Memo To Secretary Paige

Keep Church And State Separate

Newspapers around the country ran editorials in April expressing concern over Education Secretary Rod Paige's 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.

"Their diversity is considered a virtue. If public schools teach any value, it should be that. "

The Baltimore Sun, April 10

No Monopoly On Values

"One of Paige's defenders is former Secretary of Education William Bennett. 'Christian values,' Bennett said, referred to 'people who believe in helping your neighbor, visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked. Where's the beef here?'

"The beef is that the values Bennett cites are common to most religions as well as to most Americans who follow their own creed. Christianity has no monopoly on these values.

"Paige's personal preference that children be instructed in the faith might have been less controversial. He and other officials of President Bush's administration could be more demonstrative in their respect for the beliefs of non-Christians and nonbelievers. If officials are going to tout Christianity, they might at least raise healing the sick, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked on the administration's priority list."

Houston Chronicle, April 10

Muddying Necessary Distinctions

"Paige has as much right as any American to espouse his personal faith and the importance of embracing a strong set of religious values in our homes to achieve a 'much calmer, compassionate society.' He did so in the interview.

"However, when Paige speaks on education, he speaks as head of a department that shapes and oversees national policies that affect students, many of whom may have equally strong convictions about the efficacy of their own value systems, religious or not.

"Paige's comments muddy distinctions that should be maintained between public and religious schools, in a society that values the right to observe or to be free from religious training. That freedom permits those who so desire to set up or attend religious schools. Homes and churches are free to provide grounding in religious faith.

"A school does not have to be Christian to value tolerance or compassion or honesty and fairness. Paige's comments fan fears his department's concern is to steer public education along specifically Christian lines. In a diverse society, that is a disturbing approach."

Akron Beacon Journal, April 14