Memo to Secretary Paige: Keep Church and State Separate

Article excerpt

Newspapers around the country ran editorials in April expressing concern over Education Secretary Rod Paige comments about religion in public schools. Here is a sampling.

Mend Fences Or Step Down

"The secretary of education needs either to do some fast fence-mending or step down....

"Dr. Paige insists that he is a strict observer of the separation of church and state. But too many in the administration seem more interested in fostering a divisive competition between church and state at taxpayers' expense through proposals to bolster, with public subsidies, religion's role in prisons, housing construction and other sensitive areas. Routine statements of belief in pluralism sound hollow coming from public servants who make a habit of wearing a particular faith on their sleeves."

--The New York Times, April 11

Thoughtless And Insensitive

"Paige's strong support of publicly funded vouchers for religious schools also colors public interpretation of his remarks. Members of religious minorities are vocal about keeping public schools separate from religious belief because once religion enters the public forum, the dominant religious belief becomes ascendant....

"As a private person and a Baptist, Paige is entitled to believe that a Christian environment would work best for him personally. He should, however, understand that his public remarks are inevitably going to be taken as a reflection of his desired public policy. They showed, at best, a lack of thoughtfulness and sensitivity that he has yet to acknowledge."

--Los Angeles Times, April 11

School Diversity Is A Virtue

"[W]hen Mr. Paige's comments are read in the context of the heavily religious tone of the Bush administration--with its crusades for school vouchers and faith-based initiatives--public school officials groan in unison. They are tired of being caught in the crossfire of political battles over school prayer, and fear he might start another one.

"If Secretary Paige studied up a bit, he might understand his job better.

"He could research the separation of church and state, and learn why the Founding Fathers thought this principle was so important they enshrined it in the First Amendment.

"From a visit to some of the schools he oversees, he might also discover those 'so many different kids' in public schools, regardless of their religious or nonreligious traditions, actually share many values. …