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12.4.03

Paige's Values Are America's Values

Today it's called conflict resolution, anger management and school discipline. Not so long ago it was called loving your enemy, turning the other cheek and respecting your elders.

Whatever terms are used to describe them, Christian values -- that is, values that were born of or nurtured by the Christian faith -- form a strong basis for good citizenship in school and beyond. Public schools would do well to teach them. That is the case Paige made in a recent interview that appeared in the Baptist Press. But Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State would like to portray these basic Christian principles -- and anyone who, like Paige, publicly esteems them -- as a menace to society.

So what was the education secretary's great offense? He 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. Where a child is taught that there is a great source of strength greater than themselves." Note: He did not say "teaching Christian doctrine or theology," only the values associated with the Christian community.


This article, by William J. Bennett, tries to make two contradictory points. In the bit quoted above, his argument is that "Christian values" are not exclusive to Christianity, so Paige wasn't advocating any particular doctrine. Later in the piece, he goes on to make the claim that these values were invented by Christianity, decrying the secularism that is causing people to deny that their moral system is Christian.

The first argument doesn't match what Paige's comments actually say. Paige didn't praise nonviolence and neighborly love that Christians and non-Christians alike practice. He advocated teaching children to have faith in a higher power -- i.e., to believe in God. It seems Bennett really agrees with this interpretation -- though he denies it to make his first point -- as it forms the basis of his second argument. He claims that a shared Christianity is necessary to education, blaming secularism for trying to "eliminate any vestige of religious influence in teaching reliable standards of right and wrong." And he goes on to make the tired claim that since the founders were religious, we should be too.

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