Teaching ethics

I agree wholeheartedly with Curtis J. Sitomer's conviction that, ``In a pluralistic society, it is best for government to leave ethical and spiritual education to the private sector'' [``Morals and public money,'' Nov. 19]. But why restrict this sentiment to ``ethical and spiritual'' education?

Surely it is just as dangerous ``in a pluralistic society'' - such as the American society today - to allow the state to promote governmental orthodoxy in the fields of history, science, medicine, literature, and sociology.

In a democratic polity, the power of government is held in check by a vigilant and independent citizenry; that check is undermined when the citizens who must be ready to oppose the government are dependent on it for the contents of their minds.

This evil is exacerbated by the tax-supported nature of public education. No matter whether evolutionists are taxed to fund the teaching of creationism or creationists are taxed to fund the teaching of evolution; in either case, such taxation violates Thomas Jefferson's dictum that ``to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.''

Governmental indoctrination is as pernicious in education generally as it is in religious education specifically, and for the same reasons.

Let's rethink the nature of our commitment to public education in the United States; does it require that the government itself teach our children? One alternative might be an across-the-board tax-credit voucher system. Roderick T. Long Ithaca, N.Y.

Mr. Sitomer strikes a sensitive nerve when he states that ethical education is best left to the private sector. Actually, it is quite possible for publicly funded religious groups to teach ethics without advocating one religion over another.

Indeed, Congress has the responsibility to fund ethics education to combat serious problems such as rising teen pregnancy rates.

However, if ethics education is equated to religious instruction, so that the doctrine of the separation of church and state applies to it, the courts would be forced to examine nonreligious groups such as Planned Parenthood, who receive federal funds, and teach a form of ethics which directly contradicts common religious convictions. Mike Hamerly Universal City, Texas

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