Religious tracts in classrooms

February 08, 1993

Confirmation by selective quotation, that deceptive exercise in hermeneutics, is a familiar method of the religious scholar and the politician.

So it's no wonder that was the tactic employed by advocates of a bill sponsored by state Sen. Larry Haines that aims to ban censorship of religious references in American history.

Dressed in colonial costume, proponents of the measure recently enlightened members of the Senate Economic and Environmental Matters Committee with quotations from Jefferson, Washington and Charles Carroll.

The epigrams may have been apt, but the committee cast a deservedly skeptical eye over the bill. It would allow teachers to disseminate religious tracts under the imprimatur of history, a decidedly improper use of public schools.

The legislation reflects some deep rooted concerns of Mr. Haines' conservative, Christian constituency in Carroll County that is worried about secularization of the educational system and of religious values. Their agenda is long, incorporating many of the "family values" issues.

But the Haines measure does address the perception of revisionism of history in modern school textbooks.

There is a fear, expressed by the Republican senator, that any reference to spiritual motivation for important human events, be it the Reformation or Thanksgiving, is being erased by timorous educators fearful of breaking the taboo of separation between church and state.

As an example, he cited a third-grade textbook that omits any reference to Thanksgiving as an occasion for the devout Pilgrims to thank God for their survival.

He's also concerned that teachers are censoring such religious references even if they are in approved texts.

If the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, the national motto, etc., refer to God, there's no reason for educators to feel uncomfortable in teaching that part of our national civic heritage. If teachers are explaining other parts of these basic American tenets, there's no reason for them to shrink from explaining what "under God" or "in God we trust" means.

If that happens, local school authorities should correct the instructor and insist on historical accuracy.

It doesn't need this foot-in-the-door legislation by Mr. Haines to get it right.

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