WASHINGTON — Secretary of Education Rod Paige is refusing to resign or even apologize for comments he made in an interview praising schools that teach Christian values over public schools.
In an interview published earlier this month in the Baptist Press, a news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, 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.… 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.”
Paige’s comments, which were quoted in The Washington Post and elsewhere last week, drew fire from civil rights organizations, Jewish groups, Arab groups and congressional Democrats.
“If Secretary Paige doesn’t step down, President Bush should not only repudiate his remarks, but should unhesitatingly demand his resignation,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat. “Paige’s comments are astonishingly bigoted, and intolerant and narrow-minded in their own right. But for such words to come from America’s top educator is simply unacceptable. Paige needs to go immediately.” Another New York Democrat, Rep. Nita Lowey, called on Paige to publicly apologize.
Paige last week hastily convened a press conference, in which he insisted that he respects the separation of church and state. What he had meant to convey, he explained, was that the more specific the value system in a school, the better the school’s chances of meeting its goals. He also said that he and the interviewer “were speaking about higher education. Nowhere was there any reference to the public schools.”
Asked about the calls for an apology, Paige demurred. “I don’t think I have anything to apologize for,” he said.
Both Paige’s defiance and his explanations seemed to have only reinvigorated his opponents. Congressional Democrats have signed onto an organized letter calling for his resignation, the American Civil Liberties Union slammed him for not backtracking and major newspapers across America published editorials critical of his remarks.