Teaching Evolution Without Offending Creationists

Saturday, November 28, 2009
Is it possible to teach evolution to middle and high school students without offending their religion? University of Alabama professor Lee Meadows thinks so and has written a book, "Missing Link", to help teachers. Bob Sims writes about the professor and his book in The Birmingham News.

Faith and science: UAB professor's book helps teachers present evolution without offense

By Bob Sims -- The Birmingham News

November 28, 2009, 6:00AM
UAB education professor Lee Meadows grew up in love with science, but his conservative Southern Baptist upbringing left him somewhat conflicted.

  Meadows has written "Missing Link," a textbook on how to teach evolution without offending religious beliefs. "It's a book for teachers to help them deal with the issue of evolution with middle and high school students," he said.

  Meadows said he knows the student's perspective from experience.

  "Biology is my favorite subject," he said. "But evolution scared me off as a student. I was afraid of evolution from the first I heard of it. I don't know that I've reconciled it, but I've realized science has its own set of rules."

  Meadows, now a member of a conservative Presbyterian Church in America congregation, remains an evangelical. But he's forged a way to study evolution on the terms of science without compromising faith.

  "My faith is still important to me," he said.

  Now he looks at the issue through the eyes of a teacher.

  The key for Meadows, a former high school science teacher, has been "teaching by inquiry," a method he said encourages students to study the fossil record, tracing animals back through time and understanding scientific explanations of changes and apparent adaptations.

  "Teaching by inquiry is hands-on science on speed," Meadows said. "It's giving them the evidence, then seeing how scientists interpret the evidence. Inquiry always says start with the evidence."

  Meadows offers one cardinal rule for teachers: "Never challenge a kid's religious beliefs," he said. "I want teachers to say, 'What you believe the Bible says is really important.'"

  Students should learn science on its own terms, not as a competing explanation to religion, Meadows said. "Science limits itself to natural evidence."

  It's not necessary to mock anyone's beliefs to teach evolution, Meadows said.

  "Science teachers in public schools have two legal duties: they have to teach science, but they also have to care for the kids, as if they were parents for that hour," Meadows said.

  Public school science teachers are bound to teach the theory of evolution and the evidence that leads scientists to embrace it, he said.

  "Their duty is to teach evolution," Meadows said. "In a public school, they are barred from teaching creationism, which courts have ruled is inherently religious."

  Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was explained in his book "On the Origin of Species," published in 1859. Because of the 150th anniversary of the book's publication and the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth in 1809, there have been many commemorations of Darwin and his life and theories this year.

  There has also been backlash by those opposed to Darwin's theories. Filmmakers Jon and Andy Erwin of Bessemer-based Erwin Brothers Motion Pictures premiered their anti-evolution documentary, "The Mysterious Islands," on Tuesday at the Alabama Theater. They did their filming in the Galapagos Islands, reviewing Darwin's conclusions and siding with another member of Darwin's ship, Captain Robert Fitzroy of the HMS Beagle, who disputed many of Darwin's conclusions.

  Meadows said that while many may object to Darwinian theories on theological grounds, it's important that students be given a solid science education.

  In his book for teachers, he recommends lesson plans that go to source material on fossils.

  Meadows recommends studying the work of J.G.M. "Hans" Thewissen, professor of anatomy at the Northeastern Ohio Universities, who has documented the evolution of whales. He directs teachers to the Web site www.neoucom.edu/DEPTS/ANAT/whaleorigins.htm.

  "There is piles and piles of evidence for evolution, and scientists can explain that," Meadows said. "What the kids believe at the end of the day -- that's their choice."

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What Could Possibly Be Wrong With Handing Out Bibles In High Schools?

Friday, November 27, 2009
In an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution by Maureen Downey she ponders why Georgia public schools still allow bibles to be handed out. Downey goes on to give a little history or our "Christian Nation".
Handing out Bibles at a high school: Why do we keep doing this in Georgia?

