Classroom compromise offered for evolutionists, creationists
November 14, 1999
From Correspondent Jeanne Meserve
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As some fundamentalist Christians and secular humanists battle over whether public schools should teach creationism or evolution, religious and civil liberties groups have proposed a middle path between imposing religion or removing it altogether.
The coalition has endorsed a First Amendment guide to the use of the Bible in public schools, which could help end the protracted legal war between the rival factions.
There has been a flurry of lawsuits concerning student religious expression and the use of the Bible in schools since the Supreme Court prohibited organized prayer in the classroom in 1963.
Proponents contend the recommendations offer a peaceful alternative. "This guide offers a third choice," Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center said. "Treat religion with fairness and respect. Keep the government neutral in matters of religion, not promoting religion or denigrating it."
According to the text of "The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide," educators should abide by the following precepts:
Rather than teach the Bible per se, educators should teach how the Bible has influenced art, literature and history, the pamphlet recommends.
A broad spectrum of groups from the Christian Legal Society to People for the American Way have endorsed the guide, which some school districts already have requested.
Yet detractors fear the compromise could threaten the principle of separation of church and state enshrined in the Constitution.
"I am very concerned that we keep a distinction between public schools and Sunday schools," said Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "And I'm not sure that all lay teachers are going to be able to teach objectively about what is any people's sacred text and scripture."
Some experts doubt it will completely succeed in providing sound legal footing for teaching the Bible in public schools.
"The temptation for both sides of this controversy, if they have control of the school board, will be to exaggerate the guidelines, to administer them in a way that is not so neutral. And that may invite more lawsuits," Paul Rothstein of Georgetown University said.
Presidential candidates weigh in on evolution debate
The National Research Council
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