© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2002
Re: Congress is crossing the line with religion, by Robyn E. Blumner, April 7.
I am no member of the "Christian right." I am a modestly progressive Democrat and Catholic who firmly believes in activist government and civil rights and liberties. In addition, my knowledge of the past discrimination against American Catholics (as well as other groups) leads me to liberally favor church/state separation and religious rights for all.
I merely dissent from the all but implied view by Blumner that religion is an unnatural idea that is to be suppressed socially rather than uplifted as a natural part of life.
Blumner is, indeed, correct in calling the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson extreme. However, I would state that Blumner is an extremist in another sense. Take, for example, her opposition to children reciting a portion of that most "controversial" document, the Declaration of Independence. Then there is the stereotyping of Attorney General John Ashcroft as an extremist in great part because of his Pentecostal faith. Blumner's opposition to our president's praising the values of religious faith is misguided as well. President Bush, to his credit, has confronted the religious extremism directed against American Muslims by going as far as allowing Muslim clergy to pray at White House events alongside other clergy.
A new moral center must come in the public role of religion. While faith must never be subsidized or forced upon by government, it must also be upheld as a natural occurrence within public life. This is where many civil libertarians get it wrong. They take a public person's reminder that faith plays a part in his life as a sign that he is out to "get" all opposing religious groups. They miss two points.
First is the fact that, up until just recently, faith has been a factor in progressive, rarely conservative, circles. From the abolitionist movement to the civil rights movement to the current emphasis on social justice by Catholic, Jewish and mainline Protestant clergy, the fact is that faith has generally tilted toward the progressive side in American life. The Falwells and Robertsons are "historically speaking" exceptions to the rule.
Second is the fact that, as stated above, faith is a natural part of the lives of most Americans, including our public officials. While far too many politicians imply that a vote for them is a vote for God, many enlightened public servants exist who appeal to diverse constituencies through a set of ethics and morals formed as a religious response.
It is this vital religious moral center that Blumner so sorely missed. We must, while upholding First Amendment freedoms, continue to invite faith as a natural partner in public life for those who use it as a source of strength in their personal lives. This does not mean that we have to force schoolchildren to pray or taxpayers to contribute to churches. Rather, this means that, alongside the right of all Americans to believe in any -- if any -- faith they choose, should also come a right to a collective respect of the very ideas behind religious faith, as well as the morals and ethics associated with it.
-- Luis Viera, Tampa
Re: Congress is crossing the line with religion, by Robyn E. Blumner, April 7.
Robyn Blumner accuses the religious right of "trying in Taliban-like ways to inject religion into public schools and the operations of government."
If Sept. 11 taught us anything, it should be not to slap polarizing labels on each other. Her comments reflect an intolerance that rivals anything the extreme right puts forth.
-- M. Wilson, Tampa
Re: Congress is crossing the line with religion, April 7.
As a white American and atheistic Jew living in the South under cover of a Christian name for the past 30 years, I've typically maintained a low profile when it comes to sharing my opinions on religion. Through it all, I've been exposed to hundreds of bigoted expressions and thousands of Christian moralistic statements. I know full well the extent of religious prejudices within our society. Regardless, except for the occasional bombings of abortion clinics and painted swastikas on a few synagogues, Americans have tended to lie low with their religious bigotries.
However, particularly since our most recent presidential election campaign, and more so since Sept. 11, religion has inundated the fabric of our daily consciousness. As Robyn Blumner notes, the expressed love of God has "slathered" our politics so that one cannot help but feel besieged when reading the newspapers or listening to the news. Adding to the plethora of godliness spouted by our politicians are the "godly" ways of our terrorists and pedo-priests.
American children should continue to be permitted the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, minus any allegiance to God, with freedom from discomfort. We must heed Blumner's warning of "religion by the ballot box" else we will not rise above what has become the worldwide fray of the Palestinian-Jewish conflict. Interestingly, it seems as though the St. Petersburg Times is riding this crusade wave by virtue of having relegated her column on religion to the back page of its Perspective section.
-- Ellen A. Rhoades, Oldsmar
Re: The source of my interest in the Middle East, by Bill Maxwell, April 7.
I think that Bill Maxwell is worthy of praise for this mostly evenhanded column.
Even though Israel is a country with 5-million Jews surrounded by countries with 100-million Arabs, it is true that Israel does have the upper hand militarily.
However, Israel can only bring peace to the Middle East if the other side wants peace. This has not been the case since 1948 when Israel first became a state.
Historically, Israel's territories were enlarged only because of the continuous attempts of the surrounding Arab countries to destroy it.
It is true that the Palestinians have suffered and lost their dignity in the process. But this is mainly due to the obsession of the surrounding Arab states and Iran to remove the only non-Muslim state in the Middle East.
The hard-core Islamists consider the Middle East their domain and are extremely bitter about a Jewish state in their midst.
-- Marvin Katz, Oldsmar
Re: The source of my interest in the Middle East, April 7.
Bill Maxwell's column began with expressions of compassion and love for the Holy Land but, as I read on he denounced Israel's power to destroy the lives of the Palestinians.
Doesn't Maxwell read the Times? The Palestinians are being destroyed by their leader Yasser Arafat, who encourages their young, innocent people to blow themselves up and take down innocent Israelis with them. As a mother and grandmother, I cannot understand sacrificing children, their own flesh and blood for a mere $10,000 or $25,000.
Hopefully Israel and Palestine will learn "to bring dignity" to the lives of all people and hopefully, someday, there will be peace!
-- Estelle Rodman, Bayonet Point
Re: Reviews are in: Teen critic a media star, April 11.
It's a morning boost to read about a great teenager! Who can deny that their days were not made a little brighter reading about Tiger, or Martina or Leeanne when they were starting out and winning?
Now we have our own Billy Norris to celebrate! He's cool, even in the presence of Charlie Gibson or Dave Letterman. Billy is going to go far!
Congratulations to the St. Petersburg Times, for recognizing talent and nourishing it.
-- Virgil E. Feltner, St. Petersburg
Re: Clay Bennett.
Too bad about letting the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Clay Bennett get away. The editorial page hasn't been the same since he left.
I'm glad the Pulitzer Prize Committee saw the humor and incredible insight that Bennett brings to his cartoons and honored him with the prize. He deserves it.
-- Sue Hatton, Gulfport
Re: The man who talks with trees, April 7.
Thank you so much for the gift of so beautiful a story. In the midst of all the upheaval in this world today, it was most heartening to read about Jack Kepler and his communion with nature, his reverence for life and his marvelous creativeness. Special thanks to Jeff Klinkenberg for his thoughtful writing and to Lara Cerri for the lovely photographs.
-- Conchita R. Chupko, St. Petersburg