The zest with which Georgia schools test the church-state divide never fails to stun me.
I wonder if other states grapple with this issue or is this unique to the Bible Belt?
With the threat of litigation, public schools ought to think very carefully about allowing any religious group access to students and the possible charge of proselytizing on school grounds.
Yet, a north Georgia parent sent me a note that Bibles were handed out at her high school last week. She is a Christian and reveres the Bible, but doesn’t think the high school was the right place to hand it out.
Her concern mirrors my own: Our schools are attended by students of all faiths and traditions. All those faiths and belief deserve respect. We risk making many students feel like outsiders when we elevate one religion above all others.
Consider the 1656 warning by devout Baptist Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, on the consequences of mixing religion and government: “God requireth not an uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state; which enforced uniformity, sooner or later, is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls.”
More than a century later, Thomas Jefferson allayed the fears of the Baptist Association that the newly birthed United States of America was planning to designate a national religion. Responding to the worried Baptists, Jefferson wrote, “The First Amendment has erected a wall of separation between Church and State.”

Many of you will argue that America was created as a Christian nation. But the 1797 treaty between the United States and Tripoli, written under President George Washington and signed by his successor, John Adams, says that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
But what about the phrase “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” on our currency? Both grew out of the anti-Communist fervor of the McCarthy era.
In 1954, politicians tacked “under God” onto the pledge; three years later, they engraved “In God We Trust” onto paper money. Concerns were raised even then about blurring the line between church and state, but no lawmakers wanted to risk casting a vote against God.

James Madison believed that the only way to preserve both religion and government is to maintain a safe distance between them. “The tendency to a usurpation on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded against by an entire abstinence of the Government from interference in any way whatever, ” wrote Madison, “beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect against the trespasses on its legal rights by others.”
Madison got it right. Too many of our schools are getting it wrong.

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ACLU Threatens Enfield Public Schools with Lawsuit Over Graduations

Saturday, November 21, 2009
American Civil Liberties UnionImage via Wikipedia
What part of "not in a church" is Enfield Public Schools struggling with. It does not matter whether some or most students prefer the church or if the church saves them money. Having graduation in a church even under the most secular of circumstances sends the wrong message.

Conn. Schools Threatened with Lawsuit Over Graduations at Church

The American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have threatened to sue Enfield Public Schools if their graduation ceremonies are not moved out of a church.

"Students and their families should not have to choose between attending graduation and being subjected to proselytizing religious messages," said Alex Luchenitser, senior litigation counsel for Americans United, in a statement Wednesday. "Yet that is exactly the choice that the Enfield Schools impose on students and their families."
According to the two civil liberties groups, Enrico Fermi High School and Enfield High have been holding graduations at The First Cathedral in Bloomfield, Conn., since 2007 and 2008, respectively. The venue was chosen as work was being done on the schools' football fields.
The ACLU first contacted the Enfield Board of Education in 2006 expressing its opposition and arguing that it constitutes a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The school district was asked to secure a religiously neutral location for the graduation ceremony.
During an Enfield Board meeting in October 2008, board members Susan Lavelli-Hozempa and Joyce Hall said they heard from students and parents regarding the ceremony venue and they preferred the First Cathedral.
Enrico Fermi High School Student Representative Samantha Reid said the majority of Fermi students wanted to go back to First Cathedral for their graduation while Enfield High School Alternate Student Representative Bryan William Dague said the majority of Enfield students wanted to graduate at the school.
Board members also noted that the church provided a large venue and helped save the district money.
The Board of Education is scheduled to hold two more meetings this year and the civil liberties groups are asking board members to "voluntarily abandon the practice." Otherwise, they will sue.
"Graduating students, their parents, their older and younger siblings, and their other family members and guests are coercively subjected to religious messages as the price of attending high-school commencement – a seminal event in a student’s life," the two groups state in a letter to the attorney for the schools. "The selection of the Cathedral as a graduation venue further communicates to members of the Enfield Schools community that the concerns of religious minorities are not important to the school district, and that the district favors adherents of the majority religion."
Gregory Stokes, the new board of education chairman, told the Hartford Courant that the cathedral "makes it as secular as they can" and that it is "one of the best sites outside of Enfield."
The graduation ceremony site is going to be "one of the first issues we discuss in the next 30 days," he noted, and the decision may come down to resources.
"We may have to make a decision about where we spend our resources," he said, as reported by the local Courant. "A legal battle might end up costing more than using the fields for graduations."
Four other area public schools – East Hartford High School, South Windsor High School, Windsor High School and the Metropolitan Learning Center Magnet School – also have been using The First Cathedral for their graduations.
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FFRF to Indianapolis Public Schools - Stop Blocking Atheist Sites

Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Indianapolis Schools Block Atheist Sites
Posted on: November 17, 2009 9:16 AM, by Ed Brayton
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has written a letter to the Indianapolis Public Schools superintendent demanding that they change a written policy (PDF) that requires all "alternative spirituality" websites to be blocked from computers in their schools. The policy includes a list of sites that must be blocked, including this:
Sites that promote and provide information on religions such as Wicca, Witchcraft or Satanism. Occult practices, atheistic views, vodoo rituals or any form of mysticism are represented here. Includes sites that endorse or offer methods, means of instruction, or other resources to affect or influence real events through the use of spells, incantations, curses and magic powers. This category includes sites which discuss or deal with paranormal or unexplained events.
What a bizarre amalgamation of unrelated things that is. What in the world is atheism doing lumped together with witchcraft in the first place? It's not as if atheists believe in witchcraft any more than they do in Christianity. Oh, that's right - to the fundamentalist mind, there is no distinction; anything non-Christian is evil and all in exactly the same way. And of course, praying to God to affect or influence real events is totally different from casting a spell or sprinkling chicken blood on the ground.
This policy is doomed. I can't imagine a court upholding it. It is doomed both on grounds of vagueness and on grounds of viewpoint discrimination. If the school district is smart, they will immediately change the policy. If they're dumb -- or they get really bad advice from their lawyers -- they'll end up losing a court battle and having to pay out a lot of money in attorneys' fees.

Anti-Defamation League Provides Secular Training

Sunday, November 15, 2009
Anti-Defamation LeagueImage via Wikipedia
The ADL gave a workshop to principals and directors of Indiana's Washington Township schools on what is and isn't OK for public schools to do in regards to religious display and participation. The ADL is a religious organization committed to stopping the defamation of the Jewish people they are also committed to securing justice and fair treatment of all. Despite being a religious organization they conducted what appears to be a genuinely secular training and of great value. Where are these trainings in other parts of the country? Why can't Christian groups provide this training? Read Robert King's article in the Indy Star about the session. There are some obviously common sense situations described and some that are less obvious.

Religion in public schools is focus of Washington Twp. session 

Washington Twp. session explains how courts have ruled in various scenarios

Posted: November 14, 2009

What would you do, as a public school principal, if some former Colts players want to give a strong anti-drug message to your student body, but the presentation will be heavily steeped in a Christian evangelistic message?

What would be your response to an organization that wants to stage a prayer gathering in front of the school flagpole before classes begin?

And, with the holidays approaching, here's one to consider: What place do Christmas carols such as "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger" -- tunes that go beyond enchanted snowmen and winter wonderlands -- have in December school showcases?
These are some of the questions Washington Township school leaders discussed recently during a special training program aimed at helping them respect the religious diversity of their students while also avoiding lawsuits.
The nearly two-hour program, called "The Challenge of Religion in the Public Schools," was sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, which is providing the training around the country and hopes to offer it to more Central Indiana schools. About 30 principals and directors serving nearly 10,000 Washington Township students attended.
The ADL is a civil-rights organization traditionally known for its opposition to discrimination and bigotry against the Jewish people. But it is also concerned about protecting religious freedom, said Clare Pinkert, an ADL attorney who led the training.
"We think that the best way to protect religious freedom is to make sure that government and religion don't interfere with one another," she said. "We think that today, with the extraordinary diversity of religious practice, it is particularly important to ensure that government is not showing favoritism to one group over another."
The ADL doesn't sue public school districts, Pinkert said, when they cross the established lines between church and state. Instead, it tries to work with schools. But the group's training program is intended to show school leaders what the courts have said when it comes to mixing religion and public education.

