Civil libertarians denounce Georgia curriculum promoting 'respect for the creator'
By The Associated Press,
ATLANTA A new curriculum that encourages Georgia teachers to
promote "respect for the creator" is drawing criticism that it violates the
separation of church and state.
"Respect for the creator" is one of 27 traits that schools must
encourage as part of a character curriculum that takes effect this year. The
other traits include: courage, patriotism, citizenship, honesty, fairness,
kindness, tolerance, punctuality and cleanliness.
The law allows local school systems to decide how best to encourage
As a means of teaching the curriculum, the Lumpkin County School
System adopted posters bearing the national motto, "In God We Trust," and other
quotations from historical documents mentioning God and the creator. But the
county school board voted last week not to teach the creator curriculum until
the state attorney general issues an opinion on whether the requirement
violates the Constitution.
People for the American Way, a national civil liberties group, has
threatened to sue Lumpkin County and the state over the language. The group is
representing parents of two Lumpkin schoolchildren who object to the language.
"The government can't tell citizens they must have respect for God or
the creator or whatever name the government wants to use," said Judith
Schaeffer, deputy legal counsel for the group.
Elliot Mincberg, the group's general counsel and legal director, told
The Freedom Forum Online that teaching the creator curriculum would illegally
promote "religion to a captive audience of school children."
Schaeffer and Mincberg sent a letter to the school board July 17
calling the curriculum an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
"There can be no legitimate question that teaching students to have
'respect for the creator' endorses religion over nonreligion and crosses the
required line of government neutrality toward religion," the letter states. "It
would be difficult to imagine a greater violation of freedom of conscience than
the government's instructing children that they should hold particular
religious beliefs as a matter of good character."
Mincberg says the organization is waiting to see if the attorney
general receives a request for an opinion on the "creator" language before it
decides to take any legal action. The group is also investigating other
counties' plans for teaching the curriculum, Mincberg said.
Lumpkin School Superintendent David Luke said county lawyers are
scrambling to put together a formal request for an opinion from the attorney
"We will ask the attorney general to take a look at this issue,"
school board attorney Sam Harben told
The Freedom Forum Online. "Is it okay to
use the posters and does it violate the establishment clause of the First
Amendment? If it is an infringement, we want to know about it."
Jeff DiSantis, a spokesman for Georgia Attorney General Thurbert
Baker, said there was no way to predict which way Baker might rule.
Legislators who approved the character law in 1997 said the creator
curriculum was acceptable because it did not specify a religion.
"It allows everybody to look at it through all different theories of
creation," said state Sen. Richard Marable, chairman of the Senate Education
Committee. " 'Respect for the creator' is very open."
School begins Aug. 14 in Lumpkin and many other counties.
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