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Reform Jewish Movement Condemns Secretary Paige's Remarks on Religious Pluralism and Schools


Contact:
Alexis Rice or Randi Levine 202-387-2800

WASHINGTON, April 10, 2003 -In a letter today, Mark Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, urged U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige to withdraw his remarks promoting Christian values in schools and clarify his commitment to public education, noting, "We would hope that as Secretary of Education, you would be the nation's strongest advocate of public education-an institution that embraces diversity and teaches all children regardless of economic status, race, or religion."

The complete letter follows:

Dear Secretary Paige:

On behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis, I write to express our deep concerns regarding your recent remarks promoting the importance of Christian values in the context of education in America. I urge you to withdraw formally your statement, which raises questions as to your commitment to the First Amendment and the diversity that has been the backbone of our nation's public education system.

In an interview reported by the Baptist Press News Service, 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." It is not clear from this statement whether you are expressing a preference for Christian schools over public schools, for Christian values being taught in public schools, or both. Of course, like all Americans, you are free to send your own children to a private, Christian school. However, we would hope that as Secretary of Education, you would be the nation's strongest advocate of public education-an institution that embraces diversity and teaches all children regardless of economic status, race, or religion. As Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, stated, "The public schools take the poor and the handicapped, the abused and the foster children, the Christian and the Muslim, the Roman Catholic and the Jew. They do more of God's work in a day than most institutions do in a lifetime." (Address to the UAHC Biennial Convention, 2001) We are blessed to live in the most religiously diverse nation in the history of the world, where more than 2,000 religions, denominations, and sects live and learn side by side. Your comments not only threaten to ostracize children of religious minorities but separate you from those who value religious pluralism.

You went on to state, "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." As a religious community, we believe that children gain significantly from religious values taught by families or houses of worship. However, as a religious minority, we are also deeply disappointed both by your public preference for one particular religion's set of values and by your failure to recognize the immense values of diversity and tolerance that come from students of different races and religions learning together in a classroom.

Your role must be that of educator and not preacher. There is deep power in prayer but faith and prayer alone cannot fix our nation's schools. Our schools need increased resources, quality teachers, and reduced class sizes. It is an insult to blame our schools' challenges on the diversity of students' religious beliefs-a factor that greatly enhances education. And, if you are, in fact, suggesting that Christian values should be taught in public school classrooms, it is an unconstitutional and shortsighted attempt to solve our schools' problems.

I strongly urge you to rescind your statement and affirm your commitment to the value of diversity taught in our public schools that has served our nation extremely well.

Respectfully,
Mark Pelavin
Associate Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .



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