April 16, 2003


Religious Instruction From Secretary Paige (Richard Cohen, April 15, 2003, Washington Post)
"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," he said recently in an interview that appeared in the Baptist Press.


My "huh?" comes from the ambiguity of the statement. It is not clear whether this secretary of education -- this secretary of public education -- is saying that he prefers kids to be in Christian schools, in which case he is in the wrong job, or that the public schools ought to teach Christian values, in which case he is also in the wrong job. What is clear -- about the only thing, really -- is that Paige has totally blurred the line between personal belief and education policy. [...]

He talked about his own religious beliefs and how they should be inculcated in the curriculum. So when he mentioned "strong faith" as something that should be taught, he was talking about teaching religion -- not teaching about religion, which is fine and worthwhile, but inculcating religious belief, which is forbidden by the Constitution and for good reason.

The "faith" that Paige wants to be taught is clearly the Christian one. That might be fine for the 84 percent of the population that is Christian. But Jews (2 percent) might quibble and so might the growing number of Muslims, 5 million to 7 million people, according to the latest estimates. But the strongest objection might come from the 10 percent of the population that follows no religion at all. Should they be taught "faith," as if to straighten them out? [...]

The Founding Fathers knew what they were doing. The European experience, with its state religions and concomitant homicides in the name of the True Faith, was fresh to them. We have a civic faith in this country, and that is faith in our public institutions, the confidence that, no matter what our religion, these institutions belong to all of us. This is the faith that Paige does not seem to appreciate.

Maybe Paige misspoke. Maybe his tongue wandered off while his mind was distracted. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

But if he truly believes what he told the Baptist Press, then he is not fit to be secretary of education. He ought to explain or he ought to resign and, for once, he ought to be clear about it.

The Founding Fathers will, in all likelihood, be relieved to hear that Mr. Cophen says they knew what they were doing. However, Mr. Cohen may be distressed to hear that they weren't doing what he thinks they were doing. Here, for instance, are a just a few of their utterances and actions as regards religion's vital role in education:
Posted by Orrin Judd at April 16, 2003 8:26 AM

Of course, as Ben
pointed out, the speech was about colleges
, not secondary education and below.

Which just means Cohen can't read, any more than he can study history.

Posted by: Chris at April 16, 2003 9:31 AM


One could fill a moderately sized volume with similar quotes from most of the founders as well as the colonial and then state legislatures. The importance of the colonial pastors and their sermons in relation to the growing crisis as well as the role of the spiritual motivation of the individual revolutionary soldier would fill another. In other words,the importance of God or "providence" in the formation of the "zeitgeist "before and after the revolution.

Where do the Richard Cohens and the rest get the idea that simply because the U.S. was formed with the idea that certain Christian sects (Judaism as well, because of its obvious historical relation to Christianity) were not to be favored over others and there would be no national church,that the national governments role is the promotion of an irreligious outlook?

The need to overlook history and the contemporary adoption of a type of humanism that has "intellectualism" and "sophistication" written all over it can only be supported by ignoring the facts.

The founders understood, as the Richard Cohens simply refuse to understand, that the religious intolerance of old Europe was not the fault of the believers, but the fault of government attachment to SPECIFIC SECTS.

The current "liberal" view on the role of religious based virtue and morality in the founding of the republic is based on the beliefs of the ACLU and People for the American way, not the views of the 18th century American revolutionaries.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at April 16, 2003 9:50 AM

"But a short time elapsed after the death of the great reformer of the Jewish religion, before his principles were departed from by those who professed to be his special servants, and perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, and aggrandizing their oppressors in Church and State."

-- Thomas Jefferson

Posted by: mike earl at April 16, 2003 11:13 AM

How, pray tell, is Government supposed to be in the business of teaching specific religious values without attaching to specific sects?

What is wrong with public education imbuing respect for private property rights, the rule of law, reciprocity attendant with individual freedom etc (the preceding may, sadly, be a hypothetical), and leaving the religious instruction to the Churches so many Americans already attend?

Which means the 10% or so of us who seem to live quite happily without it can continue to do so.

Posted by: Regards, Jeff Guinn at April 16, 2003 11:21 AM


I'm sure I've seen this quote of Jefferson's before but I can't place it. Probably from correspondence of some kind? Can you cite the context? Thanks

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at April 16, 2003 11:23 AM

The source (a quote listing on the internet) stated it was from a letter to S. Kercheval in 1810.

(Google is your friend.)

I read it on the Internet, so it must be true! It's not too surprising from Jefferson, though...

