Who Agreed on What??!?!?

By Wayne Jacobsen

It’s unbelievable that People for the American Way and the Christian Coalition would agree on anything, especially the role of religion in public education. But that’s what they’ve done.

And they weren’t alone. Look at some of the other organizations who shared in this Statement of Principles regarding religious liberty and public education:

  • AASA
  • American Center for Law and Justice
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
  • Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
  • Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Christian Educators Association International
  • Christian Legal Society
  • National Association of Evangelicals
  • National Education Association
  • National Association of School Principals.

The principles they articulated can be a valuable tool both for school districts engaged in religious controversies and those seeking to avoid them. Their statement offers enough common ground to disarm tensions and provide a foundation to develop school policy. This is critical, for if we are going to successfully navigate the current conflict, we need to let our common convictions drive the debate, not our differences:

I. Religious Liberty for all – As Americans we all share a responsibility to guard that right for every citizen (and) work together for the common good in public education.

II. The Meaning of Citizenship – Citizenship in a diverse society means living with our deepest differences and committing ourselves to work for public policies that are in the best interest of all individuals, families, communities and our nation.

III. Public Schools Belong to All Citizens – Public schools must model the democratic process and constitutional principles in the development of policies and curricula.

IV. Religious Liberty and Public Schools – Public schools may not inculcate nor inhibit religion. They must be places where religion and religious conviction are treated with fairness and respect.

V. The Relationship Between Parents and Schools – Parents are recognized as having primary responsibility for the upbringing of their children, including education.

VI. Conduct of Public Disputes – Civil debate, the cornerstone of a true democracy, is vital to the success of any effort to improve and reform America’s public schools. Personal attacks, name-calling, ridicule and similar tactics destroy the fabric of our society and undermine the educational mission of our schools.

The document ends with this invitation: “This Statement of Principles is not an attempt to ignore or minimize our differences that are important and abiding, but rather a reaffirmation of what we share as American citizens across our differences. Democratic citizenship does not require a compromise of our deepest convictions.

“We invite all men and women of good will to join us in affirming these principles and putting them into action. The time has come for us to work together for academic excellence, fairness, and shared civic values in our nation’s schools.”

Amen… er… I mean… Right on! Over the last twenty years mistakes made by zealous people on both sides of this issue have only exacerbated the conflict. Used correctly, this Statement of Principles can help you build a platform in your district to disarm these tensions and help people work together.

This platform will provide two important benefits. First, it will allow us to share our common commitment to public education and get about the task of cooperating in those areas where there is overwhelming agreement. Secondly, it will allow us the environment to discuss our deepest differences in an environment of mutual respect and civility that seeks the best solution for all.

If your district can use some help establishing this platform, and calming the fears that many religious parents have today, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. That’s why we’re here.

If you would like a copy of this document, you can obtain one by requesting the Statement of Principles from The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center ¥1207 18th Avenue South • Nashville, Tennessee 37212. (615) 321-9588

© Copyright 1996 by BridgeBuilders

Permission is hereby granted to anyone wishing to make copies for free distribution
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