Clergy counseling of public school students here has been attacked as unconstitutional by the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Clergy are invited to visit Central Falls High School for about an hour every Wednesday, and students are allowed to confer with them if they wish.
"They are not preaching," said the principal, James H. Garvey. "The clergymen who come in here talk about whatever the student wants. We just make them available."
A particular clergyman's presence is announced on the public address system and students are told that they can see him if they choose to. Appointments are not necessary and students are under no compulsion to see the clergyman, Garvey said.
"We like having them here," said the principal. "If a student wants to see a priest about confirmation, about a retreat, about anying, all he or she has to do is get a pass from the teacher to do so."
Garvey said that the program is ecumenical with Episcopal, Polish National Catholic and Baptist clergymen invited to visit the school, but that Roman Catholic clergy are more numerous since about 90 percent of the 1,200 students are of that faith.
School Superintendent Robert C. Courtemanch, supporting the principla, said that the clergy :don't teach religion. They are brought in here as a resource to talk with the students about living."
Michael Dollinger, head of the state ACLU chapter, maintains that the practice is wrong.
"They are giving official sanction to counseling by religious persons in the public schools," he said, adding that schools should have secular counselors. If a student wants to see a priest or minister about a problem," he should have total freedom to do so outside a public school building," Dollinger said.
"We are supposed to have separation of church and state in this country and I don't see how you can have total separtation with this going on."