At Washington Township, Pinkert said she encountered a principal who opted against the visit from the Colts players because their anti-drug message had a strong evangelistic bent -- a no-no for a required school assembly. That principal, Pinkert said, did the right thing.

The flagpole prayer circle before school? That would be OK, Pinkert said, so long as it was student-initiated and student-led and "there's no coercion of students who don't wish to participate."
One caution: Such a ceremony may not be advisable at elementary schools, Pinkert said, because younger students may have a harder time distinguishing between a teacher as an authority figure and a teacher participating on his or her own behalf.
"It could lead to an appearance of the endorsement of religion."
And what about the religious Christmas carols? Not a good idea, Pinkert said. Students shouldn't be compelled to sing songs that may have lyrics that profess a belief they do not share.
"We're not in the war against Christmas by any means," she said. "But there is a real difference between talking about the history of the holiday and the culture and actually encouraging students to celebrate when they are in the taxpayer-funded, government-controlled arena."
Washington Township Schools Superintendent James Mervilde said the training on matters pertaining to religion in the schools is valuable given the religious diversity in his district, including a significant Jewish population.
Mervilde said he understands that some people aren't bothered by blatantly religious Christian messages in schools and that they might prefer it. But he said that is the realm of religious schools, not public ones.
"Frankly, helping children to understand that it is a diverse world -- and that learning how to live in that kind of world is a set of skills -- is a core curriculum in Washington Township and always has been," Mervilde said.
But Mervilde said he also rejects what he calls the "straw man" argument that some people raise -- the notion that schools forbid prayer.
"I'm telling you that we can't lead that prayer," he said. "Your child, probably like a lot of people, does pray in school. We have teachers who pray in school. Even superintendents pray in school. But they don't organize prayer."
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Some Scary Shit Going on in New York

Saturday, November 14, 2009
Sunday School, Chicago, IL, USAImage via Wikipedia
In reading through my Google alerts for  "religion" and "education". I came across an article in the Staten Island Advance's religion section titled, "Religion training builds on child's relationship with God". Specifically, they are talking about preschoolers, children I would consider as too young to understand god. In the article, which is more of an announcement of classes, they make no secret of their attempts at indoctrination of these young children through the Montessori-based religious preschools. In fact, here is the opening sentence and following paragraph,
When thinking about religious education for pre-schoolers, remember this: Children and God already know each other.|

That's one of the tenets of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a Montessori-based religious training for spiritual teachers of children ages three to six. So the job of the religious teacher is to nurture and assist in developing that relationship.
"...nurture and assist in developing" a relationship with god. I'm sorry shouldn't this read "indoctrinate and brainwash"?

You can read the entire article, here.
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Special Rights for the Religious in Public Schools

The religious right is trying and succeeded in some cases in getting laws passed in some states that gives special rights to the religious in public schools. These special rights don't really give them any more rights than is already allowed under the First Amendment. However, these laws allow the religious to be protected in what has been traditionally a secular space. Sandhya Bathija of Americans United writes in a blog post about what is happening in Massachusetts and has happened in other states.
Bogus Bill in Boston: Religious Right Targets Mass. Public Schools

