February 10, 2006
Educating Our Children With Our Values

By Ed Koch

I was struck by the incongruity of a news item that recently appeared in The New York Times. Under the headline “California School Drops Intelligent Design Course," the article read: "Under legal pressure, a rural school district north of Los Angeles agreed to stop offering high school students an elective philosophy course on intelligent design. A group of parents sued the district in federal court last week, saying it violated the constitutional separation of church and state by offering Philosophy of Design, a course at Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec taught by a minister’s wife that advanced the notion that life is so complex it must have been created by some kind of higher intelligence.

In the federal court settlement, the district agreed to halt the course next week and said it would never again offer a ‘course that promotes or endorses creationism, creation science or intelligent design.’ All five of the district’s trustees voted to settle the potentially expensive case, said Pete Carton, the district’s lawyer.”

Last year, another public school system sought to require biology courses to consider the alternative theory that evolution alone does not account for the development of such complex organisms as animals and human beings. However the courts decided that such a discussion belonged not in a science class, but in a philosophy course. Courts have now said such a course may not be given in either biology or philosophy classes.

Large numbers of Americans who believe in evolution also believe intelligent design -- the idea that God created life. They ask the still unanswered question -- what was here before the big bang?

The first amendment was not intended to ban mention of God in a public school setting. The intent was to protect us from the government imposing on the nation a preference for one religion over another. The Founding Fathers clearly believed in intelligent design, as evidenced by their statements referring to the Creator in the Declaration of Independence.

Serendipitously, The New York Times reported this week that “Democrats in Georgia and Alabama, borrowing an idea usually advanced by conservative Republicans, are promoting Bible classes in the public schools…In an interview, Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, promised that Democrats would do a better job talking about values to religious voters. ‘We have done it in a secular way, and we don’t have to,’ he said, adding, ‘I think teaching the Bible as literature is a good thing.’”

What do you have in mind, Dr. Dean? Boards of Education should receive assistance from the private sector -- money and legal expertise -- where they wish to provide children with information on alternative or supplemental theories on the creation of life.

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Many, if not all, states already require by law that students in public schools be asked to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. That pledge was amended by Congress in 1953 to include the phrase “under God.” I suggest that the students be asked to also recite the Declaration of Independence or parts of it, in particular the phrase, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Perhaps each morning a student could be asked to explain what those words mean. A teacher might explain that many of those now engaged in a war of civilizations against us are taught in their schools that the killing of infidels is a first priority. Infidels are the vast majority of the people of the world -- Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and others who are not willing to, in the words of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, second in command to Osama bin Laden in Iraq, “convert to Islam or pay us tribute.”

There will be those who, as surely as God made little green apples, as the lyric goes, will denounce such discussions as jingoism. These ostriches refuse to acknowledge that we are at war with millions of terrorists and their supporters worldwide who openly acknowledge that they want to kill us all. The first and overriding right of every society and individual is to defend themselves against assault. Self-defense includes educating our children by providing them with reasons why our values -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- are worth defending.

Recently, the Islamic world demonstrated by word and violence its anger against a Danish newspaper that published 14 cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed in a way they felt was derogatory. To the Islamic world, that is blasphemy, punishable by death. Even drawing a likeness of the prophet is blasphemy. A number of governments, ours included, quite correctly deplored the publication as in poor taste, while making clear the media has the right to publish the material and a responsibility as well for their actions. We haven’t heard a word on this subject from Cindy Sheehan or Harry Belafonte, who regularly denounce President Bush and the policies of the U.S.

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Every public official is asked and indeed socially required to take pictures with people who ask for them and are unknown to them. That happened to First Lady Rosalynn Carter who ended up taking a photo with John Wayne Gacy who, unbeknownst to her, had murdered 33 young men and buried most of them under his house.

When I was mayor, I recall walking down West Broadway in Soho on a summer day and being approached by a beautiful blonde young woman who asked to take a picture with me. I said, “Sure,” and then added, “raise your right hand and swear to me that you are not part of organized crime.” She replied, “Oh, Mayor, I’m not part of organized crime. I’m from California.” I responded, “Good, then swear to me you are not part of a sex cult.” She said, “Mayor, I swear I’m not.” We took the picture.

What Washington politicos should now consider saying to a picture seeker is, “Swear to me you are not a lobbyist.” Otherwise, they may find themselves in President George W. Bush’s situation where he had his picture taken with Jack Abramoff at a White House party. The President says that, so far as he recalls, he doesn’t know Abramoff, and that certainly may be the case. Today, the only truly safe picture to keep on your wall is one where you are shaking hands with Pope John Paul II. I have such a picture.

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President Bush has joined the ranks of those who believe alternative sources of energy must be found. His phrase, “America is addicted to oil,” and his call to overcome that addiction should become a rallying cry for all of us. We cannot cut our oil habit simply by talking about it. Vast research is required to make feasible alternative energy sources including ethanol, electric power and hydrogen conversion. Mobilizing our resources and those of our allies necessitates an international Manhattan project, like the one that invented the nuclear bomb to defeat the Nazis who were developing their own bomb.

Our bomb was tested in July 1945, two months after Germany surrendered. It was later used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to compel the surrender of Japan. The project cost $2 billion, which in today’s dollars would be $20 billion. Let’s create another Manhattan Project, but this time, one open to our allies and their talents. We must do it now.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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