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School invites ministers to teach about religion

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A local high school has asked Protestant ministers to teach a course on the history of Western religions, a plan that civil libertarians call "a setup."

The elective course is to be taught for 21/2 hours a day beginning next week at Parry McCluer High School, which is on a year-round schedule."It sounds like a setup," Anne Gaylor, director of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis., told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

"You can teach about religion in the public schools - the Supreme Court has made that abundantly clear - but it should be taught by a neutral person. This plan sounds to me like it would be ripe for litigation," she said.

Critics also noted the group of minister-teachers does not include Catholics, Jews, Muslims or Mormons. And some suggest it is the school district's attempt to sneak the Bible into the curriculum.

"The new strategy seems to be to find the subtlest way to circumvent the separation of church and state," said Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Virginia.

The clear intent of the course "is to impose the Bible on students. The very setup discriminates on the basis of religion and is intended to promote the teaching of religion in school," he said.

School Superintendent James Bradford Jr. said he's in favor of keeping government and religion apart, and critics have no cause for alarm.

Members of the Buena Vista Ministerial Alliance were asked to teach the course because they have a broad knowledge of different religions, he said. Their mandate is to teach, not preach.

"We control the curriculum, and they understand that," he said. "If we find out they were preaching, they're not going to be in the classroom anymore."