West Chester, Tolerance and Good Sense -- CagleJune 2002
Ever notice how some people get upset at the strangest things? Petty, petty, petty things. The types of things that make you wonder how much free time such people have, and how much of a bad thing that, in itself, can be.
If you say Barry Bonds hit a grand slam home run, someone will roll his/her eyes, sigh and exclaim, "Redundant...hello!" You just can't get away with saying that, because someone wants you to know they're paying attention to what you say. And you should applaud them for knowing that a grand slam is nothing other than a home run.
But there are times when splitting hairs is absolutely neccessary.
You might have heard that in West Chester, PA, a woman named Sally Flynn, a resident of this Chester County town, and Margaret Downey, the president and founder of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, filed suit against the county courthouse seeking the removal of a plaque of the 10 Commandments (so much for free thought, eh?) from the front of the building. The presence of this 80-plus-year-old plaque, they argue, goes against the separation of church and state promised in the First Amendment.
Incredibly, this dynamic duo won their case at the local level, and it is now in the appeals process. Until then, the county has forked out $400 for an aluminum and fabric covering to mask the offending tablet and its religious chidings.
Well, not to rob Flynn, an atheist, and Downey of a grand slam home run, but. . .
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
That's the First Amendment, as you know. Somewhere down the line, likely in the U.S. Supreme Court—where all matters of theory rather than practicality are hammered out—Flynn and Downey are likely to lose due to the wording of the First Amendment.
The petty thing that upsets me is the "separation between church and state," which theistic-bashing morons always cite every time religion breaks its invisible restraining order and wanders near a school or a state building. It doesn't exist. The wording clearly says Congress may not pass a law that recognizes an established religion and, in the next breath, admonishes not to prevent people from exercising their right to pray. In other words, no Unitarian States of America, but you may visit any church, temple, synagogue or cult of your choice. The assumption is a separation between the entities, which was not what the founding fathers had in mind, nor was it in the actual wording.
Praying in school does not equate the recognition of a federal religion, either. It's granted in the First Amendment. But someone, somewhere is afraid that the guv is conspiring to control our thoughts. And this wretched plaque, which mocks our hard-earned freedoms every time we drive to West Chester, trample over the rhododendrums and inspect the courthouse wall up close, has to go. Personally, I like to comb neighborhood post offices to see if my civil rights are being violated.
However, should Flynn and Downey prevail, we should respect the high court's decision. Indeed, we should take it upon ourselves to ferret out any other examples of church bogarting its way into matters of state relevance.
And now, assuming someone has called Charlton Heston and asked him to take down his stoney decrees, I think it's neccessary for this feature to direct your attention to another flagrant disregard of the divorce...it seems our government has incorporated some of the commandments into law. They, too, must be removed immediately, or face the wrath of Flynn and Downey. Please note, among the highlights:
Thou shalt not kill. Certainly a Christian value, and most (if not all) religions follow this edict or similarly worded ones. As of now, this is no longer illegal. In the short term, we realize that morning commutes will turn into blood baths, resembling a war zone, but eventually traffic congestion will disappear—that's a good thing. And that guy you can't stand in the bindery, the goof who always refers to himself in the third person and keeps his cigarette pack rolled up his t-shirt sleeve? Feel free to stuff him in the paper baler.
Thou shalt not steal. Clearly, my rights are being exploited if I'm not allowed to help myself to a free copy of the June issue of Penthouse, featuring Anna Kournikova, from the local Gulp-N-Gas. It's too embarrassing to pay for one, anyway.
Thou shalt not commit adultery. Couples will now stay together longer, because spouses can't sue for divorce due to proactively coveting thy neighbor's wife. Oddly enough, adultery figures decrease as cheaters find it's not as much fun when sneaking around isn't neccessary.
The issue at hand has nothing to do with your beliefs or lack of them. It's all about common sense. Are we really insulted when someone erects a manger scene, or lights a menorah, in or around a building operated by the government? Whatever happened to tolerance? It's ironic that organizations such as the Freethought Society and the ACLU, defenders of the assailed minority, often come out in opposition to much of what the First Amendment represents.
Let's face it: a plastic baby Jesus with a 40-watt bulb inside shouldn't trigger a court case. Nor should a tattered old plaque, which had existed on the Chester County courthouse for more than 70 years without violating anyone's rights. Someone, or a group of people, were taken by the similarity between many of the commandments and the laws of our land, and came away with this conversation piece that, unfortunately, has caused too much conversation.
If someone believes that a plaque in southeastern Pennsylvania is only the start of religious pervasiveness in the U.S. government, then that grip on reality is a tenuous one. To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes a plaque is just a plaque.
The good folks of Chester County are $400 lighter in the coffers and may be without their historic plaque very soon. How about a Amendment guaranteeing freedom from people who cause us grief because they have nothing better to do than launch frivolous lawsuits. Some revisionist then can call it the separation between jackass and state.
The oft-repeatd phrase "separation between church & state" isn't in the First Amendment.
By Erik Cagle