The intolerance of Secretary Paige's accusers

David Limbaugh

4/16/2003 12:00:00 AM - David Limbaugh

Anti-Christian forces in our culture are operating with growing boldness in seeking to eradicate Christianity from the public square and from the mouths of public officials.

 In a recent interview with the Baptist Press, Education Secretary Rod Paige said, "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 … 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."

 No sooner than the remark made the news, the usual objectors cried foul. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State demanded that Paige apologize and withdraw his comments or resign from his position. Paige's words, said Lynn, showed "an astonishing disrespect for both America's religious diversity and the public schools."

 Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called on Paige to clarify or recant his comments. "It is insulting for the secretary -- who should be the advocate for the over 50 million children in our public schools -- to say their diversity somehow compromises those schools."

 New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler piled on, "We believe that you owe a sincere and unambiguous apology to the many American families whose faiths and educational choices your remarks have denigrated. If you are unprepared to make clear that this sort of religious bigotry has no place in the Department of Education, then we would urge you to resign."

 Politely speaking, these criticisms are grossly misleading and unfair. Paige was not speaking in his official capacity, but for himself individually. He was saying that he, personally, would rather have a child in a college -- he wasn't even talking about K-12 -- that emphasizes Christian values. He did not recommend that public schools endorse or teach Christian values (though if he had, it certainly wouldn't have offended the American colonists who originally established common schools in this country for the very purpose of Christian religious instruction). And he certainly didn't say anything offensive or disrespectful about other religions.

 There is a disturbing trend in this country toward the view that religion and religious expression, particularly of the Christian variety, ought to be privatized. Increasingly, despite America's Christian heritage, Christian expression from the mouths of public officials is met with borderline hysteria. Almost every time President Bush invokes his faith he is accused, in some publication or another, of anything from subtle impropriety to delusional fantasies that he has been placed in his position by God Himself. Perish that Neanderthal notion! But as Paige noted, you can't take the private religion out of the public man. "My faith in God is not a separate part of me," said Paige. "I can't do that. I know clearly that where I am and what I do is not so much a product of my work, but a product of God's grace.

 We also seem to have gotten to the point that any public affirmation of the Christian faith, whether by private individuals or public officials is treated as synonymous with "denigrating" other faiths. Many employers, public and private, prohibit their employees from wearing Christian jewelry or lapel pins to avoid "offending" those of other faiths or non-faiths. A school forbids calling a canned food drive the Easter-Can Drive for fear of offending non-Christian students.

 The diversity, multiculturalist and "tolerance" peddlers in this country show little tolerance for the Christian faith. Otherwise they wouldn't insist that saying favorable things about Christianity is tantamount to "denigrating" other religions, much less "religious bigotry." Seriously, how can anyone say that Secretary Paige was being disrespectful toward other religions by touting his own?

 It is not Paige's remarks that exhibit intolerance, bigotry, insensitivity and disrespect, but those of his critics who aim to muzzle him and other Christians from expressing their faith in the public square. How about an apology from Lynn, Feldman and Nadler for their intolerance, insensitivity and bigotry for falsely accusing Secretary Paige of those things?

 Instead of accusing Secretary Paige of trying to restore Christian values to America's public schools -- which would be a wonderful thing, by the way -- his accusers should be called to account for their hypocrisy in actively endorsing competing value systems, such as New Age and Secular Humanism, with utter disregard for the Establishment Clause they pretend to worship.