In his defense of statements made by Secretary of Education Rod Paige, William J. Bennett [op-ed, April 13] conflates the American creed with that of Christianity. But these creeds are, in many ways, distinctly at odds.

The Christian First Commandment, for example, requires conformity, uniformity and acquiescence, while the American First Amendment codifies individuality, diversity and dissent.

Moreover, whether the secretary is "a good man with a good point of view" is not the issue. The Constitution properly confines the government to a strict secular role to protect individual rights of conscience.

By trumpeting his own religious values over all others as the best basis for our nation's educational system, Paige clearly violated the essence of his office's secular function. It is, therefore, necessary and appropriate that he resign his post immediately.

People who wish to preach should choose pulpits, not government offices, as their places of employment. To allow otherwise, as our founders understood, puts individual freedom at risk.

-- Brad Taylor

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Bill Bennett correctly takes Barry Lynn and Sandra Feldman to task for their outrageous criticism of U.S. Secretary Rod Paige. But even worse than Lynn and Feldman is Rep. Gary Ackerman: He had the audacity to accuse Paige of sponsoring "the Taliban approach to education."

This is all rather amazing. A public official extols Christian values, and for this he is lumped with terrorists. Comments like Ackerman's are not made to encourage reasoned discourse -- they are made to shut down debate.

Kudos to Paige and Bennett for not being intimidated by those who would silence them.

-- William A. Donohue

The writer is president of the Catholic League

for Religious and Civil Rights.

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I hate to disappoint William J. Bennett, but I have no intention of resigning as executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. I also have no intention of withdrawing my criticism of Education Secretary Rod Paige's recent comments about religion and public education.

Bennett finds it noncontroversial that Paige thinks schools should have a "strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community." Has it never occurred to Bennett that the values he prizes so much are found in other religions, and that members of those faiths have a right to be angry when the government's top education official implies that our public schools should favor one religion over others?

I find it interesting that Bennett did not even try to defend Paige's more controversial opinion that Christian education is growing because in those schools "the value system is pretty well set and supported. In public schools there are so many different kids from different kinds of experiences that it's very hard to get consensus around some core values."

Having "many different kids" with "different kinds of experiences" in our public schools is called religious pluralism. It's one of America's strengths, not a weakness. If the secretary cannot accept this fact -- and even celebrate it -- he is unfit to be the head of our country's education system.

-- Barry W. Lynn

The writer is the executive director of Americans

United for Separation of Church and State.