Without Fanfare, Lawmakers Kill 'Secular Humanism' Ban
Washington--With no debate on the House or Senate floor, lawmakers have voted to lift the ban on the teaching of "secular humanism" in courses underwritten by federal funds for magnet schools.
The Congress simply dropped the 17-word secular-humanism clause--which was initially included in the magnet-schools amendment to the Education for Economic Security Act of 1984--when it voted last month to extend the act. Lawmakers thus brought to a quiet end one of the more ideologically charged education-policy debates of recent months.
Neither the legislation nor accompanying Education Department regulations defined secular humanism.
Some parents' groups had applauded the prohibition on the grounds that it gave them more control over controversial subjects taught in schools.
But Anthony T. Podesta, president of People for the American Way, the civil-rights advocacy group, had said that the use of the term in federal law, without a clear definition, was "making school districts even more vulnerable to attack" by outside groups.
A group of prominent authors recently filed suit in federal court, charging that the ban is unconstitutional. A lawyer for the authors, Eric M. Lieberman, said last week that he was "not prepared to say whether the case is totally moot" now that Congress has removed the secular-humanism clause.
Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah and chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, drafted the 1984 version of the magnet-schools measure. He reportedly insisted upon the prohibition, and at the time it received little attention.
This year, though, some committee members insisted upon repealing it.
And when the Senate passed the new version in September, Senator Hatch, citing his committee's "bipartisan tradition," noted in particular the extension of the $75-million magnet-schools program because of its "clearly focused purposes: desegregation and quality education."
The House passed the Senate version last week, clearing for the President's signature the bill, HR 1210, which also extended authorization of the National Science Foundation.--jh