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market place influence the viability of schools. Over the long run people will not support inferior schools, public or private.


This issue has been before our state for too long. It is manageable and does not warrant an endless debate. It can and should be resolved now. Or sooner. Rome was not built in a day, but that was because there were no Nebraskans on the job.

We have attempted to approach this in an open-minded fashion. Aristotle would not have qualified to teach philosophy in Nebraska schools. On the other hand, when Aristotle was contemplating the universe there was no state-controlled system of universal education (with the result that the illiteracy rate was appallingly high). And so it goes. We have tried to consider carefully all issues and points of view without prejudging anything.

Irrespective of how this report may be evaluated, we strongly suggest that this Christian school controversy should not be viewed as a problem. Rather, it is an opportunity for Nebraskans to think carefully about the important concepts of education and religious liberty. By doing so we should be able to stake out some colimon ground upon which to resolve this.

What is this common ground? We suggest that most of us would recognize that (a) the State has an obligation to determine and enforce reasonable educational achievement standards for students of private as well as public schools, and (b) there is legitimacy to the religious freedom claim that some present State regulations are unnecessarily restrictive when applied to Christian schools. We can get off dead center by agreeing that the proper accommodation of these two sometimes conflicting concepts may require limited changes in State policy. What these exact changes should be is something which can be debated calmly (and about which there can be reasonable differences of opinion). We have proposed some specific changes in the hope that from our ideas and the thoughts of others some viable resolution will emerge.

Perhaps this challenge tests the genuineness of our tolerance of, and respect for, differing beliefs. We sometimes think everyone should be in our own image. We want others to be clones of ourselves. And yet it is the diversity of American life, including the very pluralism evidenced by widely different


religions, which gives our society its vitality and indeed its substance. Pluralism keeps us from being bored with one another. What would American music be without the variety provided by a Count Basie, an Itzhak Perlman and a Catherine Crozier?

The people of Nebraska are citizens in the classical Greek sense: concerned with all aspects of the welfare of the State; responsible but penetrating critics aiding in every effort to make "the good life" possible for all people. Viewed in this context, prompt settlement of this issue is certainly possible, perhaps even likely.

No person should be asked to compromise his or her sincerely felt religious beliefs. Nor should the State be asked to back away from its responsibility for an education system which will produce highly knowledgeable students. This report is an effort to demonstrate that there are reasonable means by which an accommodation of these sometimes conflicting interests can be achieved without damage to either.

A fair and reasonable resolution of this controversy is more than just a matter of education and religion. It all comes down to a word which is the cornerstone of our society. Justice.



What is the elementary and secondary school population in Nebraska? Nebraska Department of Education figures show that there are a total of 305,858 Nebraska students distributed among schools as follows:

(a) In approved public schools: 269,103
(b) In approved private schools: 36,478

(c) In unapproved private schools: 227

There are approximately 400 public school districts having both secondary and elementary schools and slightly under 700 districts with elementary schools only. Most of the state's 264 private schools are church-related. of these 264 schools 250 are state approved and 14 are unapproved. The Christian schools now at issue in Nebraska are among the 14 unapproved schools.

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The panel conducted its study through:

1. A large number of personal visits and conversations with people interested in and involved in this issue, such as:

(a) Nebraska State Department of Education staff members and present and former members of the Nebraska State Board of Education;

(b) Ministers who actually operate Christian Schools;

(c) many individuals who are interested in the issue and whose views differ widely, including a number of ministers of Christian churches who do not themselves operate schools but are interested in the operation of them;

(d) professional educators, including teachers, Nebraska State Education Association representatives, college and university teacher training personnel, university professors and educational administrators;

(e) clergymen and others interested in and involved in the operation of Parochial and other church-related school systems in the State of Nebraska;

(f) parents of children in both public and private schools; and


(g) Nebraska citizens generally; we made a point of visiting about this issue with almost everyone with whom we came in contact personally.

Visits to Christian schools.

3. A series of lengthy panel meetings plus much communication among ourselves by telephone, letter and personal conferences.

4. A great deal of time in personal study and reflection. We all were waking up in the middle of the night thinking about this.




The panel studied and discussed a great many materials dealing with (a) the history of the Christian school issue in Nebraska and the country; (b) State laws, regulations and procedures governing education in Nebraska and elsewhere; (c) the basic concepts involved in defining appropriate church-state relationships with regard to matters of an educational and religious nature.

Many of these materials were supplied to us by the State of Nebraska Policy Research Office, the State Department of Education, supporters of Christian schools, representatives of the Nebraska Christian Home School Association and members of the Legislature. In addition, the panel itself collected and reviewed a variety of references, including:

News articles, editorials and book reviews from many newspapers (especially the New York Times; the Christian Science Monitor; the Wall Street Journal; the Washington Post; the Omaha Star; the Omaha World-Herald; the Lincoln Star; and the Lincoln Journal).

b. Critiques from magazines and professional journals (including the Nebraska Law Review; The Nebraska Humanist, published by the Nebraska Committee for the Humanities; the Black Scholar; Social Work, the Journal of the National Association of Social Workers; and the Harvard Educational Review).

Books (Human Values in a Secular world, Robert Apostol, editor; The New King James New Testament, Special Crusade Edition printed for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers; The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945 1980, Diane Ravitz, author; Beyond the Ivory Tower, Derek Bok, author; and many others).



d. Federal and state court decisions.

Written analyses prepared by panel members themselves for study by and comment from other panel members.

Although we obviously could not read everything on the subject, we tried to do our homework. We sometimes felt as if we had joined a Book-of-the-Day club.



February 24, 1984

This week it appears as though another effort will be made in the Nebraska Legislature to exempt religious schools from certain state regulations. I thought you might be interested in the position NCLU has taken on the issue.

NCLU has attempted to limit its concern with this issue to the constitutional questions involved. We evaluate the constitutional question as follows:

1) Is there a sincerely held religious belief at issue? To be sure, there is. The parents of the children going to these schools believe that the education of their children is an extension of their religion. They can no more accept state regulation of their church school ministers li.e. teachers) than they could accept state regulation of their church ministers.

We don't believe the sincerity of their belief can be questioned.

2) Is there a compelling state interest in the education of its citizens? In our view the answer to this question is yes. The state cannot guarantee an adequate education, but it at least has an oversight role

some degree.


3) Is there a means available to the state, to satisfy its interest, that is less intrusive into the religious freedom of the church goers than teacher certification? in our view again the answer is yes. As you know, the Spire Commission has suggested the state satisfy its interest through a program of testing the religious school students and evaluating their performance in relation to students in other school systems.

whether or not testing the students protects the state interest as well as teacher certification is alleged to do, is difficult if not impossible to answer conclusively.

A conclusive answer to that question, given the conflicting points of view on it, is not really the challenge before you at this time. The challenge before you concerns tolerance of another person's religious ideas.

It is indeed tragic that an Amish settlement had to leave Nebraska because the state could not accomodate the life style of those people. Will the state also force others to leave because it is so tied to a particular set of regulations? That is the question facing you.

I suggest to you that this issue is not dissimilar, in a broad sense at least, to the issue of religious free dom that prompted many to come to this country over 200 years ago. They came hoping to be free to practice their religion. I hope the Nebraska Legislature will inject some tolerance into this current situation.

Best regards,

Dick Kurtenbach
Executive Director

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