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February 14, 2003 - Image 23

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-02-14

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agenda is advancing relentlessly —
increasingly through internal regulations
and guidelines as well as legislation.
• This week, it was a new set of
Department of Education guidelines
that warn school districts they could
lose federal funding by improperly bar-
ring student prayer or preventing teach-
ers from participating in religious activi-
ties.
The guidelines are a followup to
guidelines issued by the Clinton admin-
istration — but critics say there is a big
difference. Now, schools will be
required to prove they are complying
with the congressionally mandated rules
through yearly reports, said Michael
Lieberman, counsel for the Anti-
Defamation League's Washington office.
"The policy is skewed; the starting
point is that you have to certify there
are no policies to prevent constitutional-
ly protected prayer," Lieberman said.
The new regulations are the result of
"unbalanced" language in a major edu-
cation bill passed by Congress last year,
he said.
"What Congress said is that you can
only lose your federal funding for not
having enough school prayer. It doesn't
work both ways; if you have improper
prayers at a high school football game,
you can get sued, but you can't lose
your federal funding."
And, Lieberman said, the new guide-
lines do not include protections against
proselytization and religious harassment
that were included in the Clinton
administration guidelines. "These
guidelines push the envelope on stu-
dent-initiated prayer," Lieberman said.
Other critics say the guidelines misin-
terpret court decisions on student-led
prayers. "These guidelines assert that
students can lead prayers or give ser-
mons at some school functions," said
Barry Lynn, executive director of
Americans United for Separation of
Church and State. "The Supreme Court
has never allowed that.
"If the administration tries to cut off
federal funding to any school on the
basis of these guidelines, that action will
surely be challenged in court."
But the Orthodox Union praised the
new Department of Education rules.
"The guidelines are not significantly dif-
ferent from the Clinton guidelines,"
said Nathan Diament, director of the
OU's Institute for Public Affairs.
"What's different is that, this time, they
have teeth."
Diament said such regulations are
needed because "in some school dis-
tricts, you just say the word 'religion' in
a public school, and the automatic
reaction is to disallow it." El

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2/14
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