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Illegal procedure Howard County: School failed to intercept Ravens player's religious literature.


ADMINISTRATORS AT Stevens Forest Elementary might have told Ravens tight end Brian Kinchen to come empty-handed or bring real trading cards when he visited the Columbia school last month. But they failed to block him from distributing religion-laden pamphlets resembling football cards to fourth- and fifth-graders during an appearance that was supposed to help spread goodwill in the region for the new National Football League team.

The school should have disallowed his well-intended act as improper in a public school setting. Principal Wilbur Payne says Mr. Kinchen did not say anything offensive, but the written words the player shared with the pupils cannot be dispensed in a public school.

Schools officials spend considerable energy deciding what materials are appropriate for the curriculum and library, so they are expected to be at least as guarded about literature brought ** in from outsiders, even if the bearer is a 6-foot-2, 240-pound athlete.

The pamphlet at issue carries a picture of Mr. Kinchen in uniform on the front and his autograph. The literature briefly describes the player's football history, his family and his faith. Then it encourages readers who are interested in the religious aspect to write to him at his Christian fellowship organization in Louisiana.

Eileen Woodbury, the school system's psychologist for human relations, says visitors are allowed to discuss religion and its effect on their lives to students, but that Mr. Kinchen was out of bounds when he "gave the students a direct invitation to join him in his specific religious beliefs." That line of demarcation between church and state is consistent with the string of opinions on this matter handed down over the years by the Supreme Court.

However, Ms. Woodbury misplaces the blame. She demanded an apology from Mr. Kinchen and the NFL for the player's violation of the school system's human rights policy.

Indeed, Mr. Kinchen needs to be reminded of the wall between church and state; Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne says the player has been making public appearances for six years. But responsibility lies with the public schools to ensure that material advancing one religious faith or another does not touch down on their side of the field.

Pub Date: 12/04/96

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