Schools Shown How to Work with Religious Groups

Article excerpt

President Clinton yesterday announced new federal guidelines for participation by religious organizations in the public schools.

"Finding the proper place for faith in our schools is a complex and emotional matter for many Americans. But I have never believed the Constitution required our schools to be religion-free zones, or that our children must check their faith at the schoolhouse door," Mr. Clinton said in his weekly radio address.

"Today I'm announcing the release of expanded guidelines . . . [that] will help teachers better understand how to teach about religions and help faith-based organizations join the effort to improve public education," the president said.

The new guidelines, which are being sent to every public school in the country, show teachers how to include religion in schools and stay within the Constitution.

But not everyone is convinced of the guidelines' significance, since they come with a list of restrictions requiring that any partnerships between church groups and schools have a secular purpose. The restrictions require teachers and schools to make sure all activities provided by a religious organization are "purely secular."

"It's encouraging that the administration is moving this way, but religion . . . with a bunch of restrictions on it is not religion," said Pamela D. Pryor, executive director of the House Republican Conference.

The new guidelines also say schools that form partnerships with religious organizations must:

* Remain neutral in dealing with religious and secular groups and among religious groups.

* Select student participants without regard to their religious affiliations.

* Make sure that space used for teaching is free of religious symbols.

* Make sure that students are not rewarded or punished based on their willingness to participate in an activity involving a religious organization.

"When you depersonalize religion so much - by taking away all the symbols - you make religion nothing more than an academic subject," said Miss Pryor. …