multitudes of others. To gloss over, or whitewash, any of these as irrelevant is to leave the student with a blind spot. Human history is littered with man's inhumanity to man, often with religion as an excuse.
What gets some folks irritated (and I don't blame them) is having kids "act out" various ancient rituals, as though those beliefs are dead, and thus no longer valid, or due any respect. Yes, having kids perform ancient plays is one thing - but rituals aren't plays. Pretending to do offerings to Diana is offensive - not only to those who don't worship her, but to those who do! Performing rituals as a class project on "dead" religions is very offensive to those for whom those beliefs aren't dead. Basically, performing acts of worship without belief is sacrilege - regardless of what religion it is!
As a pagan, I don't want a bunch of kids performing the rituals of my religion (or it's antecedents) as some sort of "class project" for points or "extra credit". Yeah, have them write about it, or even observe a ritual. But don't tell them to play "High Priest of Apollo" unless that really is their religion and status - or the "priest" is just a character in a play with a plot.
Now, when it comes to reproducing art that has a religious nature - the line is this: Would you ask a Hindu kid to sing, draw, sculpt or play an item from Christianity (like spirituals and Christmas hyms)? If you would, then don't whine about Christian kids being asked to sing, draw, sculpt, or play something from Hinduism, or Egyptian mythology.
There is no harm in reproducing an ancient amulet of protection, or god statue, as long as it is not represented as being something the student should believe in - only that the people in history believed in it, and that some people today do as well. After all, I can make a cross, even though I don't believe in Christianity, and it will not suddenly make me a Christian. I'd give or sell it to a Christian, so they could use it in their religious practice, but it wouldn't change what I believed.
Asking a child to profess a faith in an educational setting is wrong. But drawing and sculpture don't do that. Poetry, song and role playing can, and should be carefully evaluated on that basis. If a poem, song or role activity is an outright profession of faith, then it doesn't belong in school!