Washington Post - May 11, 2011
Ill. education committee says resolution’s Scientology link inappropriate for public schools
By Associated Press
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Not even the voice of Bart Simpson could convince Illinois lawmakers to approve a resolution aimed at teaching character in public schools because of its link to the Church of Scientology.
The resolution endorsed a program called Good Choices as an example of how to teach morals and values. The program is based on “The Way to Happiness” by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
Actress Nancy Cartwright, a Scientologist who also provides Bart’s voice on the U.S. version of “The Simpsons,” testified before a House education committee that the program has “nothing to do with religion.”
She said it stresses moral concepts such as respecting others’ religion, living up to promises and treating other people the way you want to be treated.
“This book is not part of any religious doctrine,” Cartwright said.
Opponents contend the Good Choices Program is closely associated with Scientology beliefs and promoting it in schools would violate the separation of church and state.
Rob Sherman, a Buffalo Grove atheist activist, said the Good Choices Program book says on its cover that it is based on “The Way to Happiness.” He said students could easily search the Internet for that title and discover a link to Scientology, which he said would be akin to advocating a religious text in public schools.
The resolution sponsored by Rep. Dan Burke, D-Chicago, lists Good Choices as one of several successful programs for teaching character. It commends Good Choices’ ”common sense guidelines covering specific tools to help children evaluate situations and make good decisions that will improve life for themselves and others.”
Burke acknowledged the link between Scientology and Good Choices was stronger than he realized. Burke said he would rewrite the resolution and bring it up again later.
The resolution is HR254.
Reading, Writing, and Scientology?: ‘Bart Simpson’ argues for Church of Scientology program in schools – and we have a cow, man
by: Joseph L. Conn
Bart Simpson showed up at the Illinois legislature yesterday to lobby for character education in the public schools.
Well, not Bart himself. It was Nancy Cartwright, the actress who does Bart’s voice on the Fox cartoon comedy “The Simpsons.”
Cartwright came to the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee to tout H.R. 254, a resolution promoting “Good Choices,” a program affiliated with the Church of Scientology (of which she is a member). She denied that the program is religious, but conceded that it is based on The Way to Happiness, a book by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, other witnesses at the hearing said promotion of the church-related program violates the separation of church and state.
“The Way to Happiness is the Bible of the Church of Scientology,” said Rob Sherman, an atheist activist. “This would be no different than Francis Cardinal George coming here in and saying, ‘Well, we need character education so teach the Holy Bible.’”
If news media reports are accurate, the reaction of some legislators to this matter was deeply troubling. Some of them seemed more interested in having a celebrity appear before them than delving into the serious constitutional and policy questions at issue.
But at least a few legislators seemed troubled by the prospect of religious intrusion into the schools.
“I’m not arguing with their beliefs,” said Rep. Jerry Mitchell (R-Sterling). “When the man’s name [Scientology founder Hubbard] is on the back of the book… I’m not sure the public schools should be in the business of allowing that kind of relationship to be fostered.”
Resolution sponsor Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago) indicated he would rewrite the measure to remove references to the Scientology program.
That’s a step in the right direction. But I think legislators should tread very cautiously here. Public schools serve children from many faiths and some who follow no spiritual path at all. No religious tradition should be allowed to proselytize in our classrooms, directly or indirectly.
Frankly, this isn’t the first time there have been reports of Scientology outreach in the schools. [see related article links below] A church affiliated anti-drug program popped up in California public schools a few years ago, and a Scientology-affiliated tutoring firm in Georgia has raised some parents’ eyebrows.
Religious Right activists relentlessly look for ways to evangelize in schools. I wonder what they think about letting the Church of Scientology do it? Somehow, I don’t think that’s what they have in mind.
Joseph L. Conn is the Director of Communications of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He regularly contributes to AU's Wall of Separation blog.
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