DUELING TAPES. Now playing on your school's videocassette recorder: Texas teacher David Barton argues that removing prayer from public classrooms was a travesty, while North Carolina minister W.W. Finlator insists that imposing religion on students is unconstitutional. The two square off in a campaign of dueling videotapes aimed at school officials confused about the proper line between church and state.
It began in 1990, when Barton issued America's Godly Heritage, an hourlong tape featuring quotes from the Founding Fathers on the nation's Christian traditions. Barton has constructed charts that trace declines in education and values to the 1962 Supreme Court case banning school-sponsored prayer. He has sold 100,000 copies of the tape at $19.95, plowing proceeds into other tapes and books promoting religion.
Worried about the spread of what it calls Barton's misleading account, the American Civil Liberties Union countered last week by offering educators (for only $4.99) America's Constitutional Heritage, a 35-minute tape with a memo explaining ACLU views on graduation prayers and school Bible use. The tape stars Finlator and includes comments from families objecting to religious practices in schools.
Activists are citing Barton's work in their quest to return student-led prayer to schools, an idea already enacted in Tennessee. For now, the church-state battle seems destined to be waged on television screens.
This story appears in the November 22, 1993 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.