Secretary of Education Rod Paige under fire for support of Christian schools
"All things equal," U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige told Baptist Press earlier this week, "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. Where a child is taught that, there is a source of strength greater than themselves."

Well, that's kind of what he said. The Department of Education called a press conference Wednesday to clarify the remarks and to released a partial transcript of the Baptist Press interview.

"Given the choice between private and Christian, uh, or private and public universities, who do you think has the best deal?" Baptist Press reporter Todd Starnes asked.

"That's a judgment, too, that would vary because each of them have real strong points and some of them have vulnerabilities," Paige replied. "But you know, all things being equal, I'd prefer to have a child in a school where there's a strong appreciation for values, the kinds of values that I think are associated with the Christian communities, so that this child can be brought up in an environment that teaches them to have strong faith and to understand that there is a force greater than them personally."

But both statements caused a major backlash, not just against Paige, but against any who would support religious schools.

"One may take from [the comments] that Mr. Paige's personal preference is for Christian schools, which is not a firing offense but is faintly insulting given that he is the nation's lead spokesman for public schools," says a Washington Post editorial. "Or one may see it as an encouragement to public school teachers to mimic Christian values and teach children to have a strong faith, which is also odd given that the Supreme Court frowns on the practice."

Most reactors interpret the comments with the latter understanding.

"This is the Taliban approach to education," said U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.). "Zero diversity. Only their religious values. Tolerate no others because they are 'heathens.'" Ackerman, along with 11 other members of Congress, sent a letter to Paige saying, "If you are unprepared to make clear that this sort of religious bigotry has no place in the Department of Education, then we would urge you to resign."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass), also wrote a public letter to Paige. "By expressing your preference for schools that teach the values of a single faith, you send an unacceptable signal that some families and children are favored over others because of their faith," wrote the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

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Newspapers were no kinder. The New York Times said Paige's comments were "an appalling gaffe that cries out for condemnation. Paige's statements reinforce suspicions that the administration is in sympathy with the religious right's drive to undermine the public school system in favor of a voucher-financed nationwide network of religious schools."

But as Paige made clear, his comments weren't about public K-12 schools, but about higher education. No matter, says the Times. "They were too destructive to be waved off with a clarification. The secretary of education needs either to do some fast fence-mending or step down." (Pay no attention to reality! We're outraged!)

"I don't doubt that the secretary's quote is a sincere expression of his religious beliefs, but it troubles me just the same," writes Jarvis DeBerry in the New Orleans Time-Picayune. "My folks would not have been happy had a Muslim secretary of education longed for public schools that teach Islam. So I'd be a hypocrite to say Secretary Paige's words are okay, just because he's a Baptist like me."

The Jackson Sun said Paige's remarks are "an insult to teachers and students in the nation's public schools. Paige should apologize. He also deserves a reprimand from the Bush administration. … Public schools cannot become purveyors of Christianity as he espouses."

But wait, Paige didn't say that they should be. In fact, quite the opposite.

"I understand completely and respect the separation of church and state," he said at Wednesday's press conference. Starnes had asked for his personal views on "how I would deal with issues," he said. "This has no connection to how I perform my duties as secretary of education." He added that he wasn't encouraging parents or students to choose private schools over public ones.

Asked if he would apologize the remarks, Paige replied, "I don't think I have anything to apologize for. What I am doing is clarifying my remarks. I think anybody who fairly reads those remarks or hears the clarification would agree with that, assuming they have no other agenda." He also challenged his critics to show "any modicum of a situation where there was some imposition of my views on another person."

Others came to Paige's defense.

"It's an innocent statement by a decent and honorable man that was taken out of context," Rep. John A. Boehner (R- Oh.), the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, told Education Week.

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"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?" William Bennett remarked to the Associated Press.

Southern Baptist Convention spokesman William Merrell said the criticisms levied against Paige were merely "anti-Christian drivel."

But if they were just drivel, why were they so strong and widespread? A statement by the American Civil Liberties Union is instructive on this point. In this dispute, the ACLU is actually far more moderate than Paige's critics. ACLU legislative Terry Schroeder told the San Francisco Chronicle that the group wasn't all that concerned about Paige's remarks, but "takes issue with guidelines on prayer in school that Paige recently sent out to schools across the country."

Others seem to want to paint Paige as a religious bigot as an effort to stifle religious freedoms. "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," says The New York Times editorial. "Routine statements of belief in pluralism sound hollow coming from public servants who make a habit of wearing a particular faith on their sleeves."

In other words, in the view of the Times and other critics, if you're religious, you're not allowed to talk about religion.

In related news
By the way, credit the Anti-Defamation League with actually listening to Paige—eventually.

"We do not share his view that public schools should be teaching children to have 'a strong faith' or values 'of the Christian community," ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said in a press release Wednesday.

