February 19, 2003


Administration fine-tunes religious rights in public education (Terry Eastland, Feb. 19, 2003, Jewish World Review)
Every so often, news is made that tells a story larger than first appears. That happened earlier this month when the Education Department issued a four-page document titled "Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools."

The document drew restrained interest from the media, probably because half of it was a dry statement of familiar constitutional principles and the other half was an attempt to apply those principles to particular situations. The document looked like the sort of thing that only school administrators and lawyers might read. Yet the guidance is the latest chapter in a story that involves much more than the public schools. [...]

The Bush Education Department's "guidance" builds on the Clinton guidelines. That itself is worth noting, for it is clear there is little difference between the current president and his predecessor on the matter of ensuring religious freedom in the public schools. Indeed, in an interview, a Bush administration attorney who advised on the just-released guidance praised the Clinton guidelines: "They were great. They laid out the rights of students, and they made clear that schools don't have to be religion-free zones."

The Bush guidance is more explicit than the Clinton guidelines about students' free-exercise rights. And it makes clear that teachers also have rights: They may meet with each other for prayer or other religious purposes before school or after lunch – so long as they aren't acting in official capacities. The guidance embraces a basic First Amendment principle: Government speech endorsing religion is forbidden, but private speech endorsing religion is protected.

The Bush guidance isn't merely an exercise in updating the Clinton guidelines. The "No Child Left Behind" law of 2001 actually requires a document from the Education Department on "constitutionally protected prayer" in the schools. Schools are to use the department's guidance to make sure they aren't abridging rights. Indeed, the law imposes on the schools a requirement that they comply with the guidance. A school that fails to do that stands to lose federal funds. As the administration attorney told me, "We didn't have a stick before. We have one now."

There's just all kinds of good stuff in the No Child Left Behind Act, eh? Posted by Orrin Judd at February 19, 2003 3:31 PM

Yeah, the Lord really appreciates those forced prayers, like in Knoxville. Makes him all warm and runny inside.

Match you, Orrin. I give you a dime for every Christian schoolchild ever unconstitutionally prevented from praying, if you give me a penny for every one ever forced to pray to a God he didn't believe in.

Posted by: Harry at February 19, 2003 8:10 PM

They're children, they don't get to decide what they believe in.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2003 8:27 PM


Actually, OJ, they do. Good parents do their best to convey what they believe in to their children. But I can only compel obedience, not belief.

I was going to add another para here, but it would have merely reiterated what Harry said, but less effectively.


Jeff Guinn

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 19, 2003 10:22 PM


So if we take three children and give one to an aborigine, one to a Jesuit and one to Michael Jackson they'll all arrive at their own beliefs in life uninfluenced by their "fathers"? That's silly on its face.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2003 11:25 PM

Maybe the kids don't get to choose -- just yet -- which superstition to embrace, but neither do you for them, Orrin.

Posted by: Harry at February 20, 2003 2:53 PM


Of course we do. That's all education is; adults indoctrinating youths into the things they believe in themselves.

Posted by: oj at February 20, 2003 3:58 PM


You certainly have the right to indoctrinate your own children, but not mine. If our society gives the obligation of moral education to parents, then forced school prayer is an illegal usurpation of that right.

Posted by: Robert D at February 20, 2003 6:47 PM


You said kids don't get to choose what they believe. I said they do--as thinking, independent beings, how could it be any other way?

That doesn't mean parents don't get to influence beliefs; quite the contrary. But their is a world of difference between influence and compulsion. Compelled belief is precisely the same as disbelief.



Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 20, 2003 6:58 PM

What Robert said.

Posted by: Harry at February 21, 2003 12:33 AM


It doesn't. It assumed it for itself when we created public education and made parents pay for it.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2003 9:50 AM


They aren't compelled to believe, which is impossible, but should be compelled to learn and to respect the sources of their culture.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2003 9:51 AM

The interesting thing about Eastland's article is that he portrays this as a conservative victory, but what it is in reality is a total victory for strict separation. If Eastland is correct, then the right has caved in on this struggle. The stick that he is talking about will be used to enforce strict separation. What the ACLU and PFAW have been pushing went beyond strict separation, they were trying to eradicate all public displays of religion, which is not what I believe strict separation is about. It is about the freedom of voluntary religious expression, and government's total neutrality regarding religion.

Posted by: Robert D at February 21, 2003 10:44 AM