CHURCH AND STATE: GROUP WAGES GRASS-ROOTS WAR Citizens for Excellence in Education, an or

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CHURCH AND STATE: GROUP WAGES GRASS-ROOTS WAR Citizens for Excellence in Education, an organization geared toward restoring prayer in the classroom, banishing anti-biblical language and teaching the story of creation in science classes, is permeating school systems across the country (Sonia Nazario, W.S. JOURNAL). Scott Plotkin, president of the CA School Boards Association: "This movement could significantly affect what children are taught in public schools." The fundamentalist group was started a decade ago by former math teacher Robert Simonds. CEE has taken advantage of apathy toward school-board elections by mobilizing churchgoers through speaking engagements, fliers, and phone banks. Simonds also reaches people through newsletters, a weekly radio program aired on 76 stations across America and a book on taking over local school districts. Simonds says that since 1989, "CEE's 925 chapters have helped elect 1,965 schoolboard members," writes the JOURNAL, though he has told CEE members "not to disclose their links to the group." The paper notes that this year, CEE is aiming for another 3,100 seats as part of its goal to take over all 15,400 U.S. schoolboards. CEE's successes in banning books and blocking AIDS curricula have caused opposition groups to take up grass-roots campaigns of their own. The "liberal" constitutional-rights organization People for the American Way has sent questionnaires to school boards to measure CEE's impact, and the nonprofit Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc. is mailing letters to heads of school districts warning of CEE activities, writes the JOURNAL. Linda Steele, leader of the San Diego county chapter of CEE, said the group's aim is "to take over the school boards and debunk the myth of separation of church and state," which she says was imposed upon the nation by the Supreme Court in the 1960s. She said of November's elections: "This is going to be warfare." (7/15) ----------------------------------------------------------------- STATE-SPONSORED PRAYER: DECISION PROVOKES MIXED RESPONSE The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Wednesday that state- sponsored prayers at graduation ceremonies are unconstitutional has elicited mixed reactions around the country (See DRC 6/25). Robyn Blumner, exec. director of the American Civil Liberties Union of FL said, "I was shocked and thrilled at the same time. We are most gratified that the court reaffirmed its commitment to the separation of church and state." (Adelle Banks/Mike Oliver, ORLANDO SENTINEL) Similarly, Louis Grumet, exec. director of the NY State School Boards Assoc, exclaimed, "We're ecstatic!" (John Hildebrand, NY NEWSDAY) But John Dowless, state field director of the Christian Coalition of FL said: "The Constitution guaranteed a freedom of religion, not a freedom from religion. In this case, they seem to be ruling against religious liberty." And according to NEWSDAY, "most educators interviewed say prayers will continue to be said at high-school commencements this week, despite the ban issued yesterday." The paper notes that "community opinion is expected to weigh heavily in the shaping of future graduation ceremonies." The Court's latest ruling is hardly its last say on the subject, however. The NY TIMES notes that the High Court has postponed "every new appeal that involves the 'establishment' of religion" during the 15 months since it agreed to hear the case on which Wednesday's ruling was based (Linda Greenhouse). The TIMES writes that the 12 such cases that have been on hold are "the outgrowth of clashes over governmental religious involvement in a wide array of contexts, from religious observance on the job, to ethnic festivals with a religious flavor, to prayers in courtrooms, to religious imagery on municipal seals." The newspaper adds: "There are even disputes over religion in the schools, the outcome of which is not clearly dictated by the decision on Wednesday." (6/26) ------------------------------------------------------------------ COURT BAN ON SCHOOL PRAYER: WHAT IT MEANS FOR SCHOOL CHOICE The Supreme Court's decision to ban prayer at H.S. graduation ceremonies leaves Bush's school choice program "on uncertain terms with the Constitution," according to the C.S. MONITOR (Marshall Ingwerson). The MONITOR writes that because the court "passed up a chance to relax the rules separating government and religion," applying federal funds to religious schools will "require some delicate footwork to avoid church- state entanglement." According to the MONITOR, public funds probably will have to be "funneled through parents" and not awarded directly to religious schools, and parents must have secular options. Rep. William Ford (D-MI) said the "Supreme Court will not let [private school choice] happen." (AP/Baltimore SUN) White House officials "anticipated" criticism that private- school choice would violate the Constitution. "This is aid to the families, not aid to institutions," Pres. Bush said. He also said: "Federal funds assist college students, regardless of where they go to school." (Laurence McQuillan, REUTERS/PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER) But Ford countered that unlike Catholic colleges, the primary purpose of Catholic schools is "the teaching of religious tenets." (AP/Baltimore SUN; all cites, 6/26)

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