Friday, February 10, 2012

Republican Candidates' Views: School Prayer, Vouchers, Creationism

Official Prayers in Public Schools
Newt Gingrich is a former Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. When a federal judge in 2011 forbade graduation prayer in a Texas school district, he proposed to abolish the court.
In 2005, U.S. Representative Ron Paul introduced a bill to remove “any claim involving the policies of any…government relating to the free exercise or establishment of religion” from the jurisdiction of federal courts.
In 2008, he wrote, “Issues like prayer in schools.…were never meant to be decided by federal judges.”
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum has not talked about school-sponsored prayer. A search of the internet found several sites that say he favors it, but they report no comments or votes.
In 1994, Mitt Romney said, “Local school districts…could not endorse specific religious beliefs or prayer in schools.” As Governor of Massachusetts in 2006, he said, “We ought to allow…graduation ceremonies…the ability to recognize the Creator.”
Tuition Vouchers for Nonpublic Schools
Santorum said, “The government.…force [parents]…to turn their children over to the public education system and wrest control from them.…That has to change.” He voted in favor of a voucher program in 2001 in the U.S. Senate.
Gingrich said, “We’d be far better off if most states adopted a program of the equivalent of Pell Grants for K-through-13, so that parents could choose where their child went to school, whether it was public, or private, or home-schooling.…”
Ron Paul favors credits against the federal income tax bill for tuition paid to nonpublic schools. He opposes federal tuition vouchers. He voted against the federal voucher program for Washington, D.C.
In 1994, as a candidate for U.S. Senate, Romney pledged to vote for a means-tested federal voucher program. As Governor of Massachusetts, he favored vouchers in principle, but he did nothing to promote them.
Creationism in Public-School Science Classes
Santorum wanted the 2001 federal education bill to require intelligent design creationism in science classes. The conference committee rejected his proposal, but included it in the conference report.
In 2005, Santorum said, “I’m not comfortable with intelligent design being taught in the science classroom. What we should be teaching are the problems and holes…in the theory of evolution.
In 2007, Paul said, “I think it’s a theory…the theory of evolution, and I don’t accept it as a theory.
The same year, Gingrich said, “Evolution certainly seems to express the closest understanding we can now have.…I believe evolution should be taught as science.”
Also in 2007, Romney said, “I believe that God…created the universe. And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body.…Science class is where to teach evolution.”

N.Y. City Can Ban Worship Services in Schools

In December, in the case of N.Y. City v. Bronx Household of Faith, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed N.Y. City to bar worship services in public schools.
“We view this as a victory for the city’s school children and their families,” said Jane Gordon, senior counsel of the N.Y. City Law Department.
She said the Education Department “was quite properly concerned about having any school in this diverse city identified with one particular religious belief or practice.”
In June, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld the city’s rule against worship services in public schools. Bronx Household appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Court refused to take the case.
In early February, the N.Y. Senate passed a bill requiring N.Y. City public schools to house religious worship services. Assembly Majority Leader Sheldon Silver opposes the corresponding Assembly bill.

Judge Nixes R.I. Prayer, Quotes Roger Williams

The Cranston, Rhode Island School Committee defended its prayer on the ground that it had been glued to the wall for a long time and therefore had historical value.
“No amount of history and tradition can cure a constitutional infraction,” rejoined U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux
In January, he told officials at Cranston West High School to get rid of a prayer posted on an auditorium wall since 1963.
In letters 3 inches tall and 2 inches wide, the prayer reads,
School Prayer
“Our Heavenly Father,
“Grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, to be honest with ourselves as well as with others, help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win, teach us the value of true friendship, help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.
In 2010, complaints led the School Committee to consider removing the prayer, and atheist student Jessica Ahlquist testified in favor of removal then and in 2011.
Audience members reviled her. For instance, one woman said, “If people want to be Atheist,…they can go to hell.” Two speakers said Ahlquist should be charged with a hate crime.
In March, the School Committee voted to keep the prayer. Ahlquist and her father sued, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Judge Lagueux wrote, “After Plaintiff’s comments before the School Committee, and particularly after the lawsuit was filed, Plaintiff was subject to frequent taunting and threats at school, as well as a virtual on-line hate campaign via Facebook.”
Judge Lagueux found that “The holding in Stone v. Graham compels the court’s ruling.” In the case of Stone v. Graham, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a school district to remove copies of the Ten Commandments from school walls. 
Lagueux quoted the case, “If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause.”
The Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution forbids government advancement of religion.
Judge Lagueux praised Jessica Ahlquist, “Plaintiff is clearly an articulate and courageous young woman, who took a brave stand, particularly in light of the hostile response she has received from her community.”
He concluded his decision with a quotation from Roger Williams, Rhode Island’s seventeenth century founder, a champion of religious liberty, and himself a victim of religious persecution.
Here is the quotation:
“There goes many a ship to sea, with many hundred souls in one ship, whose weal and woe is common, and is a true picture of a commonwealth, or human combination, or society. It hath fallen out sometimes, that both Papists and Protestants, Jews and Turks, may be embarked on one ship; upon which supposal, I affirm that all the liberty of conscience I ever pleaded for, turns upon these two hinges, that none of the Papists, Protestants, Jews, or Turks be forced to come to the ship’s prayers or worship, nor compelled from their own particular prayers or worship, if they practice any.”

