A conservative Christian who wants to "put God back in schools" has joined the list of candidates for an at-large position on the county school board.
Francis "Paco" DeBartolomeo, who has six children, is lobbying the board to address what he calls a discriminatory approach to Christianity in the public school system.
For example, if a school library contains books on other religions, a Bible should be included, he says.
"Many school libraries do not now have Bibles," he told the board at its Feb. 5 meeting.
DeBartolomeo, 38, says he decided to run for the at-large position afterreceiving dozens of phone calls from community members supporting his comments. He joins 11 other candidates competing for the post beingvacated by Paul Greksa.
Under DeBartolomeo's proposals, schools would be required to include Christianity in teaching about religions.Teaching of American history would emphasize the Judeo-Christian beliefs of the founding fathers. Sex-education programs would include religious perspectives.
More than 100 churches in the county are supporting his candidacy, says DeBartolomeo, a satellite technician for National Public Radio, who also teaches a media class at Montgomery College. He has also received encouragement from conservative groups such as the Family Protection Lobby, the Gideons and an Atlanta-based legal group called CASE, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism.
Says the Rev. Steve Lockard, pastor of Annapolis Christian Fellowship,"Paco would represent the families of the area well. I know his personal life: He's a very moral man and very family oriented, and he's convinced he can do some good.
"The response from the community hasbeen surprising; for every negative response to (DeBartolomeo's) remarks to the school board, there have been dozens of people happy thatsomeone is finally speaking for them."
However, Stuart Comstock-Gay, executive director of the Maryland branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, calls the notion that God has been taken out of schools "absurd".
"If somebody like that wants to run for office, that's well and good," Comstock-Gay said. "The thing we wouldn't want to see would be the school board saying, 'You have to put God into all these classes. You have to teach them from a Christian perspective. It's running dangerously close to forcing religion down the throats of the students."
DeBartolomeo admits that the phrase "put God back inschools" sounds inflammatory, but the Deale resident insists his goal is simply to correct misinformation.
"A lot of people are under the assumption that you can't mention God in school," he says.
"I don't expect everyone to accept my personal religious beliefs. I don't want teachers or principals to promote a religion, even mine. But they should be able to express their personal beliefs as individuals. All I want is a fair playing field in education as well as everywhereelse.
"It's gone from being a Christian-dominated school system to being an educational system that includes everything but Christianity."
For example, says DeBartolomeo, in one case pending before the Supreme Court, a teacher in Denver, Colo., was required to remove from his classroom two books: "The Bible in Pictures" and "The Life ofJesus." Books on Mohammed, ancient pagan religions and Egyptian mythology were permitted to stay, but the teacher was prohibited from reading his Bible on school property in his spare time.
DeBartolomeo says he has talked to parents and teachers in Anne Arundel County whohave experienced similar problems because of their conservative Christian beliefs.
"Students have harassed other students, saying 'Youcan't do this' when they bring their Bibles to school," he says. "They are simply misinformed."
"The biggest problem is that students and teachers censor themselves because they don't know what their legal rights are," says DeBartolomeo. "In fact, they may pray before andafter school if students initiate it. They may bring their Bibles into class if they wish."
Dennis Younger, director of curriculum forcounty schools, said the American Association of School Administrators publishes clear guidelines for how teachers may approach religioussubjects.
While teachers may not advocate religions, they may teach about them, Younger said. He said DeBartolomeo is probably correctthat "there are teachers who misunderstand and approach religious subjects conservatively. Our responsibility as the curriculum office isto help teachers understand what they are empowered to do as teachers -- to help students understand not just Christianity or Judaism butalso all the great religions, including Buddhism and Islam."
Beginning next month, four public hearings will be scheduled before the county School Board Nominating Convention votes May 6 at Severna Park High on a list of candidates to submit to the governor, who appoints board members. The convention lists candidates in order of preference, but the governor is not bound by the convention's recommendations.