President Bush has declared Wednesday as Religious Freedom Day, calling upon Americans to "observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools and places of worship." That's not likely to be a problem in homes and places of worship, but things could get tense at schools.

"Educators run from this," said Eric Beuhrer, president of the California-based Gateways to Better Education. "This myth has been built up in educators' minds that the strict separation of church and state means that if one student wants to say 'Merry Christmas' to another student, they get all nervous and say, 'You can't do that!'"

You can do that, Beuhrer said in a phone interview. "We want to use this day to make the point that the separation of church and state doesn't stifle freedom of speech," he said. "Teachers need to make their classrooms a place where students feel safe in expressing their family's religious beliefs. And it doesn't matter what those beliefs are."

Beuhrer's organization was launched 15 years ago to help "educators understand what they can do, what is appropriate to do and what is legal to do," he said. "The irony is that this is all very clear-cut. Both Presidents Clinton and Bush issued guidelines on students' religious freedoms."

The organization's website,, includes a list of "student liberties." Anyone interested in a longer version can go to and download the entire "U.S. Department of Education's Guidelines on Religious Expression in Public Schools."

Spin control

The Interreligious Network of St. Paul has taken on a new name, the St. Paul Interfaith Network. Not only does it produce a catchier acronym -- SPIN -- but it better reflects the group's mission, organizers say.

"The change is a result of having a group of people seeking to be more intentional about the network's activity and identity," said Tom Duke, the convener of interfaith networking and dialogue for the St. Paul Area Council of Churches.

To that end, January's activities will focus on "thinking together about the broad purposes of interfaith work." This includes a group discussion, "Why Interfaith Activities" (12:30 p.m. Wednesday, St. Paul Council of Churches, 1671 Summit Av., St. Paul); a Christian-Muslim dialogue, "Interpretation of Scripture" (2 p.m. Jan. 20, Islamic Center of Minnesota, 1401 Gardena Av., Fridley), and a two-day interfaith dialogue on "Religion and Violence: Untangling the Roots" (8 a.m. Jan. 22 and 23, Luther Seminary, Northwestern Hall Auditorium, 1501 Fulham St., St. Paul). The last event requires registering at 651-641-3416.

The last amen

After 94 years, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Minneapolis will hold its last service Sunday. Despite the feelings of melancholy that the closing brings, it's also a fitting transition.

"The church was started by Norwegian immigrants, and we're donating the building to the Oromo Evangelical Lutheran Church, a growing congregation of Ethiopian immigrants," said the Rev. Sally Ankerfelt, who, with her husband, Dan, co-pastors Our Redeemer and the neighboring Minnehaha Communion Lutheran Church, the congregation with which Our Redeemer is merging.

The church is at 4000 28th Av. S. The 9:15 a.m. service will be followed by a reception that goes until noon.

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392

Headscarf perceptions

A national survey of 600 Americans revealed that a woman wearing a hijab, or traditional Muslim shawl, was viewed as being significantly different than the same woman without any headwear.

The survey was conducted Jan. 2-3 by HCD Research of New Jersey. Half the participants were shown a photo of a woman wearing a hijab, and the other half were shown a picture of the same woman without anything on her head. Then the participants were asked a series of questions about their perception of the woman, including whether they would want her as a next-door neighbor.

The woman in the shawl generally was perceived as being older and a stay-at-home mother, while the one without a hijab was seen as a young professional. Both rated high in trustworthiness. Nonetheless, a third of the respondents said they would prefer to have the woman in the hijab live in a different neighborhood -- some even said in a different country -- while nearly 90 percent said the woman without anything on her head would be welcome next door.