Ohio school district considers goals that include belief in God

Monday, March 30, 1998

CANTON, Ohio (AP) — A suburban Canton school district is considering enshrining the importance of faith in God as one of its core values.

The Lake Local school board is scheduled to vote tonight on the proposal to set goals, including creation of a four-year high school and development of personal education plans for all students.

The plan includes a set of beliefs that states: “The belief in God and freedom of religion are important.”

The American Civil Liberties Union is keeping an eye on the proposal.

“We will be monitoring the situation,” said Joan Englund, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio.

Superintendent William Stetler said he does not believe the statement would blur the separation of church and state required by the Constitution.

The beliefs were drawn up by 26 community and school representatives who worked on the plan for a year.

Stetler said the statement created a lot of discussion but said other listed beliefs also did. He said some other beliefs, such as “Each person is ultimately responsible for his/her actions,” also could be considered controversial.

Board Vice President David VanderKaay, a member of the planning group, said the beliefs are “indicative of the nature of our particular community.

“They may not be philosophically what another school district would come up with, but all 26 members agreed that they are strong elements of what the community believes in.”

He said the beliefs identified are not intended to produce any specific objectives.

Englund said courts look at three factors when considering whether a government action violates the separation of church and state. The factors are whether the action has a religious purpose, whether its primary effect is to advance or endorse religion and whether it fosters excessive government links with religion.

“The reference to a belief in God … is troubling under all three of those questions,” she said.