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SECULAR humanism. The words raise a red flag to America's religious and moral right. Conservatives complain bitterly that across the United States many public schools have abandoned the teaching of moral absolutes in favor of a humanistic system of values.

The secular humanism issue has pitted parents against principals, public schools against private schools, ministers against teachers.

Eileen Gardner, who has studied secular humanism for the Heritage Foundation, sums up humanist teaching this way:

``Man can decide. It's up to you. You don't have to refer to anything eternal or absolute.''

Many conservatives charge that humanist teaching removes God from the classroom and replaces God with a deified man.

This is done in various ways, conservatives say. For example, schools teach sex education without explaining that illicit sex is wrong; or they conduct drug education courses that fail to teach the immorality of drug abuse.

A study written for Heritage by Onalee McGraw describes humanist education as ``moral relativism'' that teaches students ``how to develop their own autonomous value systems.''

Humanism is teaching that fails to draw a line between right and wrong, says Dr. Gardner.

The humanism issue is quiescent these days at the federal level and is treated as a nonissue by the media, says Gardner. But at the grass-roots level, led by such activists as Phyllis Schlafly, the issue is bubbling.

``People are determined to get it out of the classroom; it's turning into all sorts of serious confrontations with schools all over the country,'' Gardner says.

-- J.D.

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