Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
Gerald Carlson ("'Secular Intolerance' Seen Prompting State Regulation of Fundamentalist Schools," Letters, Aug. 5, 1987) imagines that there is a humanist "fox" guarding the public-school "chicken coop.'' The "foxes" guarding our public schools are the tens of thousands of parents and taxpayers who make up our local school boards, aided by the nine foxes on the U.S. Supreme Court, who have occasionally had to remind local policymakers of the applicability of the Bill of Rights.
Is public-school pluralism an "elusive myth"? Hardly. Our public schools are composed of a bewildering diversity of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and board members of every conceivable religion, political persuasion, and ideology. Curricula generally respect and reflect this diversity. This de facto diversity contributes enormously to keeping our schools reasonably neutral regarding religion.
Do public schools promote "secularism"? No, if by "secularism" is meant the promotion of the idea that religion is not important or that it is to be despised. Our country's pluralism and the federal and state constitutions do require, however, that the schools be "secular,'' which is to say religiously neutral. Neutrality is a far cry from hostility.
Many humanist values--such as a belief in democratic processes, appreciation for science and reason, respect for civil liberties--are found in our society and schools, but they are properly shared by the vast majority of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and other Americans. Those concepts that are uniquely humanist (for example, a wholly naturalistic view of the universe and a belief in the finality of death) are not and should not be taught in public schools.
It goes without saying that students may study about all religions in properly structured academic classes.
Finally, if our society "is becoming increasingly hostile to religion," that hostility is not directed toward religion in general but toward the activities and proclamations of certain televangelists and extremists.
Reasonable public regulation of private schools, which does not interfere with their religious mission, is analogous to public regulation of private hospitals, school buses, day-care centers, physicians, dentists, and automobiles.
Americans for Religious Liberty
Silver Spring, Md.