Whatever one’s views on the proper location of the line separating church and state — and there is legitimate room for debate — it’s clear that the line was crossed this week by President Bush’s education secretary, Rod Paige, when he called in a published interview for America’s schoolchildren to learn in schools that teach “the values of the Christian community.”
Paige’s comment appeared Monday in Baptist News, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. “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,” Paige told the news service.
An Education Department spokesman, questioned by the Washington Post, confirmed that quote was accurate and suggested that it reflected Paige’s own “deep faith,” which he said “has helped him to overcome adversity” and “has sustained him throughout his life.” The implication seemed to be that Paige’s personal views shouldn’t be seen as reflecting on his job performance or fitness.
That’s just not acceptable. A Cabinet secretary is sworn to uphold the Constitution, and his views on what that document means are the proper concern of every American. If the man heading the federal Education Department believes the nation’s schools should be exempt from the First Amendment, he and the president owe us an explanation as to why he’s fit to serve.