Innocuous Enough

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Posted by iraqi pancho from ( on Thursday, April 10, 2003 at 1:48PM :

***Who could argue? Many people, thatīs who...but eventually those of us who donīt favor religion at all will become enemies to the "Christian State".

By BEN FELLER, AP Education Writer

WASHINGTON - Education Secretary Rod Paige's attempt to clarify his views about religion in schools may not satisfy those pushing him to recant his comments and apologize.

AP Photo

In a story run by a religious news service, Paige was quoted as showing a preference for schools that appreciate "the values of the Christian community." He told reporters his expression of personal faith has no bearing on his role as the nation's education chief.

"I don't think I have anything to apologize for," Paige said. "What I'm doing is clarifying my remarks."

Paige reaffirmed his commitment to the separation of church and state. But critics contend Paige, a Baptist, has shown a penchant for favoring religion in the classroom.

"I respect his personal faith. But he tied it to a generalized belief and a preference of Christian values in schools," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "If he meant to say 'character' or 'traditional values,' then that's what he should have said the first time."

Democrats in Congress showed signs they do not plan to let the issue drop. Some of them have asked to meet with Paige.

"Many parents who send their children to public schools can vouch for the fact that one need not attend a religious school — and particularly a school of one certain religion — to be a good American and a good person," said Rep. Nita Lowey (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y.

Paige said his record as a school board member, school superintendent and education secretary proves that he respects religious diversity. He challenged critics to find "any modicum of a situation where there was some imposition of my views on another person."

Paige hastily called a news conference after growing concern about comments first reported by the Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"The reason that Christian schools and Christian universities are growing is a result of a strong value system," Paige was quoted as saying. "In a religious environment the value system is set. That's not the case in a public school, where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values."

Paige said Wednesday that he meant only that schools with broad missions and diverse populations face greater challenges than those with a focused content and message. Communities should decide on values taught in schools, provided they follow the law, he said.

Paige contended that his comments were taken out of context because he was referring to universities and not public elementary and secondary schools. He also said it was proper for the nation's public school leader to express personal views.

"I grew up with my faith," said Paige, a Baptist. "I grew up with who I am."

William Bennett, education secretary under President Reagan and author of "The Book of Virtues," came to Paige's defense.

"He'd prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community. Who's opposed to that?" Bennett said.

Paige oversees a public school system that serves roughly 47 million students and his agency also helps set higher education policy.


-- iraqi pancho
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