Friday, January 18, 2002

Some truths not self-evident

Is proposed school quote history? Or religion?

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT — A Northern Kentucky lawmaker feels so strongly in the importance of the Declaration of Independence he wants part of it recited daily in public schools.

        But civil libertarians are concerned the effort by Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, is a veiled attempt to get God into the classroom.

        This is the passage Mr. Fischer wants recited in classrooms:

        “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

        “Why choose just this one excerpt ... that largely talks about a deity?” asked Jeff Vessels, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky in Louisville. “That suggests there is an intent to focus on God.”

        But Mr. Fischer said he is focused on history, civics, virtue and patriotism — and not religion — with the bill he has filed with the Kentucky General Assembly.

        “I came up with this because of the Sept. 11 disaster and the patriotic reaction to that attack,” Mr. Fischer said Thursday. “I think it is appropriate to at least have children understand the reasons we defend our country.

        “I'm trying to teach civic virtue and the Declaration of Independence is the foundation of our democracy,” he said. “The intent is not to get God in the classroom per se. It is to help children to become better citizens.”

        The law would apply to public-school students in grades 3-12.

        Mr. Vessels said he is concerned about how teachers will discuss the passage with students.

        “If the purpose is to somehow have public-school teachers tell students they must believe in a deity, that creates issues with religious freedoms,” he said.

        Mr. Fischer said he wants teachers to discuss the meaning of the historic document so students better understand the founding of the country.

        “The major reason I did this was for students to understand the importance of defending the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Mr. Fischer said.

        Mr. Vessels said he has not decided whether the ACLU will lobby or testify against the bill, which has been assigned to the House Education Committee.


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- Some truths not self-evident