Florida Faces Voucher Struggle

The Florida’s Constitution forbids tuition vouchers for religious schools.
Floridians will have to struggle to keep that provision.
In November 2012, the following item will appear on the ballot.
“RELIGIOUS FREEDOM.—Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution providing that no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding or other support, except as required by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and deleting the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”
When the legislature passed the proposed amendment, it included a misleading ballot summary. Hoping to knock the amendment off the ballot, voucher opponents challenged the questionable language in state court. Judge Terry Lewis agreed that the summary misled, and he suggested the version above. The Florida Attorney General adopted the judge’s version, and the proposed amendment stayed on the ballot.
The voucher opponents objected to the title, Religious Freedom. They said the title implied that the amendment would increase religious freedom; but, it would in fact decrease religious freedom. If it passed, the state could compel taxpayers to promote religious opinions they rejected.
The judge disagreed. He said, “The section of the constitution sought to be amended is, in fact, titled Religious Freedom. The subject matter of the proposed amendment clearly deals with this subject.”

Oklahoma School Boards Defy Voucher Act

In 2010, the Oklahoma legislature passed an act to pay the tuition of disabled children in nonpublic schools, including religious schools.
The U.S. Constitution bars government support of religion.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court allows governments to launder payments to religious schools by passing them through the hands of parents.
A public official writes a check for a tuition payment to a parent, but the check can be cashed only after the parent endorses it to a private school.
The Oklahoma law instructed local school districts to administer the program.
Four districts resisted.
“The voucher system that was put in place is going to be taking significant money from public schools,” said Cathy Burden, Superintendent of the Union, Oklahoma School District.
“It not only isn’t in the best interest of all children in our public schools, it violates the tenets of our state constitution,” she told the Tulsa World in September.
The Oklahoma constitution says,
“No public money or property shall ever be appropriated. applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.”
As of November 2011, the state had approved 42 private schools to get cash via vouchers, and 40 were religious.
In April 2011, voucher-seeking parents sued the four dissident school districts in federal court. The Jenks and Union school districts countersued and asked the court to declare the law unconstitutional.
In August, the state legislature tried to avert the suit. It transferred administration of the program from school districts to the state education department.
The federal judge advised the parents to claim their vouchers from the state education department.
She told the school districts to take their constitutional complaint to state court.
In September, Jenks and Union asked a state court to find the vouchers unconstitutional.
In November, the parents dropped their suit.
Douglas Mann, the school districts’ lawyer, said he viewed the parents’ withdrawal as a victory, but the districts’ constitutional challenge will continue in state court.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Religious Right legal group, backed the suit of the voucher-seeking parents.
As Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman told the Tulsa World, the Becket Fund’s agenda is to obtain taxpayer funds for religious education.

Wisconsin Shrugs Off Duty to Voucher-School Kids

By means of vouchers, tax-raised funds pay the bills for many religious schools, but public officials disclaim responsibility for the civil liberties of the students in those schools.
If courts held governments responsible for the practices of the schools they fund, those schools could not promote religion.
Therefore, voucher opponents have a stake in a Wisconsin suit that asks the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to enforce the civil rights of disabled children who want to enroll in Milwaukee voucher schools.
Disability Rights Wisconsin (DRW) says the state has not required the schools to provide services to children with disabilities and has created a program that segregates and isolates those children.
In September, the DOJ started the investigation with 22 questions for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI).
In answer after answer, the DPI disclaimed responsibility for the schools’ conduct.
Here are some sample questions and answers. MPCP stands for Milwaukee Public School Choice Program and IDEA stands for Individuals with Disabilities Act.
Q. “Please provide copies of all…materials DPI has sent to participating MPCP schools related to…obligations under…the IDEA …?
A. “Because none of these laws apply to the schools participating in the MPCP,…no…documents have been sent to them.…
“Q. Please describe whether and how DPI tracks data regarding application, enrollment, retention, outreach, disenrollment, transfer, and suspension or expulsion, of children with disabilities in MPCP schools.
“A. .…the statute governing the MPCP neither authorizes DPI to request nor requires schools participating in the MPCP to provide the…data.…Therefore, it is not collected.”
DRW and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) back the suit, Disability Rights Wisconsin v. Wisconsin.