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NYT’s slightly aimless story on religion in public schools

December 28, 2011

The NYT is taking the temperature of the prayer in school issue. How bad is it, doc? Well….

The story lists several recent incidents — some of them pretty outrageous — of Christian preaching in public schools. It also quotes Christian conservatives who claim the secular liberals are trying to rob students and teachers of their right to free speech, but it’s clearly slanted toward exposing the problem with religion. The examples of school-sponsored proselytizing are given top billing and presented more as facts rather than quotes/opinions of activists. The cases where schools have overreached in quashing religious expression are not listed by the writer.

(For what it’s worth, I’m on the secular side of this debate, BUT I think it’s important to look critically at the presentation of the information. And there is a lot of useful information here. Everybody, especially high school and college students, should know this stuff — the history of religion in American public schools, the landmark decisions on school prayer, the continued litigation and debates and the way the media covers the issue today.)

OK, down from my soap box. My main problem with this story is its lack of focus. Why are we reading this now? What’s new or different? I thought paragraph might hold the key:

Despite such disputes, legal religious expression is more present in schools now than it has been for decades, said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington who advises school districts and helped develop teacher guidelines that are consistent with the law.

But a) I’m not sure what “legal religious expression is more present” means (how do you measure that? How does this guy know this?) and b) we never hear from Haynes again.

Like I said, there’s some useful information on an extremely important topic. But a clearer focus, more balance and depth would help.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jack Wirtz permalink
    December 29, 2011 3:26 pm

    Amen, from a disciple of Christ.

    The First Amendment.
    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establish-
    ment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
    or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or
    the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to
    petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    Public schools are exactly that_ public, paid for by taxes
    on the public, whether of any or no faith; as such it is
    unconstitutional for the Public School system to initiate,
    organize and supervise any form of religious activity.

    But, the same Amendment that prohibits government
    from establishing a religion demands the government
    protect “the free exercise thereof;” and prevents it from
    “abridging the freedom of speech” or “the right of the
    people peaceably to assemble.”

    Unfortunately for the Nation, Congress has abrogated its
    responsibilities to the Judicial so they can point the finger
    away from themselves; wherein the application of the 1st
    Amendment has rested on the skill of the attorneys and
    the character of the Judges.

    And hence the multiple rulings on both pre- and after-
    school activities and student organizations; and,
    you name it, as the limitless law suits from both sides
    attest.

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