But after Paige's press conference, the group issued another press release, saying it "welcomed Secretary of Education Rod Paige's efforts to clarify his remarks about the role of faith in public education, and his statement that he understands and respects the separation of church and state."

And also related …
The controversy over Paige's remarks isn't the only place where Christian schools are taking it on the chin. In the current issue of Theory and Research in Education, the University of London's Michael Hand lays out an argument for the abolition of religious schools. Here's his summary:

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1. Faith schools teach for belief in religious propositions.
2. No religious proposition is known to be true.
3a. Teaching for belief in not-known-to-be-true propositions is, when successful, indoctrinatory, except where teachers are perceived to be intellectual authorities on those propositions.
3b. Teachers in faith schools are not perceived to be intellectual authorities on religious propositions.
4. faith schools are, when successful, indoctrinatory.
… Whatever else may or may not be wrong with them, faith schools, insofar as they succeed in their religious mission, are indoctrinatory. And, since the religious mission of faith schools is precisely what distinguishes them from common schools, this is an argument not for the reform of faith schools, but for their abolition.

The full article is available online.

Postal Service: Go ahead and send Bibles to the Mideast
With the threat of a lawsuit looming, United States Postal Service Vice President Azeezaly Jaffer explained to reporters that postal regulations don't bar Americans from sending religious materials to overseas military personnel.

"The regulation is intended for mass mailings, but there is nothing precluding a family member from sending a Bible or Torah or Quran or whatever the case may be to a soldier that is stationed there," he told the Associated Press.

The Pentagon agreed, saying the regulations apply to mass mailings that will be confiscated by Islamic nations, and does not apply to personal mail.

The Rutherford Institute sued anyway.

More articles

Faith-based initiative:


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CCM and Dove Awards:

War with Iraq:

  • Conflict of religions | We neglect the underlying religious issues in the war and terrorism at our peril (Gene Edward Veith, World)

  • Morality, religion and an illegitimate war | Victory in itself will not establish legitimacy (Konrad Raiser, International Herald Tribune)

  • Church leaders' anti-war message fails in the pews | Religious conservatives see this split as evidence that a sometimes quiet majority of regular churchgoers —even in moderate to liberal denominations—tilt right on many major political issues (Newhouse News Service)

  • Hosanna time? | By sheer coincidence a secular and a religious event are about to reach their crescendo—the war in Iraq and Lent (Uwe Siemon-Netto, UPI)

  • How can this be a just war? | American Christians don't have the luxury of ignoring the question of whether America should have attacked Iraq (John J. Dwyer, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)

  • Prayer in wartime | While many theologians say the nature of prayer is not a matter of God choosing one side or the other, that fails to dissuade believers (Associated Press)

  • Judson official answering call | It wasn't just Uncle Sam that Air National Guard reservist Brady Johnson heard calling. It was God, too (Daily Herald, Chicago suburbs)

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Aid and relief in Iraq:

Science and the Bible:

  • Scientist defends account of exodus | Colin J. Humphreys of Cambridge University also says that Mount Sinai, where Scripture says Moses received God's Law, is located in Saudi Arabia, not Egypt's Sinai Peninsula (Associated Press)

  • Tel Rehov excavations near Beit She'an support biblical account of David and Solomon | The findings, reached through carbon dating by scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, have particular significance to the running debate among archeologists about the authenticity of the biblical account of the two kings, and the period and extent of their reign (The Jerusalem Post)

  • Theorists debate God's existence at Veritas Forum | Students crammed into the aisles to hear William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith, co-authors of Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology, debate whether or not God's existence was a necessary prerequisite for the universe to begin (The Harvard Crimson)

Church and state:

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Politics and law:

  • Political leaders can no longer ignore religion | Despite recent attention to how religion shapes politics in America, we still don't take religion seriously in international affairs (Paul Marshall, The Dallas Morning News)

  • Democrats block vote on Bush court nominee | Democrats contend Priscilla R. Owen is a judicial "activist" who has let her antiabortion and pro-business views influence her decisions (The Washington Post)

  • No license for life | Last month Virginia's Gov. Mark Warner vetoed parental notification and partial-birth abortion bills. He also vetoed a bill that would allow Virginians to express their pro-life sentiment with their license plates (Chris Jolma, The Washington Times)

  • Attack on judicial nominee leads Senate panel to delay vote | The attacks from Democrats on an Arkansas lawyer who has been nominated to the federal bench centered on his writings on sexual equality, religion and abortion (The New York Times)

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Religious freedom and persecution:

  • Amnesty: Vietnam going after religious dissidents | In a report, the London-based human rights group focused on charges brought against the niece and nephews of Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest sentenced to 15 years in jail in October 2001 for advocating religious freedom (Associated Press)

