Alliance for the Separation of School & State
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The Education Liberator, Vol. 2, No. 10, December 1996/January 1997

SepCon'96 sets off wave of excitement

400 inquiries flood in following C-SPAN coverage

by Steve Smith

The phone calls just keep coming, over 400 to date.

Inquiries to Separation Alliance headquarters have surged as a result of national TV coverage of SepCon'96, held during three days in November. "By this and many other measures, it was a hugely successful conference," Alliance director Marshall Fritz said.

SepCon'96 --the Second Annual Conference of the Separation of School & State Alliance--drew twice the number of participants as the previous year's event. Also, thanks to the presence of C-SPAN cameras, people around the country got to watch the Rice/Doerr debate and Joe Sobran speech on TV.

The C-SPAN coverage was a first for the Alliance, and an indication, in Fritz's view, that, "We're being taken seriously as a movement. People are paying attention to Separation, whether they're ready to embrace it or not."

Apparently lots of people do like the idea of separating school and state, though. Telephone numbers shown during a SepCon debate on the issue triggered a flood of calls to Fresno. By press time, over 404 had called for information kits. Of them, 297 indicated they liked Separation.

I eavesdropped at SepCon'96

I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but I can't say I'm sorry I did. During SepCon'96, I happened to be standing near the telephones between sessions, when I overheard a SepCon attendee, presumably speaking to his wife back home. I hope he'll forgive my recounting the conversation here.

"I've heard a lot of ideas that I've never heard before, and I'm learning a lot. Much of what I've heard brings into question things I've believed for a long time, and I'm finding that I don't have very good answers. We'll have a lot to talk about when I get home."

For me, right then, I knew the conference had been a success.

Kathleen J. Richman

The press is sitting up and taking notice, too. Some of the calls to Alliance headquarters have been from print journalists working on stories about Separation, but most are talk show hosts. "Our calls from the media increased tenfold as a direct result of SepCon'96," Fritz said.

Held in Washington, D.C., the conference drew participants from as far away as Hawaii and England to hear a stellar lineup of speakers debate the case for Separation and the practicalities of achieving it. Speakers ranged from educational think-tankers, to repeat favorites John Taylor Gatto, Joseph Sobran, and Sheldon Richman to religious luminaries such as Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., a spiritual advisor to Mother Teresa.

Besides the big topic of Separation itself, the speakers discussed a host of hot education issues. Among the session titles were: "Drugging Children for Peace and Quiet: ADD & Ritalin Reconsidered," "The Monstrosity of the Teacher-State," "How Separation Will Help Break the Poverty Trap," and "Will We Still Be Americans Without Melting Pot Schooling?" All of the SepCon'96 speeches, panels and debates were captured on both audio and video tape; tapes and transcripts are available from the Separation Alliance (The next issue of The Education Liberator will contain complete descriptions and ordering information).

The concerns of religious believers were given special attention at this year's Separation conference, as reflected in the number of prominent Protestant and Catholic thinkers and writers included among the speakers and responders. Although the Alliance is not a religious organization, most Separationists recognize the importance of recruiting religious leaders to the effort to separate school and state. Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant clergy, in particular, need to be recruited as "Modern Moses" to lead their people away from Pharaoh's schools.

SepCon'96 was above all an opportunity for networking and the making of new friendships. Informal discussions and late-night "male bovine" sessions proved just as valuable as the official presentations in forging a unity of purpose among conference goers.

The conference was capped by a tribute to William Bentley Ball, recipient of the Separation Alliance's Alexis de Tocqueville Award. A constitutional lawyer who has appeared in ten cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including several notable education cases, Mr. Ball was unable to receive the award in person due to health reasons. However, a telephone hook-up permitted him to chat briefly with attendees.

"All in all, I'd say we made good on our promise to outdo the fun and excitement of our first Separation conference," said Fritz in summing up SepCon'96. "More significantly, we made some real breakthroughs toward getting the Separation message out to greater numbers of people, especially with the C-SPAN coverage of the debate and the Joe Sobran speech."

Plans are now being made for SepCon'97. "It won't be easy to top our '96 conference, but we're going to give it our best," Fritz promised. "Watch this space, as they say."

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