'New Right,' Adversaries Square Off In Forum on
Indianapolis--Christian fundamentalists and representatives of the "New Right" engaged adversaries from the academic world and the clergy last week in a national conference on religion and censorship in public education.
Their acrimonious clash appeared to answer firmly in the negative the question framed by one participant: can the opposing sides find a "middle ground?"
Entitled "Public Schools and the First Amendment," the gathering featured speakers as diverse as Birch Bayh, the liberal former U.S. Senator from Indiana, and Fred C. Schwarz, the leader of the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade.
Of the more than 300 participants, representing 23 states and Canada, most were educators and members of the clergy with sharply differing positions on such issues as prayer in public schools, textbook censorship, race and sex bias in texts, sex education, and the teaching of creationism in biology courses.
"This conference provides a test of whether there really is a middle ground," said Howard Mehlinger, dean of the Indiana University School of Education.
The result of that test was prophesied by the Rev. Tim LaHaye, co-founder of the Moral Majority, who declared in his opening address that America is in "an intellectual civil war" in which there is no middle ground.
The war, he said, is between those who would base education on the Christian Bible and those who practice "the religion of secular humanism."
Mr. LaHaye, a Baptist minister from California, and other fundamentalist speakers blamed humanism for a litany of social and educational ills, including the use of illicit drugs, disrespect for parents, pornography, illiteracy, and teen-age pregnancy.
They condemned global education, sex education, environmental studies, and values-clarification courses as part of a "government-backed scheme to turn children away from God, their parents, and the American free-enterprise system."
"If the humanists win, it will be over our dead bodies," Mr. LaHaye proclaimed. "We are committed to keeping America from becoming a humanist society."
Among those joining Mr. LaHaye were such conservative leaders as the Rev. Greg Dixon of Indianapolis Baptist Temple, also a spokesman for the Moral Majority, and Kelly L. Segraves, the head of a cam-paign--involving an unsuccessful court suit--to mandate the inclusion of "scientific creationism" in the biology courses taught in California's public schools.
On the opposite side of the debate were Mr. Bayh, a target of the Moral Majority in his unsuccessful campaign for re-election to the Senate in 1980; Wayne Moyer, director of the National Association of Biology Teachers; and Edward B. Jenkinson, an Indiana University professor of education who is one of the nation's leading opponents of textbook censorship.
Indiana University's schools of education and continuing studies, along with Phi Delta Kappa, the professional society for educators, sponsored the conference.
The censorship issue was argued by a diverse group, including Robert M. O'Neil, president of the University of Wisconsin; Janet Egan, co-founder of Parents of Minnesota Inc.; and Barbara Parker, an official of the People for the American Way, an organization formed by the television producer Norman Lear to counter the Moral Majority's activities.
Unresolved Legal Questions
Mr. O'Neil pointed out that unresolved legal questions exist in several areas of school-related censorship. Ms. Egan called upon parents to stop the widespread use of classroom materials which she claimed are immoral and anti-family. Ms. Parker attacked book-banning as a violation of academic freedom and the students' right to know.
Bradford Chambers, director of the Council on Interracial Books for Children, contended that textbooks can be monitored for sex and race bias without restricting access to information. But Lee Burress, a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, countered that such monitoring raises the danger of censorship.
Opponents of the "New Right," who made up the majority of the participants in the conference, charged that the movement to ban so-called immoral books and courses reflects a wish to impose fundamentalist views on young people at taxpayers' expense.
"In their eyes, only they are Christians," Mr. Moyer said. "Anyone who disagrees with them is atheistic, agnostic, humanistic, and in league with the Devil."
Denouncing creationism as "sham science," Mr. Moyers said its proponents have used the news media and other means to pressure school boards, legislatures, and Continued on Page 15
textbook publishers into equating the literal interpretation of Genesis with scientific theory.
If this movement is not reversed, he warned, "in 10 years we won't have a science curriculum worthy of the name."
Freedom of Expression
In the two days of speeches, debates, and workshops, each side claimed to be supported by constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and religion.
This prompted Rabbi Jonathan Stein of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation to criticize the conference organizers for not enlisting any experts on constitutional law as speakers.
He cited numerous cases in which he said Jewish and other non-Christian students had been forced to take part in prayers and other Christian ceremonies in public schools.
"We owe it to our students to teach them about religion," Rabbi Stein said, "but there is a difference between that and espousal or indoctrination."
Vol. 01, Issue 31