Chicago OKs Ten Commandment Covers

Thursday, August 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago public school officials are giving their blessing to religious groups that are distributing Ten Commandment book covers to students — as long as the groups stay off school property and give the material only to children who want it.

``I am enthusiastically supportive,'' Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas said Wednesday, the day the distributions began outside an elementary school. ``I view the Ten Commandments as history's value statements. They're certainly universally accepted.''

Vallas did not attend a news conference to announce the book covers, instead sending deputy chief of staff Wilfredo DeJesus, an Assembly of God minister who wore his minister's collar as he passed along word of the district's ''100 percent support.''

The endorsement has drawn criticism as a violation of the separation of church and state.

DeJesus and a City Council member conceded that the district is walking a fine constitutional line but said a recent spate of killings and other crimes involving young people has left them no choice.

``People talk about separating church and state, but separating these two — it's not working,'' said Jesse Granato, an alderman whose district includes a neighborhood where two young people have been killed this summer.

The covers have the Ten Commandments — from ``Only worship the one true God'' to ``Do not murder'' — on one side and inspirational quotes from such figures as Oprah Winfrey, Mark Twain and Michael Jordan on the other.

They are being paid for by a TV-based religious group called Total Living Network, which expects to distribute at least 100,000 covers to churches, synagogues and community organizations. The cost was not disclosed.

Jerry Rose, president of Total Living Network, said the book covers are simply ``a personal reminder to students who choose to use it.''

Chicago is not the only place the Ten Commandments have become an issue in school. Indiana, for example, is in a federal court fight over a measure allowing schools and other government units to post the Ten Commandments if they are displayed with other historical documents.

The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said he has no problem with the distribution of the book covers, which he said is no different than the Gideons handing out Bibles off school grounds. But he said the school district should be ``rigidly neutral'' on the book covers.

``It has no business taking a position on whether the Ten Commandments or any other religious document is good, bad or indifferent,'' Lynn said from his office in Washington.

Vallas countered: ``That's the problem. Schools have become too rigidly neutral. What in the world is wrong with `Thou shalt not kill?' or `Thou shalt not steal?'''

A few blocks away from the news conference, bakery owner Zenaida Lopez said Vallas should be concentrating on education, not religion.

``That's not going to stop crime or make them better students or people!'' Lopez said after seeing one of the book covers. ``How about this: Give us better teachers!''


On the Net:

Total Living Network:

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State: