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Secretary of Education Disparages Religious Diversity in Public Schools

In a surprising interview with the Baptist Press, Secretary of Education Roderick Paige stated that he strongly supported Christian religious values in schools. According to the interview, Paige said, “The reason that Christian schools and Christian universities are growing is a result of a strong value system. 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 also said, “All things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith,” according to the Baptist Press.

As Secretary of Education, Paige is responsible for the oversight of the entire nation’s public school system, which must conform to the Constitutional requirement of “separation of church and state.” He is also is in charge of the implementation of the “No Child Left Behind Act,” the Bush administration’s education program. The No Child Left Behind Act emphasizes the use of vouchers to move children from public schools to private ones, which are often religious.

In a press statement, the executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Rev. Barry W. Lynn, said that Paige’s statements “amount to government promotion of Christianity and an attack on religious pluralism in the public schools.” “Secretary Paige’s comments are outrageous and offensive,” said Lynn. “Our public schools serve children from varied religious backgrounds. As our nation’s top educator, Dr. Paige should celebrate religious diversity, not denigrate it.”

Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union representing 1.3 million teachers, criticized Paige’s comments as well. “Secretary Paige is right about one thing,” Feldman said, according to the Washington Post. “Our public schools are filled with, as he said, many different kinds of kids with different values. But it is insulting for the secretary–who should be the advocate for the over 50 million children in our public schools–to say their diversity somehow compromises those schools. Nothing could be further from the truth. That is precisely what makes our public schools great.”

Sources:

Baptist Press 4/7/03; Washington Post 4/9/03; Americans United for the Separation of Church and State