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CULTURE DIGEST: School board upholds Bible classes; Dems learn to speak ‘values’?; Third Day takes another Grammy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A school board in Staunton, Va., has said children in its district may continue the tradition of leaving school for weekly Bible classes despite complaints from some parents that students who choose to stay behind are disadvantaged.

In a 5-1 decision Feb. 14, board members ruled that the weekday Bible classes attended by more than 80 percent of the district’s first-, second- and third-graders will be allowed for the remainder of the current school year but the issue will be revisited for next year.

The voluntary 30-minute classes came under fire from some parents who said their children were missing out on valuable instruction time during the period they waited for their classmates to return, according to The Washington Post. Besides the idle time, students who opted not to attend Bible classes were stigmatized, parents said.

Staunton, part of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, is along a corridor of Interstate 81 known as the state’s Bible Belt. The school district is one of about 20 in the region that release public school students from classes during the school day for religious instruction at nearby churches, The Post said.

Jack Hinton, president of the local Weekday Religious Education group that coordinates the Bible classes, told the Associated Press that without the classes, “kids get into trouble and have no moral structure on which to combat drugs, sex, pornography and all that.” The classes began in Virginia in 1929 and were moved from classrooms to churches in 1948 when the Supreme Court said the lessons violated the separation of church and state.

Though the Bible classes will continue, the Staunton school board promised to provide “educationally meaningful opportunities” for the students who choose not to participate in the church trips.

“I want everybody to feel free to be where they want to be, to benefit from that time and to have families feel like their interests are properly taken care of by the schools,” the school board’s president, James Harrington, told The Post.

DEMOCRATS TAKE LESSONS ON ‘VALUES’ TALK — With newly elected Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean at the helm, Democrats are making a concerted effort to overhaul the way they talk.

According to The New York Times, Democrats are enlisting church leaders, a marketing expert and even a linguist to help put their own twist on the language that helped give Republicans vital victories at the polls last November.

“Today will be the beginning of the re-emergence of the Democratic Party,” Dean said upon his acceptance of the chairmanship Feb. 12. “The first thing we have to do is stand up for what we believe in.”

Dean later added at a news conference that he would soon begin a nationwide campaign to change perceptions about the Democratic Party, especially among those who voted for President Bush in the last election.

“We are definitely going to do religious outreach,” he said. “We’re definitely going to reach out to the evangelical community.”

The former presidential candidate also said he would make a point to remind Catholics that the social platform of the Democratic Party is “almost exactly the same as the social mission of the Catholic Church.”

Capitol Hill, The Times noted, is another place where the new Democratic emphasis on reaching values voters has become visible. Democrats are now freely quoting the Bible, and everything — including Social Security — is being cast in terms of right and wrong. During the Democratic response to Bush’s State of the Union address, Sen. Harry Reid, the minority leader, talked about “old-fashioned moral values” from his tiny hometown of Searchlight, Nev., and mentioned God.

The House has assigned Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the son of a minister, to lead a “faith working group” to encourage lawmakers to sprinkle references to God and religion into their speeches, The Times said.

And a movement is underway among Democrats to shift the focus on values from so-called “below the waist” issues like abortion and same-sex “marriage” to issues such as better schools, access to healthcare and protecting the environment.

Even so, some observers say true values voters will know when Democrats are simply trying to pull one over on them.

“They’ve learned the lessons of the battle but not the war,” Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist, told The Times. “The battle is that you have to be able to say ‘God’ and not flinch. They are picking up the language, but they don’t have the genuine emotion behind it.”

THIRD DAY AMONG CHRISTIAN GRAMMY WINNERS — Third Day won another Grammy award Feb. 13 for Rock Gospel Album with its seventh studio release, “Wire.” The group won the same award in 2003 for “Come Together.”

Steven Curtis Chapman took home his fifth Grammy for Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album with “All Things New.” Chapman had previously won four Grammys for the same category.

Other winners at the 47th Annual Grammy Awards in Christian categories were: “Heaven Help Us All” by Ray Charles and Gladys Knight for Gospel Performance; “Worship and Faith” by Randy Travis for Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album; “There Will Be a Light” by Ben Harper and The Blind Boys of Alabama for Traditional Soul Gospel Album; “Nothing Without You” by Smokie Norful for Contemporary Soul Gospel Album; and “Live … This is Your House” by The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir for Gospel Choir or Chorus Album.

Kanye West, a producer-turned-rapper who led the Grammy nominations with 10, won in the Rap Song category with “Jesus Walks,” a mega-hit that incorporates profanity and descriptions of street life to convey the message that Jesus walks even with sinners.

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  • Erin Curry