Posted by: mike earl at April 16, 2003 11:30 AM


Where does the idea of "unalienable rights"

come from. The concept of rights inherent in man from a source other than the state? On what basis,in other words,are the rule of law,property rights and reciprocity, values worthy of protection by the state? Why not the omnipotence of the state as the embodiment of the "general will".

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at April 16, 2003 11:35 AM

Jeff G - those are all great ideas. Unfortunately, things like "Queering the Schools"
then rear their ugly head.

Public education today is not just morality-neutral, it is active radicalism paid for by us, and I and millions of others do not
like it. When recruiting for homosexual groups is actively encourged in public schools, but military recruiters are not even allowed into the schools, something is really, really wrong. I have three kids, two of them not even in school yet. I have no intention of exposing my kids to idiocy like this. How many people do?

So yes in theory we could leave morality to the churches, but then who is going to clean up inappropriate political exploitation like this, that has even less
justification for being in a public school? It's not just a coincidence that the home schooling movement is growing so fast today.

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at April 16, 2003 12:33 PM


There is no such thing as moral neutrality. To turn morality into an abstraction turns right and wrong into abstractions,(in fact it transforms humanity into an abstraction). Human beings are faced with choices everyday, if the basis for our decisions is purely utilitarian self-interest, divorced from any moral absolutes, then all is permitted. One belief is as valid as another. I think everyone can see where this leads.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at April 16, 2003 12:59 PM

Tom - were you talking to me or the other Jeff? Two different people, two different viewpoints on this issue.

Either way, while I basically agree with you Tom, I wouldn't say there is "no such thing as moral neutrality" -- algebra is pretty neutral, morally speaking. English is, or should be. Science is, to a point.

There is plenty of room in the education world to practice a morality-neutral curriculum, and a good case can be made that it is the preferred method. My point was that even those, like Jeff G above, who value this approach aren't getting anything close to it, even now; so the whole argument for it and against religion in classrooms is obviated. Barn door open, horse gone.

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at April 16, 2003 3:13 PM

It seems no one caught my tongue in cheek reference. What obviously should be--civics classes that focus on the things I listed, instead of what too many do.

It is entirely possible to teach those things without reference to any religion. Why? Because, at the assertions in the Declaration of Independence are presented axiomatically--the presence or absence of some Creator doesn't affect their truth value.

Rather, their truth value is wholly in how well they work. Universal entitlement to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is true simply because it works far better than anything else yet tried. After all, if it didn't we wouldn't be having this discussion right now.

Why appeal to some transcendental being of extremely debatable nature when overwhelming historical evidence is at hand?

Posted by: Regards, Jeff Guinn at April 16, 2003 4:02 PM

Jeff B.--

Sorry about that. Of course, I agree with you. Mathematics and science are morally neutral. The "value-neutral" approach of much of the educational establishment cannot be neutral however, since it is simply an exercise in equivocation, with all points of view being equal. What kind of scientists and mathematicians will come out of such an education is the question.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at April 16, 2003 4:13 PM

Besides, I didn't say anything about moral neutrality--continually maintaining that Life, liberty, etc are unequivocally, universally good is not morally neutral.

And it doesn't require risking entanglement with sects to make the point--a question no one seems to have addressed.

Posted by: Regards, Jeff Guinn at April 16, 2003 4:23 PM

Jeff G.- I did miss your tongue in cheek reference. A couple of points: The mention of a creator is very important in the declaration. Without it your rights are dependent on King George rather then you humanity,as a creature of God.Secondly, to assume that the rights you speak about have value because they work, well, you can imagine the problems. Thirdly, there is no need to refer to any religion or sect, only the values of a world view formed within certain religious values.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at April 16, 2003 4:32 PM


That's the whole point, is absent a Creator the only basis for rights is the State, which makes them illusory.

Posted by: oj at April 16, 2003 4:46 PM

Note that the constitution, read strictly, doesn't prohibit religious education by non-Federal government bodies.

Though, frankly, I would rather the government ignore religion than socalize it.

Posted by: mike earl at April 16, 2003 5:06 PM

If we're going to teach facts in schools, and

we are also going to present religion, then

Paige is going to be presented with some

mighty uncomfortable information.

Of course, he has no intention of letting the

kids in on the facts, and very few Americans

know about them. The history of churches

in America is very, very far from the swell

story that pj and Orrin like to create.

I wouldn't mind making a book like Commager's

"Age of Reform" being a text: an almost

balanced roundup of the good that the do-gooders

did and the bad that the do-badders did.