November 13, 2009
It’s not often that Massachusetts falls under Americans United’s microscope. But this week, the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) has brought the New England state to our attention.
The group, a state affiliate of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, has succeeded in finding bipartisan  sponsors for legislation that will “ensure the existing free speech rights of religious students” while they are in school.
The proposal, according to the Boston Globe, will require school districts to create policies to allow “a limited public forum and voluntary student expression of religious views at school events, graduation ceremonies, and in class assignments, and non-curricular school groups and activities.” The bill was written by MFI public policy director Evelyn Reilly.
It’s nothing we haven’t seen from the Religious Right before. In fact, it sounds strangely similar to a “Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination” measure that was passed by the Texas legislature in 2007.
According to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s Web site, this law “does not expand religious expression in schools,” but makes it so children are “not shielded from religious expression nor exposed solely to secularism in our schools.” Perry, a Religious Right favorite, believes that mere “discussion does not lead to indoctrination; rather, it leads to open-mindedness and personal and educational betterment.”
It’s the same old song creationists have been singing for a long time. For years, it’s been a Religious Right tactic to push for teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution in an effort get religion into the science classroom. These “viewpoint anti-discrimination” bills are just another backdoor effort to do the same.
That’s why Americans United warned against the Texas measure in 2007 and another similar bill that was vetoed by Gov. Brad Henry in Oklahoma in 2008. Henry said the bill, if signed into law, could lead to “an explosion of costly and protracted litigation.” But finding Henry’s veto “totally bogus,” State Rep. Sally Kern introduced a different version of the bill again in 2009. It failed again.
Six other states also introduced similar measures earlier this year, including Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Indiana, Kentucky and Arizona.
“This is a concentrated movement to force public schools to create forums exclusively for religious speech,” said AU State Legislative Counsel Dena Sher. “Students have a First Amendment right to voluntarily pray or read their Bibles in the public schools, but some people are using these bills to proselytize fellow students.”
We already know that students can talk freely about their religion at school and participate in after-school religious activities, such as Bible study.  But the courts have always drawn a distinction when students are addressing a captive audience, such as at graduation, said Ronal Madnick, president of the Massachusetts chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
“You can’t do it where people have to be in attendance,” Madnick told the Globe.
This proposed legislation specifically states that students should be free to express religious views at school events. That doesn’t sound like the bill is trying to “ensure existing free speech rights” but rather expand them beyond current constitutional parameters.
Besides, we know it would be pointless to pass a bill that merely restates current law. Much more is at stake here, and knowing who’s behind it all, we have a pretty good idea just what that is.
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Teens Choose Atheism Because It's Rational

Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Sam Harris, author and neuroscientist.Image via Wikipedia
From the November 10, 2009 edition of the Augusta Chronicle Teen Board member Stefan O'Kula, a senior at Augusta Preparatory Day School, writes about teens choosing atheism because it is a rational choice. This article is very well written and researched by this young person. I can't tell whether the author is also an atheist but at least there is no bashing. Although, a Christian did get a little bashing in the comments of the original post.
Some teens say atheism rational choice
By Stefan O'Kula | Teen Board Member
Atheism as defined by the group, American Atheists, is a lack of belief in gods. Contingents of atheists have existed since the advent of religion, and continue today, even in the Bible Belt.

In the lifespan of a teenager, a significant shift in the religious makeup of the U.S. has taken place.
The findings of a recent study, the American Religious Institution Survey observed that the number of people who claimed no religion, or "nones," nearly doubled from 8.2 percent to 15 percent from 1990 to 2008, a span of 18 years. In comparison, atheists and agnostics lingered at 0.9 percent and 0.7 percent.
Great use of statistics.
Regardless of disassociation with religion or atheism, the study points to a rise in unbelief. In Europe, the numbers climb much higher. Sweden remains the poster child of "nones" as researchers place the percentage of non-believers between 69 percent and 85 percent.
No real statistics exist regarding the number of teenage "nones," atheists and agnostics. However, two vocal nonbelievers at Augusta Preparatory Day School hold interesting views on the subject of unbelief and religion.

Alex Shaw, 17, a senior, who attended church for the first 16 years of his life, cited its obvious benefit: "Well I get to sleep in now on Sundays."

He is not critical of his church experience.

