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Guide to Religious Holidays Is Issued to Public Schools

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Washington--A coalition of major religious and education groups last week released a brochure designed to help public schools chart a course among the legal and ethical shoals posed by the celebration of religious holidays.

"Religious Holidays in the Public Schools: Questions and Answers" offers guidance on how such events should be handled in the curriculum, emphasizing the difference between teaching about the holidays and celebrating them.

"The approach we take is academic, not devotional," said Oliver Thomas of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, one of 16 religious and educational groups endorsing the document.

"There should be no hidden curriculum," he stressed at a news conference here, "either through silence about religious holidays or through school-sponsored religious celebrations."

Problems in December

Several religious leaders at the press conference said the most challenging time for school officials is in December, with the cultural influence of the Christmas season.

"The time to be jolly is often a difficult time for Jews and other non-Christians," noted Stephen Kurzman of the American Jewish Committee.

The brochure suggests that educators devise holiday programs that serve an educational purpose for all students.

"Holiday concerts in December may appropriately include music related to Christmas and Hanukkah, but religious music should not dominate,'' the brochure says.

Organizations who participated in developing the guides include: the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, Americans United Research Foundation, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

The Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, the Christian Legal Society, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., the National Council on Religion in Public Education, the National Council for the Social Studies, the National Education Association, and the National School Boards Association were also among the groups contributing.

This is the second time that many of the groups have worked together to develop a statement on religion in the public schools. Last year, a similar brochure, "Religion in the Public School Curriculum: Questions and Answers," was released. (See Education Week, June 8, 1988.)

Copies of the new document are available from the Americans United Research Foundation, 900 Silver Spring Ave., Silver Spring, Md. 20910.

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