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Keeping religion out of classroom

IT APPEARS church and state finally have resolved their differences and decided to end their three-century separation. Or at least that's what three different public school districts would have you believe. Schools in Kansas, California and Ohio have come under well-deserved fire recently for policies and actions that have American Civil Liberties Union lawyers burning the midnight oil. One at a time, please.

The Kansas Board of Education recently adopted a science curriculum nearly devoid of evolutionary theory. One hundred and forty years after Charles Darwin published "Origin of Species," proponents of creationism are still fighting its claims. The decision of the Kansas Board of Education, however, marks a victory unlike any creationists have seen in recent decades -- and its effects may prove dismal.

Members of the school board who voted against the new curriculum, as well as other educational experts, fear that the curriculum will place a gaping hole in the education of Kansas students. "I'm sure in school districts around the state, less evolution will be taught, and that will be a disservice to students when they go on to college," Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education told Reuters ("Kansas Battle Over Evolution in Schools Lingers On," Sept. 11).

Not surprisingly, the ACLU of Kansas and western Missouri has threatened to sue at even the remotest intrusion of religion into public schools. Considering the nature of the new curriculum, it seems only a matter of time before this issue will be in the courts.

Kansas isn't alone on the ACLU hit list: joining it is the Sycamore Community School District in Ohio. By a one-vote margin, the local school board voted to close schools on the Jewish high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Citing the discriminatory nature of this policy, a group of Muslim and Hindu parents questioned the lack of school closings on their holy days. The ACLU filed a federal suit against the school district.

Those in support of the school board's decision point to numerous schools in the Northeast where the Jewish high holy days have closed schools for years. The difference, however, is that these schools would have high enough rates of absenteeism to disrupt the learning process on these days. The Ohio district has yet to prove that this is the case in their schools.

While there's nothing inherently wrong with observing holy days by closing schools, it must be an all-or-nothing policy -- particularly in regards to holy days that don't create disruptive absenteeism. Unless the Sycamore Community School District plans to close for Santerian animal sacrifices, the doors should remain open on the Jewish high holy days.

Across the country, in California, Belridge Elementary Principal and Superintendent Steven Wentland, along with the Belridge School Board, approved the purchase and use of textbooks designed by A Beka Books, a Christian publishing company. The lessons included in these books ranged from the claim that God helped Christopher Columbus discover America to a grammar exercise that asked students to punctuate the sentence, "The Hebrew people often grumbled and complained." Less benign were the books' assertion that non-Christians aren't going to heaven, that several religions are cults, and that American Indians "had no knowledge of the true God, and without this knowledge all other attainments are worthless."

Unfortunately for the supporters of the new curriculum, it wasn't just the Hebrew people who grumbled and complained. The ACLU stepped in, and, fearing legal proceedings, Wentland pulled the textbooks. He refused, however, to admit any error. "The state of California would be hard-pressed to find books as good," Wentland told The Associated Press ("Principal Sends Back Religion Books," Sept. 16).

Thankfully, the efforts of groups such as the ACLU have ensured that the separation of church and state stays that way -- separate.

(Chris DelGrosso's column appears Mondays in The Cavalier Daily.)