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Parents in South Dakota Protest Secular Humanism

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Administrators of a southwestern South Dakota school system, acting on the advice of the state attorney general's office, have rejected the "laundry list" of demands of a group of parents who sought to shelter their children from school activities they found objectionable on moral and religious grounds.

According to Arnold A. Wold, superintendent of the Meade School District, the three children in question are still attending their local elementary school and have not withdrawn from any courses. Their parents, whom Mr. Wold described as fundamentalist Christians, have not indicated whether they intend to pursue the matter any further.

The superintendent said that in mid-July two sets of parents, whom he declined to identify, presented him with identical photocopied documents demanding that the school cease subjecting their children to sex education and the theory of evolution unless it can be balanced by the creationist viewpoint.

Parents Hold School Responsible

The document also raised parental objections to "attitude change and development," "intropersonal questioning," "introspective examination of social and cultural aspects of family life," "situation ethics," and "the undermining of Christianity including school curricula that contain blasphemy and/or profanity."

The parents said they would hold school administrators legally responsible for any "emotional, physical, or mental" damage caused by the removal of their children from classes to meet the requirements. They said it would be up to the school to remove all objectionable activities from the curriculum.

Thomas Harmon, an assistant state attorney general, said the parents mistakenly based their claim on a section of a U.S. Su6preme Court decision in a case named Abington v. Schempp.

In that case, the Court forbade Bible reading and prayer in public schools because they constituted establishment of religion by the state. The Court also held that allowing a child to be absent from class during religious activities was not a sufficient remedy.

In mid-August Mr. Harmon advised school officials in the Meade district that the parents' objection to the option of removing their children from "immoral" courses was not supported by current laws because the school was not promoting any religious viewpoints.

Mr. Harmon also noted that many of the items deemed objectionable by the parents are beyond the power of school systems to monitor. "For example," he said, "how can you determine whether a child is undergoing 'attitude change or development' or whether a child is involving himself in 'introspective examination' without some type of machine that could monitor a child's thoughts."

Several parents' groups across the country, such as the Moral Majority and the Parents of Minnesota, claim that the presence of activities such as those mentioned in the South Dakota document constitute the adoption of "secular humanism" as an unofficial state religion. In that context, they say, application of the Supreme Court rules laid out in the Schempp case would be valid.

The Meade district seems to be the only area in South Dakota where the letter has surfaced, but Mr. Harmon says, "I wouldn't be sup-rised if more of these come across my desk."

Both he and Mr. Wold said they have not been able to identify the original source of the document presented to the school district. However, a reference in the document to "SLBP teachers," a job description that does not exist in South Dakota, led both of them to believe that it was drafted and circulated in another state, they said.

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