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Separation of Church, State

August 18, 1985

As a public school teacher, I bitterly resent the political promises that Secretary of Education William Bennett recently made to the Knights of Columbus at their national convention in Washington. Bennett has no business promising the Knights of Columbus that he will pass legislation permitting local school districts to use federal funds to aid parochial schools nor does he have any right to promise "judicial reconsideration to correct the disdain for religious belief."

Bennett's promises are full of malicious mischief and malign intent. Allowing school districts to use U.S. funds to distribute vouchers for private schools will enable many school districts, especially in the Deep South to divert funds from desegregated public schools to support private "segregation academies" which practice flagrant forms of racial discrimination. Bennett's proposals will re-create the dual school system with all its inequities, the very type of educational system which the 1954 Brown vs. Topeka, Kan., dismantled.

Furthermore such actions will convince blacks that their rights have no constitutional guarantees and exist only at the political whims of the dominant political party. It will prove that the current political economic system of America promises black people nothing but oppression, exploitation, and degradation. To enact Bennett's legislative proposals is indeed a recourse filled with dangerous precedents for everyone because when one person's constitutional rights are abrogated, no one's constitutional rights are safe.

The Founding Fathers of this nation deliberately created a judiciary that was independent of political control so that the rights of American citizens would be protected against the excesses of politicians such as William Bennett. Allowing William Bennett and the Reagan Administration to get away with this form of political manipulation will put our entire system of rights and liberties in jeopardy.

Mr. Bennett needs to decide what he wants to do. The responsibilities of the secretary of education are to direct the distribution of federal funds for public education and to create programs that will enable public educational systems to operate more effectively. The energies, manpower and resources are to be used exclusively for improving public education because under the current guidelines of the Constitution, which Mr. Bennett swore to uphold and defend, the public educational system is the only one that legally falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education.

If Mr. Bennett is unhappy with the current limitations imposed by the Constitution and wishes to devote his time and his energies to promoting and promulgating the special interests of politically favored religious groups, he should resign his position and devote his energy to establishing himself as the first U.S. secretary of religion. Mr. Bennett's current perception of his responsibilities is a serious misinterpretation of his duties and represents both a breach of constitutional law and a misuse of public funds.

W. JOSEPH MILLER Los Angeles

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