Reprinted with permission by The Dallas Morning News, Jan. 30, 1999

Leaders of a rapidly growing movement of conservative Christians are urgingfollowers to withdraw their children from public schools in order to bring down the government school system.

At least four organizations have sprung up around the country to press parents to abandon what fund-raising letters describe as "atheistic" and "unclean" public schools in favor of home schooling and Christian academies.

The movement, which is just beginning to surface among mainstreamevangelicals, bills itself as a way to "trump" public education by offeringstrategies to "thoroughly supplant the corrupt government school system."

This is dangerous hogwash, said Lee Berg, an expert on the religious rightat the National Education Association in Washington.

"Public education happens to be the foundation of democracy," said Berg, aSouthern Baptist ethicist from Houston who battled the fundamentalisttakeover of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s. "It's where ourdiverse society learns to live with each other."

The movement is gathering steam at a time when the nation's public schoolsare under siege. Many schools are battling violence, drugs, racial strife, funding and poor educational performance while facing challenges from the growing support for school voucher programs and charter schools.

The movement's leaders have gained the endorsement of the Rev. D. JamesKennedy, an influential conservative Christian broadcaster who heads CoralRidge Ministries in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. His Center for Reclaiming Americawas behind a national anti-gay rights advertising campaign featuring "former homosexuals." Another endorser is Tim LaHaye, a conservativepolitical activist and author of 43 books, including the spectacularlysuccessful Left Behind novels based on the Book of Revelation.

"The Christian Right has been calling on the nation to correct all thesesocial and moral problems we have," said the Rev. E. Raymond Moore, a SouthCarolina minister who founded Exodus 2000 just over a year ago. "We're tryingto stop pornography and eradicate abortion, and yet we have not been obedient to God on the biblical mandate for educating our own children. Perhaps the renewal of the culture could be as simple as the Christian church renewing its obedience to that biblical mandate."

He also said that if evangelical Christians exited en masse, "this eventcould seriously cripple the power that secularism now holds over our cultureby holding our children as near-hostages in state schools."

The "death to the schools movement," as one conservative Christian describedit, is spearheaded by Moore and three other men. One is Brannon Howse, founder of Exodus Project in St. Paul, Minn., who believes public schools are so anti-Christian that those who don't agree with the secular state's world view will be discriminated against and ultimately stuck with a bad education that will prevent them from succeeding as adults.

Another is Robert Simonds, founder of the Irvine, Calif.-based Citizens forExcellence in Education, which during the 1980s fought well-publicizedtextbook battles over religious issues and urged conservative Christians torun for school board seats. He is now organizing Rescue 2010, whosefund-raising letters describe public schools as places where Christians are"spiritually raped."

The founder of the movement is Marshall Fritz, a Libertarian Party organizerand former computer programmer who started the Fresno, Calif.-basedSeparation of School and State Alliance as a think tank to change publicopinion about state-sponsored schools. About 6,500 people have signed hisproclamation calling for an end to public schools.

Fritz's group is the most eclectic--it includes a sprinkling of Jews andMuslims as well as people who are motivated not so much by theology but bypolitical philosophy.

"There is no peaceful solution to the school wars other than the separationof school and state," said Fritz, a Roman Catholic. "It's the only planthat has in it the makings of a turnaround of American culture. We're fallinglike a stream-lined brick into the toilet."

Government-sponsored schools are bad, Fritz said, because they shift what he believes is a parent's duty to educate children to the state; they keep God out of children's education; and they coerce homeowners to pay for their own children's education, as well as the education of non-homeowners, who don't pay property taxes.

He said that if the public school system crumbles, citizens would realize a$300 billion tax cut, which means two-thirds of the population would be ableto afford private school tuition. He expects churches and charities to pickup the rest of the tab.

Berg, of the NEA, said many conservative Christians genuinely believe there is a conspiracy afoot in public schools to destroy their values, though he vigorously disputed that claim.