* Solution in Ireland? Get rid of religious fervor and indoctrination...

Irish author Martin Dillon may find himself in much the position as targeted novelist Salman Rushdie -- the object of religious wrath and threats. According to a report on UPI, Dillon, who wrote the book "God and the Gun," says that there is an unsettling link between religious belief and terrorism which plagues Northern Ireland.

"He is skeptical that peace can be achieved unless religion is taken out of the schools." Dillon adds that strict religious education, which often defines young people as either Roman Catholic or Protestant, fuels the prejudice that is at the root of much of the strife in that divided nation. One example Mr. Dillon cited is the case of Billy Wright, a British loyalist killed in the notorious MAZE Prison last December. In an interview, Wright claimed that Catholics were "different chemically" from Protestants, and "If I defend Northern Ireland, I'm defending my faith."

"You've got these refracting lenses of faith on both sides... Prejudice leads to only one thing -- it leads to extermination," says Dillon.

Is there a possible warning here for Americans, especially those who feel that "putting god back in the classroom" will be a panacea for drug use, unwanted pregnancies or other problems -- real, imagined or exaggerated? Indeed, the record suggests that religious rituals and indoctrination often divide students, especially those in lower grades, and can isolate and adversely affect those of minority faiths, or no religious belief at all. And we'd extend Dillon's suggestion to other parts of the world, such as the Middle East. Too often, political division is incited by an surfeit of priests, ministers, mullahs, rabbis and other religious -- and a lack of reason.

* God in classroom, poor grades linked in Alabama?

Our "correspondent behind enemy lines," Larry Mundinger of Huntsville, Alabama, reports that the state which has made a fightin' issue out of school and courtroom prayer received a B grade on math teaching standards, but nearly flunked in a nationwide evaluation of science education. According to the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation of Washington, D.C., one reason for Alabama's poor showing in science is how the state curriculum deals with evolution --always a hot button issue for backward fundamentalists, and those who insufficient background information in how science is organized.

The state did receive high marks and praise for its math curriculum though, described as "one of the most comprehensive" in the nation. But in the science category, "Alabama scored 51 out of a possible 75 based on such topics as purpose, expectations, and audience organization, coverage and content," according to the Birmingham Post-Herald newspaper. Foundation analysts noted that "political reasoning" had skewed the curriculum in evolutionary science in schools throughout Alabama, adding that the state's approach "is most curious."

"The front matter of the Alabama Course of Study contains... a formula evidently dictated from on high by persons who know little of science," noted the Fordham report. It cited a citation from the state guide which insists, "Explanations of the origin of life and major groups of plants and animals, including humans, shall be treated as theory and not as fact."

Other states getting low marks in science were Colorado, Maine, South Carolina, Nebraska, Georgia and Virginia. Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, New Hampshire, Kentucky, West Virginia, New Mexico, Mississippi and North Dakota all received flunking grades, an F. Only Indiana, California, Hawaii, Arizona, New Jersey and Rhode Island received A grades in the evaluation.


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