Letter to Secretary Paige on Comments re: “Christian” Values in Education

Media 04.11.03

Recipient: The Honorable Roderick R. Paige

The Honorable Roderick R. Paige
Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary Paige,

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, as well as the other concerned organizations indicated below, we write to express our outrage at your recent statements to the Baptist Press, in which you expressed a preference for Christianity-based education. We urge you to apologize for and retract these statements.

As Secretary of Education, it is your duty to advocate on behalf of our public schools and the benefits of a public education. It is the responsibility of the federal government to protect religious freedoms and it is the responsibility of the Department of Education to promote religious tolerance in our public schools. Therefore, we are stunned that you fail to realize the offensive nature of your remarks. As reported in the Baptist Press, you stated, “All things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith,” and that “The reason that Christian schools and Christian universities are growing is a result of a strong value system. In a religious environment the value system is set. That’s not the case in a public school where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values.” Your statements denigrate the presence of those with different religious beliefs in our public school system and gives credibility to harmful stereotypes about non-Christians and the values in our society.

Additionally, your statements evidence a fundamental disrespect for the Constitution and the values espoused by Americans who are not Christians. Religious diversity in our public schools is an asset, not a hindrance, and in fact fosters the religious tolerance that this country was founded upon. For the Secretary of Education to express a preference for a particular religion and its practices is irresponsible and discriminatory, and undermines the mission of inclusiveness of our public school system.

During formulation of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), many of the groups signing this letter advocated heavily for inclusion of specific civil rights protections in the law in order to strengthen our nation’s commitment to education and equal opportunity for all children, regardless of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability. This resulted in the inclusion of Sec. 9534 within the NCLB which states, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to permit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (except as otherwise permitted under Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972), national origin, or disability in any program funded under this Act.” Clearly, now more than ever, your statement suggests that we need stronger enforcement of these civil rights laws.

The practice of religion is a personal matter, not to be forced upon anyone or disparaged by the federal government. Our Constitution protects the freedom to practice, without discrimination or undue government interference, any faith or no faith at all. LCCR now asks that as Secretary of Education, you respect those freedoms and apologize for your statements.

If you have any questions, please call Nancy Zirkin, LCCR Deputy Director/Director of Public Policy, at 202/263-2880, Jamie Fasteau, Senior Lobbyist, American Association of University Women, 202/785-7730, or Tanya Clay, Senior Legislative Counsel, People For the American Way, 202/487-2341.


American Association of University Women
American Counseling Association
American Humanist Association
American Federation for State, County & Municipal Employees
American Federation of Teachers
Americans for Democratic Action
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Center for Women Policy Studies
Feminist Majority
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America
Interfaith Alliance
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Council of Churches
National Council of Jewish Women
National Education Association
National Fair Housing Alliance
National Organization for Women Legal Defense and Education Fund
People For the American Way
Presbyterian Church USA, Washington Office
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Secular Coalition for America
Sikh Council on Religion and Education
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
Women of Reform Judaism