Monday, May 10, 2004

I have four children. Three are in their late teens, in late high school or college. My five-year-old is the only child I have ever enrolled in a parochial school. I made this decision because the public schools are no longer merely neutral regarding religion, as they seemed to be when my older kids were in school. Now the public schools in America are actively stamping out religion.

For the first two centuries of American history, it was taken for granted that education included not only reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic, but religion as well. That changed in the 19th century, however, and by the late 1800s, the burgeoning "common school" system was resolutely secular.

Nonetheless, many schools continued to affirm the importance of God and religion in American life. Well into the 20th century, for example, daily prayer and Bible reading were a familiar part of the public-education experience, and students sang Christmas carols in annual school pageants.

No more. Government schools today routinely suppress any trace of religious influence. Not only do teachers no longer lead their classes in group prayer, students have been reprimanded for uttering private prayer, such as grace before meals. Public schools have barred children from reading Bible stories during their free time or giving bags of jelly beans with a religious poem attached to their classmates before Easter. In a case now being litigated in Virginia, school officials want to ban a graduating senior from singing Celine Dion's "The Prayer" during commencement ceremonies because the song asks God to "help us to be wise in times when we don't know."

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