How bad? Well, in Cincinnati, the Protestants

burned 3,500 women and children alive for

being Catholic. I bet Paige, the Baptist, is

not counting on that getting out.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 16, 2003 6:23 PM


We teach kids about slavery, slaughter of the Indians, internment of the Japanese, Jim Crow, etc.--they can withstand a little knoweledge of Knownothingism.

Posted by: oj at April 16, 2003 10:29 PM

The notion of a Creator in the Declaration is unnecessary. The three freedoms are presented axiomatically
. They are entering arguments that you either agree with, or not. They also carry with them obligations--reciprocity prime among them--regardless of whether you perceive of the Creator as a Hairy Thunderer, Cosmic Muffin, or something else altogether.

If, tomorrow, Steven Hawking was to prove conclusively, and to everyone's satisfaction, that there is no such thing as a Creator would we all collectively decide: "Well, that's it then. Declaration, Constitution, into the bin with you."?

Somehow, I don't think so.

Posted by: Regards, Jeff Guinn at April 17, 2003 7:49 AM


Somehow you're just not getting it. That's what Europe has decided and they asre not only surrendering freedom but are effectively shredding their constitutions for membership in an asutocratic EU whose "constitution" is being written by Giscard d'Estaing. In Europe within a few years your only rights will be those determined by bureaucrats in Brussels. Is that your idea of freedom? An all powerful State with little accountability? Well, that's where the loss of the idea that rights precede the State ends you up.

Posted by: oj at April 17, 2003 8:03 AM


I do get it. The Declaration's assertions have a truth value utterly distinct from "on account of the Creator says so."

The Europeans may well be marching down the path you describe, with the effects you predict. (I do agree with you as far as that goes; I don't think religious belief, or lack thereof has anything particular to do with it. There are a host of other potential causes that are at least as plausible)

In which case the contrast between the US and Europe will become even more distinct than now, and it won't be to the European's credit.

Which will prove--in an evolutionary fitness way--that the Declaration's hypothesis as to what constitutes the best organizing principles for a society are better then the EU's. Which will put the EU in roughly the same dung pile as Communism, Islamism, Socialism, Feudalism ad nauseum.

I don't need to invoke a Creator to see what works and choose to defend it. What is more, asserting the Declaration's principles in that light means you don't have to overcome the resistance of those who don't necessarily buy in to a particular Creator notion.

BTW, where did you ever get the idea that what the EU is doing consitutes my idea of freedom?

Posted by: Regards, Jeff Guinn at April 17, 2003 11:55 AM


Being a New Yorker of Irish descent, violence stemming from religious bigotry has never come as a surprise to me or my co-religionists. Does that mean protestants are evil as a class? Of course not. It seems that the only ones surprised by mans inhumanity to man are agnostics or atheists. What does that tell you?

When you say that very few Americans are aware of human strife because of religion (or race or economic class or whatever) you are plainly incorrect.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at April 17, 2003 12:21 PM

Maybe they could withstand a little knowledge

of Knownothingis, Orrin, but the churches will

not stand for them getting it. Paige is not

suggesting an accurate presentation of the

history of churches.

A couple of days ago, someone (you, I think)

said something about the fundamental role

of the preachers in the Revolution. I let it pass,

but most Americans were unchuched in 1776.

That doesn't mean I'm saying religion has

only a little role in, say, the Revolution, only

that most people do not know anything about

how their ancestors did, or, more often,

didn't, worship.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 17, 2003 2:40 PM

Jeff G.-- I don't want to beat a dead horse here but you've made a couple of points that I've got to comment on:

1) "The three freedoms are mentioned axiomatically". Correct. Something else is mentioned axiomatically as well, "All men are created equal... and endowed by their creator.." The three freedoms follow this axiom.

2)No one is phrasing the issue by saying,"because the creator said so", simply by saying that rights of humanity are not grants of kings or states but of natures God.

3) Just as the universe is not a human design, human nature itself is not a human design. The desire for justice and liberty present in the human heart is thus a law of nature and worthy of respect.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at April 17, 2003 3:11 PM


I may be at risk of proving there is no cat so flat you can't run over it one more time, but:

I am guilty of typing faster than I was thinking--you are quite correct, "all men are created equal" is also axiomatic and indispensable to the other three. But equally, invoking a creator is simply unecessary, because the truth value of the assertion is independent of a creator's existence or nature.

My point all along is that the bases of our society are good in and of themselves. The historical evidence of this is so overwhelming that only the analytically challenged could descend to moral relativism. Therefore, schools don't have to risk sectarian entanglement to teach the axioms' value.

Posted by: Regards, Jeff Guinn at April 18, 2003 8:19 AM