by Fred Jackson and Jody Brown
(AgapePress) – School officials in Oregon and Washington are arranging for thousands of students to hear a speech this week from the Dalai Lama. That action has a group of state lawmakers charging that there appears to be a double standard when it comes to how the school system deals with religion.
In a letter to school superintendents, the seven Washington State legislators note that for years now, schools have been using the separation-of-church-and-state argument to prohibit students from reading Bibles at schools, praying at graduation ceremonies and sporting events, or holding Bible studies. So why, they ask, are school districts in the area willing to allow 9,000 students to have a day off next week, and in some cases use school buses to transport them to a youth summit to hear a Buddhist monk?
One of the legislators asking that question is Republican State Senator Joseph Zarelli of Vancouver. He calls it a very clear double standard.
“If the Pope came to give his message of love and conciliation, or [if it was] Billy Graham or Luis Palau or James Dobson, they probably wouldn't even let them sell tickets on the school grounds,” Zarelli says. “Yet in this case, they're not only selling tickets, but they're driving the kids, giving them the school day off, giving staff [time] off to chaperone and take these kids.”
“They've also got about 200 kids [who] are going to be in a private session with the Dalai Lama, in which no parents, teachers, or media are allowed to be present,” the senator says.
The letter from the legislators also asks school officials why they are sending students to a summit that “cannot be viewed as anything but a religious event.”
“One cannot ignore the reality that the Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of the Buddhist religion; is touted to be the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama; delivers a religious perception by his mere presence; and whose message cannot be separated from who or what he is: a Buddhist monk,” the letter states.
Next Monday's summit is being sponsored by the Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association. The Seattle Times reports money raised from the event will be used to build a Tibetan Studies and World Peace Center. Coordinators of the event claim the youth summit “is not a religious event” but “an opportunity for high-school students to hear directly from a Nobel Peace Prize laureate how to resolve conflict through nonviolent means.”
(This update courtesy of Agape Press.)