For The Record

September 19, 1984 6 min read

Following are excerpts from remarks made by Pope John Paul II to Roman Catholic educators on Sept. 12 at the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Newfoundland. (See related story on Page 1.)

All men and women and all children have a right to education. Closely linked to this right to education is the right of parents, of families to choose according to their own convictions the kind of education and the model of school which they wish for their children. Related as well is the no less sacred right of religious freedom.

In a society such as Canada’s, people’s freedom to associate and enter into certain groups or institutional endeavors with the aim of fulfilling their expectations according to their own values is a fundamental democratic right. This right implies that parents have a real possibility to choose, without undue financial burdens placed upon them, appropriate schools and educational systems for their children.

Society is called to provide for and support with public funding those types of schools that correspond to the deepest aspirations of its citizens. The role of the modern state is to respond to these expectations within the limits of the common good. A state thereby promotes harmony, and, in a pluralistic situation such as Canada, this effectively fosters respect for the wide diversity of this land. To ignore this diversity and the legitimate claims of the people within various groups would be to deny a fundamental right to parents.

Governments have the responsibility, therefore, to ensure the freedom of ecclesial communions to have appropriate educational services with all that such a freedom implies: teacher training, buildings, research funding, adequate financing, and so forth.

In a pluralistic society it is surely a challenge to provide all citizens with satisfactory educational services. In dealing with this complex challenge, one must not ignore the centrality of God in the believers’ outlook on life. A totally secular school system would not be a way of meeting this challenge. We cannot leave God at the schoolhouse door.

The following is an excerpt from an Aug. 24 speech by President Reagan at an ecumenical prayer breakfast during the Republican National Convention in Dallas.

I believe that faith and religion play a critical role in the political life of our nation and always has. ...

But in the 1960’s this began to change. We began to make great steps toward secularizing our nation and removing religion from its honored place. In 1962, the Supreme Court, in the New York prayer case, banned the compulsory saying of prayers. In 1963, the Court banned the reading of the Bible in our public schools.

From that point on, the courts pushed the meaning of the ruling ever outward so that now our children are not allowed voluntary prayer. We even had to pass a law, we passed a special law in the Congress just a few weeks ago to allow student prayer groups the same access to the schoolrooms after classes that a young Marxist society, for example, would already enjoy with no opposition.

The 1962 decision opened the way to a flood of similar suits. Once religion had been made vulnerable, a series of assaults were made in one court after another. Cases were started to argue against tax-exempt status for churches. Suits were brought to abolish the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and to remove “In God We Trust” from our public documents and from our currency.

Today, there are those who are fighting to make sure voluntary prayer is not returned to the classrooms. And the frustrating thing for the great majority of Americans who support and understand the special importance of religion in the national life, the frustrating thing is that those who are attacking religion claim they are doing it in the name of tolerance, freedom, and openmindedness.

Question: Isn’t the real truth that they are intolerant of religion?

They refuse to tolerate its importance in our lives.

If all the children of our country studied together all of the many religions in our country, wouldn’t they learn greater tolerance of each other’s beliefs?

If children prayed together, would they not understand what they have in common and would this not indeed bring them closer and is this not to be desired?

So I submit to you that those who claim to be fighting for tolerance on this issue may not be tolerant at all.

The following remarks were made by the President before an American Legion gathering in Salt Lake City on Sept. 4.

There is another major wrong done to traditional American values that needs to be corrected. Our forefathers were religious people, and they were also enlightened enough to realize the follies of religious intolerance. What they did, on one hand, was to erect a wall in the Constitution separating church and state; and on the other hand, they provided in the same document for the free exercise of religion.

They knew that morality derives chiefly from religious faith and that government no more should handle religious expression than it should show preference for one religious group over another.

I can’t think of anyone who favors the government establishing a religion in this country. I know I don’t. But what some would do is to twist the concept of freedom of religion to mean ‘freedom against religion.’

Let me repeat what I have always believed. Religion is one of the traditional values which deserves to be preserved and strengthened. We are and must remain a pluralistic society.

We must protect the rights of all our citizens to their beliefs, including the rights of those who choose no religion. That is why our Administration opposes any required prayers in school; at the same time, we call for the right of children once again to pray voluntarily in our public schools. That stand is in the spirit of the Constitution as our forefathers wrote it and as we have lived it for most of our history. Let us restore that balance.

The following are excerpts from a Sept. 6 speech by the Democratic Presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale to the International Convention of B’nai B’rith in Washington.

I am alarmed by the rise of what a former Republican Congressman calls “moral McCarthyism.” A determined band is raising doubts about people’s faith.

They are reaching for government power to impose their own beliefs on other people. And the Reagan Administration has opened its arms to them.

I believe in an America where all people have the right to pursue their faith not just freely, but also without insult or embarrassment; where religious freedom is not a passive tolerance but an active celebration of our pluralism.

I believe in an America that has been a home and refuge for people from every faith. Our government is the protector of every faith because it is the exclusive property of none.

There can be no more uplifting power on earth than a religious faith which cannot be coerced and is tolerant of other beliefs. To coerce it is to doubt the sturdiness of our faith. To ask the state to enforce the religious life of our people is to betray a telling cynicism about the American people.

Last month, in Dallas, Mr. Reagan attacked those of us who are trying to preserve the separation of church and state. He supports a Constitutional amendment instituting school prayer, with the prayers chosen by local politicians. In Dallas, he said that anyone who opposes that amendment is “intolerant” of religion.

B’nai B’rith is opposed to Mr. Reagan’s amendment; I would not call you intolerant of religion. Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and other church groups also oppose his amendment. And they are not intolerant of religion.

The truth is, the answer to a weaker family is not a stronger state. It is stronger values. The answer to lax morals is not legislated morals. It is deeper faith, greater discipline, and personal excellence.

A version of this article appeared in the September 19, 1984 edition of Education Week as For The Record