"It was fine, we always had an awesome youth program. I liked church as a community I just never believed in what the community was based on."

He had called himself an agnostic until a week ago when he finished Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation. Now he identifies as an atheist.

Joe Shively, 17, a senior, lived in the Netherlands from age 13 to 16. He has never been religious and has never faced any pressure to be. He recalled a moment in the first grade when he responded to another child talking about God's Creation with a fact from the Discovery Channel.

"It was something about prokaryotes on an asteroid," he remembers.
His take on religion is that of many atheists.

"I think it's a crutch in the context that it's an avoidance of dealing with the fact that reality sucks and there are questions we can't answer. That said, if it's something that helps you as a person, that's great, as long as it's not something you use to harm the rights, civil liberties, and well-being of others."
 This is a fantastic quote from the future of atheism.
Among atheists, there are those who call for equal respect for all religions and those who are quick to denounce it as evil. An example of the former is outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins who goes so far as to call religions "mind viruses." Dubbed "new atheists," their intent is to counter religious teaching. Their books, such as Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation top the bestseller charts. Many critics of the movement liken its intolerance of religions to the intolerance of fundamentalists.
I agree that religion is a "mind virus" and I wish there were no religion. However, if someone wishes to be religious of their own volition then that is their own personal choice.
Actions of these "new atheists" include "Blasphemy Day," an event celebrated with a litany of sacrilegious acts such as de-baptizing by using hairdryers and anti-religious art. Less offensive but as controversial is the tongue in cheek Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, created by Bobby Henderson in the wake of the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to require schools to teach intelligent design alongside evolution.
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They Need Real Hope, Not False Hope

Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Anthony B. Bradley, an assistant professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis and an Acton Institute research fellow, writes in an editorial at DetroitNews.com that due to high high school drop out rates of young black men in America that they may need to attend faith schools.

Bradley makes this suggestion based on a report published by England's Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills. However, the report, "Independent Faith Schools," only looked at Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu religious schools. In fact the Executive Summary states,
"The survey was conducted at the request of the Secretary of State to determine the fitness for purpose of the standard for pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and the five regulations which independent faith schools, registered by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), must meet."
In other words this was only a survey meant to gauge the compliance of faith schools on government regulations. It was not written to compare faith and public schools nor does it imply such as Bradley implies. Bradley offers no real solutions of his own but does site positive results at a New York City charter school, not a faith school, but an all male charter school.

There is no question that more needs to be done to help disadvantaged and minority males succeed in both school and life. But, these youth need real hope, not false hope.

Faith schools could prove virtuous for black students

Anthony B. Bradley

Do at-risk black males need to be emancipated from America's public school complex? A new study released about high school dropout and incarceration rates among blacks raises the question.
Nearly 23 percent of all American black men ages 16-24 who have dropped out of high school are in jail, prison, or a juvenile justice institution, according to a new report from the Center for Labor Markets at Northeastern University.
High school dropouts cost the nation severely. Not only are American taxpayers getting no return on the $8,701 we spend on average per student, each dropout costs us $292,000 over their lifetime in lost earnings, lower taxes paid and higher spending for social programs like incarceration, health care and welfare.
Since public schools are forbidden to teach virtue and often reduce children to receptacles of information, expanding private and faith-based options to black parents is the most compelling solution.
The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills, England's chief education inspection agency, recently released a report lauding the attributes of faith schools. The report, "Independent Faith Schools," examined the quality of formation provided by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu religious schools. The inspectors found "pupils demonstrating an excellent understanding of spiritual and moral attributes."
In all the schools visited, "pupils gained a strong sense of identity and of belonging to their faith, their school and to Britain." In other words, faith-based schools, by simply teaching about religion, are forming their students to be virtuous citizens.
In Britain's faith schools, "good citizenship was considered by all the schools visited to be the duty of a good believer because this honored the faith," the report says. In contrast, American public schools have become prisoner factories for many at-risk black males.
Because producing educated, virtuous citizens is unrelated to funding, the problem cannot be addressed by simply increasing government spending for education.
Even in the public sector, blacks are realizing that the current model fails black males. Kentucky State University President Mary Sias says the university is trying to find funding to open a boarding school for black male youth to get them into college.
The Eagle Academy for Young Men, a charter school in the Bronx, is the first all-male public school in New York City in 30 years. Eagle Academy has a high school graduation rate of 82 percent, compared with 51.4 percent of black and 48.7 percent of Hispanic students graduating from high schools citywide. This may explain why Eagle had 1,200 applications for this year's ninth-grade class of 80 students.
Americans cannot afford, financially or morally, to trap black males in criminal cultivators masquerading as schools. Even though charter schools, vouchers and tax-credit programs reflect some progress, black parents need radical new options that empower them to choose the best schools.

