CALDWELL, Idaho – Some parents say they’re concerned that Gov. Dirk Kempthorne is arranging for their children to communicate with the Dalai Lama.
Kempthorne has encouraged Idaho students to write essays about the Tibetan Buddhist leader, and arranged to send busloads of children to hear him speak Monday in Sun Valley.
“I guess from a civic standpoint it seems peculiar, at the least, that the governor, who is a state employee, would be promoting a religious leader to be heard by the state’s children,” Stacey Boone, a Christian from Caldwell, told the Idaho Press-Tribune.
“Everybody screams when a Christian leader is promoted. Everybody is silent on this, and yet this is a religious leader.”
The Dalai Lama, who won the Nobel Prize in 1989, is known as an envoy for peace and tolerance.
Boone and Pam Smart, both of Caldwell, questioned Kempthorne’s decision to have schoolchildren write essays related to the Dalai Lama’s visit. Kempthorne selected 18 young people from Idaho who were due to deliver messages to the Tibetan leader Monday. The students were selected from dozens who wrote essays about compassion, or were nominated by adults.
Smart, who is Jewish, said she believed Kempthorne’s plans to meet the Dalai Lama were in conflict with the constitutionally required separation of church and state.
“They should practice what they preach,” she said of government representatives. “It’s a religion. It’s called Buddhism. If you want to be a Buddhist, that’s your choice. But don’t start using your position to influence others.”
Michael Journee, Kempthorne’s spokesman, said the governor would show the same interest in any well-known religious leader, such as the pope or the Rev. Billy Graham, if they visited Idaho.
He said Kempthorne had considered the constitutional requirement regarding the separation of church and state.
“The governor has been very careful about keeping that separation intact with this event because of the potential for perception,” Journee said Friday. “It’s not a state-of-Idaho event. It is a privately organized event, and the governor happens to be taking part because the Dalai Lama is a dignitary and head of state.”
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