Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Church and state

I received this e-mail from a friend of mine. My response is below (starting with "Dear XXXXX").


I was asked to send this on if I agree or delete if I don't. It is said that 86% of Americans believe in God. Therefore I have a very hard time understanding why there is such a problem in having "In God! We Trust" on our money and having "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Why don't we just tell the 14% to Shut Up and BE QUIET!!!
If you agree, pass this on, if not delete. .

I'd like to offer a competing viewpoint to the author of this message that you passed along.
The Pledge of Allegiance is a pledge to a country, not a God. Therefore, all references within that pledge must be couched in those terms. I certainly believe that The United States is a nation "under God." In fact, I think that can be said of all nations and all things.
What I and 86 percent of Americans believe is certainly important. And, thank God, we live in a country where we can believe in what we want, whether we are 86 percent, 14 percent or .000001 percent of the American population.
Yet, the Pledge, at its essence, is not about belief in God. It is about allegiance to country. Most of the time, the pledge is recited voluntarily. If an atheist in Rotary chooses to not say the pledge or to skip over the "under God" reference, I doubt that anyone would notice. And even if they did, I don't think any action would be taken.
It's when the pledge crosses over to a compulsory statement, that things change. When a student is required to say the Pledge, the term "under God" now becomes much more significant (as do other parts of the pledge).
Here's where I begin to have a problem. First, I find no Biblical basis for government-mandated articulations of faith. There are many names on this list whom I recognize that know more about the Bible than I ever will, so perhaps I'm in error here. Yet, even while confessing a woefully inadequate knowledge of specific Scriptures, my understanding of the general message of the New Testament doesn't involve coercion at all.
I have a theory on why Jesus did not use the government to advance his great message. He knew it could and almost certainly would backfire. Once religion is infused in even a democratic government by a religious majority, it's only a matter of time before the majority loses sway. We are seeing demographic evidence of that right now. As this great U.S. melting pot continues to bubble away, whites are finding themselves minority populations in large areas of the country. Can it be long until there are also communities in American where Christians are in the minority?
What then? If you find yourself in the 14 percent instead of the 86 percent will "shut up and be quiet" be an acceptable response to your protestations over "one nation, under Allah ..."?
My problem with the infusion of religion into government is not borne from a desire to protect government from religion, it's about protecting religion FROM government.
That is, I want people to understand that there is a case to be made for separation of church and state that has nothing to do with diminishing the role of religion, but rather seeks to protect and enhance religion.
Practically speaking, I also don't understand why some of these rather trivial inclusions of religion in government gather so much importance. Is seeing "in God we trust" on the dollar bill really a cornerstone of someone's faith? Is praying before a public school football game something that is essential to the faith lives of large groups of people?
Put another way, have we so filled the "non-public" parts of our lives with church activities, prayer time, studying God's word, living a life of discipleship and spreading the Good News that there is nothing left to do but also include religion in government life?
I, for one, would be utterly hypocritical to demand that more time for religion be included in government when I make such pitiful use of the "private" time accorded to me. Further, I don't have near enough "faith" in the government to be a responsible gatekeeper of religious artifacts, whether they be tangible or lyrical. I do have faith in God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- and that certainly isn't going to be shaken by whether "under God" is included in a secular, patriotic pledge of allegiance to our great nation.
Finally, even if you think all of that is hokum, I would submit that there is not much Biblical support for "shut up and be quiet," even when it refers to the least among us or unbelievers. I haven't met many people who were converted because they were forced to say a pledge that included affirmation of a deity in which they didn't believe. And I doubt that the faith life of many Christians is significantly enhanced by the reciting of a Pledge or a transaction involving currency.
Anyway, rant over.
I guess if any of you have read this far, I'd like to say: there are some -- or, at least one -- in that 86 percent who still think religion is best left in the hands of individuals and churches and not the government.
Skip Foster

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Monday, September 19, 2005

Rita -- Katrina's evil sister?

Virtually every computer model now places Rita in the central Gulf of Mexico as a major category 3 or higher hurricane. The models have taken an ominous turn north in the past 24 hours. Here is the latest National Hurricane Center track. Of note, that track showed landfall in southern Texas yesterday -- look how far north it has moved.

Here is a spread of computer models, showing Rita's track.

It goes without saying that a further north/east shift in the models would be beyond alarming.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

When my wife makes news ....

You may have noticed that my wife, Judge Dina Foster, was named Civitan Citizen of the Year on Tuesday.

You might wonder how we handle stories like that when there is an obvious conflict.

The short answer is: I butt out!

When we hear about something like that, I immediately remove myself from all decision-making on the story -- how it is written, how long the story is, where it is played and everything else about it.

In this case, our reporter on the story, Cassie Tarpley, reported to my boss, Publisher Jennie Lambert, who directed her on where the story should go in the paper (at the very bottom of 1A).

I happen to know this is consistent with coverage of other "citizens of the year." (I.e. last year's Lions club citizen of the year was at the top of 1A). Others have run on the Local front, depending on the news of the day.

Anyway, we keep that out of my hands and also have somebody that works over me make the call so the folks under me don't feel pressured.

The truth is, I would be much more likely to UNDERplay the story than overplay it, just to avoid any appearance of impropriety. I remember hating it when my dad refereed by youth league basketball games, because I knew he would be harder on me than anybody else, just so nobody would think he was playing favorites.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Ophelia -- oh no ....

Massive computer model disagreement on Tropical Storm Ophelia which is strengthening as it meanders off the east coast of Florida.

Most ominous a significant camp of computer models show Ophelia finally making its move late this week to the west, crossing the Fla. peninsula and moving into the Gulf.

Incredibly, the European model, during yesterday's runs, showed a direct hit on N. Oreleans.

That's still a long shot -- another model "camp" shows Ophelia making a loop off the coast, then moving into the Ga./S.C./N.C. coast.

The last camp has the storm curving off into the Atlantic and out to sea.

In any event, looks like a rainy few days for the east coast of Fla. Any interests from Texas to the Carolina coast should stay right on top of this storm.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Adopting Laurel, Miss.

Here is a front page column from today's Star. If you are interested in participating, please let me know.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Star's Katrina coverage

Would love to hear suggestions on how we can better cover this story or simply some local story ideas you might have.