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High School Football and Prayer

Sunday, November 1, 2009
I have no problem with student led prayer, although I think it is pointless, it is a personal activity. What I have a problem with is a public school or public official sponsored prayer. While the article shows that some schools have student led prayers at football games, these prayers are conducted over the school's public address system. This action amounts to implicit, if not explicit, endorsement of religion by the school. I see no difference between this action and the action in Georgia.

In the article below, Gulf County Superintendent Tim Wilder said, “We have always supported it. Our board supports it. If we find out we’re doing something illegal, we’ll consult our attorney.” No one has ever complained about the prayers..." Just because no one has complained does not mean it is Ok. In fact the article notes that in 2000 the Supreme Court ruled that a school in Texas violated the establishment clause by allowing students to pray before football games over the public address system.

When is it OK to pray in school?

Prayer in public schools is a contentious subject in Northwest Florida

By Katie Tammen and Will Hobson / Florida Freedom Newspapers

Port St. Joe’s last home football game of 2009 began like any other, with player introductions and a prayer.
The public address announcer introduced each senior individually, then handed the microphone to a local minister.
The din of the crowd dropped to murmurs. Most of the people in the stands bowed their heads. A few players dropped to one knee.
“Father, we do thank you for the blessings of this day,” said Troy White of New Life Christian Center, a non-denominational Port St. Joe church. White thanked God for the athletes, asked Him to guide the seniors as they made career and college choices, to keep the players safe, and to bless everyone at the game.
“This we ask you in Jesus’ name. Amen,” White concluded.
Christian prayer prior to football games is a tradition in the South. But prayers like the one said at Port St. Joe over the school-owned public address system also might violate the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Gulf County School District officials believe the pre-game prayers are both positive and legal.
But similar practices elsewhere have landed school districts in divisive lawsuits that can cost districts hundreds of thousands of tax dollars.
“They’re setting themselves up for a legal fight, and that’s just unfortunate,” said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, a nonpartisan organization with offices in Washington D.C. and Nashville, Tenn. “No one wins with these lawsuits.”

Contentious topic

Prayer in public schools is a contentious subject in Northwest Florida.
A U.S. District Judge placed the Santa Rosa County School District under a court order in January that prevents officials from sanctioning or leading religious activities.
In response, Santa Rosa County students began leading voluntary prayers this fall before high school games.
Meanwhile, 100 or so miles to the east, Florida Freedom reporters observed pre-game prayers this fall at schools in Gulf, Washington and Jackson counties. They all followed a similar pattern.
At Graceville High School in Jackson County, a student led a prayer over the public address system before the Oct. 2 game against Blountstown. The student asked the “Heavenly Father” to keep the players and the crowd safe.
That same night a student also led a prayer over the public address system in Gulf County before Wewahitchka High School played Bozeman, asking for the safety of the players and crowd, but making no mention of a deity.
A week later, the announcer at Wewahitchka’s game against Liberty County offered a prayer to Jesus Christ over the public address system.
Washington County students frequently lead Christian prayers over the public address system at Chipley and Vernon games. Typically, the crowd is asked to stand and bow their heads by the announcer before a student prays.
School officials in all three counties said they intend to continue the practice.
“We support it (the prayer),” said Gulf County Superintendent Tim Wilder. “We have always supported it. Our board supports it. If we find out we’re doing something illegal, we’ll consult our attorney.”
No one has ever complained about the prayers, the officials said.
“If anything, I’ll hear about it if they don’t pray,” said Washington County Superintendent Sandra Cook.

