Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that the state does not bar teachers from addressing the religious aspects of the Thanksgiving holiday, taking issue with a recent report by the Capital News Service.

“It simply was a misreport,” Mr. Ehrlich said during an interview on WTOP Radio. “That is not the case. … It is not the policy of the state of Maryland.”

The Capital News Service article — which The Washington Times ran on its front page on Tuesday — reported that public-school systems across Maryland have avoided teaching students that the Pilgrims repeatedly thanked God during their Thanksgiving celebration.

The article also quoted school administrators from several counties who said they do not include religious matter in their curriculums. None of the persons quoted said the state had directed the schools to exclude the teaching of religion.

However, Mr. Ehrlich criticized the article, saying it reported that the state has set the local school districts’ curriculums.

“I have checked with my education folks [and] that is not accurate at all,” the Republican governor said. “Obviously, curric- ulum issues are local in nature. Local school boards have a lot of input in curriculum issues.”

The article has received national attention because of prominent mentions on CNN and conservative radio talk shows.

Steve Crane, the Capital News Service’s Washington bureau director, said he stands by the story.

“It’s correct, if you read the story. It is about the balancing act public schools have to perform when they teach about a holiday like Thanksgiving,” Mr. Crane said. “I understand there has been a lot of chatter about it from people. I can’t help how people perceive it.”

The news service reported that teaching children that Pilgrims were Puritan is as far as many school administrators will go to include religious topics ingo to include religious topics in their classes.

“We teach about Thanksgiving from a purely historical perspective, not from a religious perspective,” Charles Ridgell, St. Mary’s County Public Schools curriculum and instruction director, was quoted as saying in the report.

On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele said the curriculum concerns were misplaced.

“I don’t understand the fear our public-school system or our public system has of God,” Mr. Steele said during a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “I think it is very well-documented and very well-defined in our culture that we are people who readily accept all faith traditions and don’t have a problem with that.”

Mr. Ehrlich agreed yesterday.

“Nowhere in the constitution is it written that the state has to be hostile to religion,” he said.

“The objective facts, the historical facts, with respect to the teaching about Thanksgiving, necessarily brings God into the history lesson,” he added. “The fact of it is, it is what this holiday is all about. So to pretend you can take God out of a history lesson concerning Thanksgiving is an embarrassment.”

The Capital News Service is operated by the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. The organization, which consists of graduate and undergraduate students, provides reports for 14 daily newspapers and wire services.

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