  • Also: Socialist Republic of Viet Nam | The espionage case against the nephews and niece of Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly (Amnesty International report, PDF)

  • Gujarat religion bill gets Governor's nod | The controversial Gujarat Freedom of Religion Bill has finally received the nod of the Governor, Sunder Singh Bhandari, who signed the bill and sent it to the State Government "as it is" (The Hindu, India)

  • Accused tells of missionary killing | Daya Patra says he saw Dara Singh setting fire to the vehicle in which the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his sons were sleeping (, Australia)

  • Democratic Action Party: Lift ban on Iban Bible | ""Many Ibans are Christians and they are entitled to have their Bible in their own language," says Indonesian political group leader (Malaysiakini, Malaysia)

  • Haiti officially sanctions voodoo | Practitioners can begin performing ceremonies from baptisms to marriages with legal authority (Associated Press)

End times speculation:

  • Time of the signs | Do similarities between world events and the Scriptures point to Judgment Day? (The Sacramento [Calif.] Bee)

  • Apocalypse now | Some Christians think that Iraq is the start of something big (Orlando Weekly)

Clergy sex abuse:

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Church life:

  • New medical privacy law may make hospital visits harder for clergy | Lawmakers probably did not anticipate a disruption of the clergy-parishioner relationship, but that's what happens when the federal government unleashes a one-size-fits-all beast into every hospital, every nursing home, every doctor's office, every aspect of health careEric Ernst, Sarasota [Fla.] Herald-Tribune)

  • Priests suspended for blessing brothels and sex shops | A TV documentary showed them receiving thongs and sex toys in return for giving their blessings (Ananova)

  • Is it worth giving these up for 40 days? | Lent finishes next week. Abstinence may be good for your soul but will it do your body any good? (The Guardian, London)

  • Fewer priests have to make do on a wing and a prayer | Overqualified, overworked, underpaid and under threat of extinction: Catholic clergy are in a parlous state (The Sydney Morning Herald)

  • Piety pays, but not very much | The belief that God will provide is stretched to the heavens in the Catholic Church: the attrition rate of its clergy is higher than other religions and they are the lowest paid and most overworked (The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

  • AIDS crisis: a job for churches? | From within the faith community, a call for Christians to do more to help Africa cope (The Christian Science Monitor)

  • Laws that restrict Sunday activities still hanging on | Christian tradition of focusing Sunday activities on worship, family fading (St. Petersburg Times)

  • Prayer wall needs more support | Nearly four dozen people from Winchester, Frederick and Clarke counties have signed up for an hour apiece, hoping their round-the-clock efforts will bring comfort to the community (The Winchester [Va.] Star)

  • Ohio Presbyterian minister put on trial | A closed trial was held Tuesday by Presbyterian Church (USA) leaders for Stephen Van Kuiken, who has acknowledged marrying same-sex couples in defiance of church doctrine (Associated Press)

  • Anglican miracle | The Church of England has got its act together, and the recently fashionable Roman Catholic Church is looking increasingly sad (Damian Thompson, The Spectator, U.K.)

Books and writing:


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  • Churches alter rituals over fears about virus | Bread, yes. Wine, er, maybe not. A nod will do for the Kiss of Peace. And just wave at the minister as you go out the door; no offence taken if you don't shake hands. (The Globe & Mail, Toronto)


Other religions and interfaith relations:

Film, television, and pop culture:

  • Dangerous distractions | Entertainment industry seduces Christians away from God (Nancy Lowry, New Castle [Penn.] News)

  • 'Superstar' has staying power even after 30 years | Three decades after Jesus Christ Superstar first became a hit, it's striking how shrewd and savvy the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber interpretation of the New Testament remains (The Baltimore Sun)

  • Bonhoeffer explores life of German theologian | The autobiographical documentary "Bonhoeffer" is going to be most meaningful for viewers who have at least a general familiarity with the German theologian. Others are going to feel like they've walked in on the middle of a story. (The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.)

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Missions and ministry:

Other stories of interest:

  • Satan is back | Two-thirds of Americans believe in the devil today, the highest level since 1950 (Evansville [Ind.] Courier & Press)

  • Obituary: The Rev EV Hill | The Rev EV Hill was in the grand US tradition of mesmerising black preachers, but with one exception: Hill was a right-winger who once described the American Civil Liberties Union as "satanic" (The Guardian, London)

  • Religion news in brief | Court supports faith-based halfway house aid, Panel investigates Father Damien miracle, and other stories (Associated Press)

  • Thousands scuffle for Vatican collector's coins (Reuters)

  • The irrepressible Archbishop Pius Ncube | Why is Pius Ncube such a controversial figure, reviled by the government and its propaganda machinery? (Editorial, Financial Gazette, Harare, Zimbabwe)

Related Elsewhere

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