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NEW YORK CITY – When freedom is under attack, how do we defend it? Not by waving a flag, asserted Dr. Charles C. Haynes of the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center, but by living the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution.

"Terrorist camps are very effective, but I believe in my heart that schools in a democratic society can teach people to be free citizens, and that’s even more effective," he said, addressing the National Council of Churches’ Executive Board during its October 1-2 meeting at the First Amendment Center’s mid-Manhattan offices.

One key is learning to live together with deep differences, including religious differences, which are "important to millions of people," Dr. Haynes said. "We can, in our public schools, be places where religious liberty is not only discussed but modeled."

This includes teaching "rights, responsibility and respect" and accommodating claims of conscience whenever possible; for example, through release time, he said.

The First Amendment Center has as its mission to foster public understanding of and appreciation for First Amendment rights and values, including freedom of speech, the press and of religion, the right to assemble and to petition the government.

Through its Religious Freedom Programs, it helps schools throughout the nation address issues concerning religion and values in public education. This work has won broad consensus from parties as diverse as the National Association of Evangelicals, Christian Legal Society, U.S. Catholic Conference, National Council of Churches, Council on Islamic Education, American Jewish Congress, National PTA and American Association of School Administrators.

Dr. Haynes is Senior Scholar for the Religious Freedom Programs, and is based at the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center offices in Arlington, Va. The center also has offices in Nashville, Tenn.

The importance of the First Amendment Center’s work was proven on September 12. Public school teachers in Modesto, Calif., "have been taking workshops with us and others about how to talk fairly and accurately about religion in the public school setting," Dr. Haynes told the NCC Executive Board.

"On September 12, Modesto’s schools went into action. They had teachers who knew something about Islam because they had a unit on world religions in the 9th grade, who could talk about how we can live together with deep differences and with deep respect." The violence against Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs and others since September 11 "reminds us that we can’t take (this) for granted," he said.

Dr. Haynes said he’s been trying to get the New York City public school system interested in the Religious Freedom Programs. "After September 11, I got the call: ‘We’re interested.’"

The First Amendment Center has published (or co-published) a host of related resources, including "A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools," "The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide," "Public Schools and Religious Communities: A First Amendment Guide" and "A Parent’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools."

Dr. Haynes contributed the article "From Battleground to Common Ground: Religion in the Public Square of 21st Century America," to the 2000 publication of The American Assembly, "Religion in American Public Life: Living with Our Deepest Differences."


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