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You recently reported that a Washington State appeals court will not allow a group of Renton, Wash., high-school students to meet in the school before classes begin to pray and discuss religious works ("Appellate Court Rejects Students' Bid To Hold Religious Meetings at School," Feb. 1, 1989).

The court's ruling in this case--and its appeal to the First Amendment's establishment clause--heightens the wall between religion and state, as the following facts illustrate.

First, the students sought to meet before the formal commencement of the school day.

Second, public-school faculty would not have been involved in the activities of the group.

Third, formal propagation of religious doctrine was not involved.

Fourth, the students would have met voluntarily.

Thus, all constitutional tests, as enumerated in McCollum v. Board of Education, were satisfied. The students' proposal did not require real support or sanction on the part of the school or the state.

At stake was the right of the students to meet in voluntary, private prayer and conversation. They were prohibited from meeting solely because of the content of their discussion--a clear violation of free-speech rights.

Censoring speech on the basis of content is justifiable only when that speech tends to or does create some danger or evil--which the government, in consideration of the public good, has a duty to avoid.

Not by any stretch of the imagination can private religious discussion and prayer be considered evil or dangerous for the public.

The courts would do well to re-read the words of former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas in the Zorach v. Clauson decision: "[W]e find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious education."

They should also remember that there are two religious clauses in the First Amendment: One forbids the making of law respecting the establishment of religion; the other forbids any law that might inhibit religion's free exercise.

The appellate court is in danger of violating the second clause.

Edmund B. Miller Senior Staff Writer Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights Milwaukee, Wis.


To the Editor:

Business Executives Have 'Little To Offer Education'

I read with some dismay your recent article highlighting the visit of John Sculley, chief executive officer of Apple Computer Inc.,4with President Bush ("'Fireside Chat': President, Apple Chief Talk Schools,'' Feb. 1, 1989).

Again and again, the lead in education is mistakenly placed in the hands of well-meaning business "chiefs" who have little to offer education.

In this case, you quote an Apple vice president who suggests that it is "natural" for Mr. Sculley to advise President Bush on education because of Apple's "special style toward working and learning."

A recent article in The Washington Post points out that perhaps this "special style" is not so special after all. Rapid growth and organizational changes within Apple, according to the Post, threaten to "devastate Apple's corporate culture."

Apple is a business, and its chief, along with the other business heads currently clamoring for educational reform, is the leader of a for-profit, privately held corporation--not much like public education.

Often overlooked in the current romance between business and education is the fact that businesses are purposefully undemocratic institutions.

But to a large extent, difficulties in schools are the consequence of "doing business" in a democracy: Schools must welcome everyone and must struggle to provide all who attend with equal opportunities.

They can't fix themselves as businesses can by streamlining, merging, and reorganizing overnight.

Perhaps corporate chiefs such as Mr. Sculley could learn a few things from schools about persistence in the face of adversity.

Ray Grosshans Churchville, N.Y.

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