What’s legal?

The U.S. Supreme Court has made a number of rulings about what is and is not legal when it comes to prayer in schools.
Still, questions abound.
“There are lots of people, who if they feel strongly about something, really don’t care what the Supreme Court says,” said Douglas Laycock, a University of Michigan Law School professor who specializes in the First Amendment. “If they want to find a way to keep doing it, they will. That’s been the history of this litigation ever since the Supreme Court started deciding these cases in 1962.”
The legal debate hit Northwest Florida in August 2008 when the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of some students, sued Santa Rosa County schools for promoting Christianity. After a five-month legal battle, the district admitted liability and agreed to abide by a court order that prevented school officials from promoting any religion.
This fall, Santa Rosa County high school students began leading football crowds in the Lord’s Prayer – a practice that the students involved say is voluntary, doesn’t involve use of the public address system, and is not sanctioned by school officials.
The trouble arises, according to some legal scholars, when students are allowed to use a school’s public address system to lead the prayers, as they are in Chipley, Graceville, Port St. Joe, Vernon and Wewahitchka. The public address system is school property, and use of it to pray implies school endorsement, said Haynes, who has written extensively about religion in schools.
The legal basis for this argument was established in 2000 when the Supreme Court ruled that a school in Santa Fe, Texas, violated the establishment clause by allowing students to pray before football games over the public address system.
“Religious liberty is about keeping the government out of our religious choices and commitments,” said Laycock, who wrote a brief in the Santa Fe case. “We leave religion to individual families and churches, and you just can’t deliver a prayer for a large crowd in a way that is consistent with the religious liberty of everybody there.”
Under current interpretation of the law, Haynes said the only way prayers over the school public address system can be constitutional is if they are part of a free-speech forum. To be considered a free-speech forum, several considerations need to be met.
“Does the school give the microphone over to any and all students on all occasions or a student, who, wink, wink, was going to give a prayer?” Haynes asked.
Another important factor is the schools’ past actions.
“History counts,” said Haynes. “What is the pattern here in this community?”
If a lawsuit is filed, a district is likely in for a long and expensive legal battle. Santa Rosa Schools spent more than $440,000, and their case didn’t even go to trial.
Neither Haynes nor Laycock definitively said that Northwest Florida schools are in violation of the law by allowing prayers over the public address systems. But both questioned the legality of the practice.
“I don’t think the school is wise to be cute about this, to try to find some way to get around the law,” Haynes said. “It’s possible that they could get away with it, but I think they know what they’re doing.”

Not so crystal clear

Most school administrators said as long as pregame prayers are student-led, and the content is not previewed or approved by school staff, then they are respecting both the establishment clause and the free speech requirements of the First Amendment.
Graceville Principal Chris Franklin said he worries that stopping a student from praying over the public address system would violate that student’s right to free speech.
“We don’t want to do anything wrong, but we have to respect students’ rights,” he said.
Some legal experts support Franklin’s understanding of the law.
“It’s not an automatic violation of the so-called separation of church and state because religious remarks come over the PA system,” said David Cortman, senior legal counsel with Alliance Defense Fund. “The more particular facts should be applied, not an erroneous broad brush, which is why the Santa Fe case doesn’t apply as particularly to these situations as Adler v. Duval County.”
The 2001 ruling Cortman cited was one of two made by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta after the Santa Fe case that allowed prayer over public address systems at school events as long as the prayers were student-led with no school approval.
“There’s a difference between government-sponsored religion and going so far as to limit private religious speech. I think the ACLU continues its seek-and-destroy mission of all religious speech,” Cortman said.
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