By Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.
Founder, The Clergy Letter Project
December 9, 2016
Dear Ms. DeVos,
Congratulations on your appointment as Secretary Designate of the Department of Education. The job represents a huge responsibility to America’s children and, therefore, to the future of our country.
We are well aware of your long-standing interest in education and wish you the very best as you embark on this administrative journey. It is in all of our best interests for you to succeed spectacularly in your new job.
Without intending to be overly presumptuous, we’re writing to ask you to consider a number of points of concern. We’re taking this step because, like you, we care deeply about the quality of education in our country and because, like you, we care deeply about the role religion can and should play in our pluralistic society.
Before getting down to specifics, let us introduce ourselves. Over 14,000 strong, we represent American clergy. We have come together to form The Clergy Letter Project to promote the teaching of the best science education society can offer.
We are resolute in our belief that religion has nothing to fear from science and, therefore, that religious doctrine should not attempt to limit the scientific principles to which our children are exposed.
Needless to say, as clergy we are all profoundly religious. But beyond that common thread, we are a very heterogeneous group. We represent many religions and denominations. Some of us are liberal while others are conservative. Some have recently been ordained while others have been serving for well over 50 years. Some of us work in the country’s largest houses of worship while others serve small, rural congregations. We are women and men from all races and ethnicities.
Our concerns center on on three related topics. First, as a private citizen you have stated that your work on education reform was designed to “advance God’s Kingdom.” While we applaud your commitment as a private citizen, as the Secretary of Education we urge you to recognize that such a goal is inappropriate. The decisions you make and the initiatives the Department of Education undertake need to be in the best interest of all American citizens. Promoting one religious perspective leaves many of us on the outside.
Indeed, having an arm of the federal government promoting ANY religious perspective leaves many Americans on the outside. Our commitment to our religious faith requires that we ask you to set aside your individual beliefs and think more broadly about the good of our country.
Second, you have been a major supporter of school “choice.” While we do not have a collective opinion about this issue, we have been very troubled that many “alternative” schools have an abysmal record when it comes to teaching modern science. Many such schools have adopted science texts that have no basis in science and instead are promoting very narrow religious views in the name of science.
We believe that it is inappropriate to be spending tax dollars on such materials and, more importantly, we know that such materials are doing a disservice to the students who are forced to use them. We urge you to do everything you can to ensure that all American students, regardless of which school they attend, receive the very best education possible. We ask that you not permit tax dollars to be used to subvert the teaching of modern science.
Third, we note that you will be entering an administration that, in large part, has made it clear that it has little regard for scientific expertise. From evolution to climate change, the administration’s position is diametrically opposed to the worldwide scientific consensus.
We urge you to be a voice of reason in the midst of this collective negativity. We fear for the future of our country, for the possibility of future innovation arising from our children’s generation, if they are taught to disregard all expertise.
While we believe it is good and wise to teach children to ask questions, it is anti-intellectual to teach them to do so mindlessly. Children must learn the difference between facts and opinion, and they must learn to deal with even those facts which make them uncomfortable.
As the Secretary of Education, you have the opportunity to educate the rest of the administration about the power of education. We hope you embrace this opportunity fully because it may, in fact, be the most critical aspect of your job.
Thank you for taking the time to read this note. As we said at the outset, we wish you nothing but the best as you step into your new role.
Clergy Members of The Clergy Letter Project