Monday, April 30, 2012

I HAVE BEEN UPSTAGED

While surfing the Internet for articles on the use of prayer at government meetings I came upon this entry by "Americans United"

"Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a nonpartisan educational organization dedicated to preserving the constitutional principle of church-state separation as the only way to ensure religious freedom for all Americans." That is there mission statement; and why I have supported this organization for decades.

How wonderful it is that our fair city can create national attention!

Prayer Politicized In Plainfield: N.J. Mayor Uses Faith As A Weapon

April 02, 2012 by Rob Boston in Wall of Separation |

I’m suspicious of politicians who use their religion as a club to bash political opponents. People who truly value faith don’t do that.

I am always amazed at people who believe that coerced religious worship could be of any value.

Why would a seriously devout person take part in such prayer? More to the point, what sort of deity would be pleased by it?

Nevertheless, such prayers prosper across the nation. Even worse, they are often used as a political weapon.

Consider the situation unfolding in Plainfield, N.J. Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has attacked a member of the city council, Rebecca Williams, because Williams allegedly “grunts” during meetings, won’t salute the American flag and doesn’t participate in pre-meeting prayers.

Robinson-Briggs claims that some local veterans are offended by Williams’ behavior. Williams responds that she shows respect by standing during the pledge but doesn’t salute the flag because it’s against her religious beliefs. She also said she stands during the prayer but doesn’t take part, again for theological reasons.

Williams rightly points out that government-sponsored prayer is constitutionally problematic.

“There are many municipal councils that don’t pledge or pray before a meeting,” Williams told the Newark Star-Ledger. “I don’t see why it’s necessary. There have been residents who have come to the council to say it’s rather superfluous.”

Superfluous is one way of putting it. It might also be unconstitutional, depending on the type of prayer being recited. Remember, Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union recently put a stop to official pre-meeting prayers in Forsyth County, N.C. Those prayers were almost always Christian, and a federal court held that their use by government violates the separation of church and state.

When I first read about this situation, I wanted to advise Mayor Robinson-Briggs to grow up. (She’s seriously complaining about someone grunting during meetings?) But it’s obvious when you read the entire story that the pledge and prayer issues are just a small part of a larger political feud between these two.

That makes it even worse. Robinson-Briggs, who is depicted in a Star-Ledger photo wearing a cross around her neck, apparently isn’t reluctant to use the religion she claims to treasure to smear a political opponent.

The mayor needs to keep a couple of things in mind. First of all, no American can be compelled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. This isn’t something new. The Supreme Court made that clear back in 1943 in West Virginia v. Barnette.

Nor can anyone be compelled to take part in prayers during a public meeting. In fact, the use of such prayers, when sponsored by government, is legally suspect.

I’ve always been suspicious of “holier than thou” politicians who are so eager to wear their religion on their sleeves. I’m even more suspicious of them when that they take that same faith and use it as a club to bash political opponents. People who truly value faith don’t do that.

Perhaps the answer in Plainfield is to get rid of government-sponsored prayers. Not only would that be in keeping with the Constitution, it would also end the misuse and abuse of religion by politicians with points to score.

AMEND

This is from a Star Ledger editorial Sunday April 29. The italics and boldface are mine.

"Without a job, a former (first) offender will be pushed to go back to selling or using drugs, shoplifting and other crimes.

Which means all the public money spent rehabilitating someone gets flushed down the drain.

That Is why Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Union) and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer) say they’re introducing a bill that would automatically expunge the criminal records of first-time, nonviolent offenders. To qualify, drug offenders must undergo intense treatment.

It’s only for people who have paid their debts to society and don’t present a threat. Some, as we’ve discovered, have served on school boards. Thanks to a law enacted last year, people such as Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, an Army veteran arrested with a small bag of heroin in 1968, got kicked off one of these boards.

Green sponsored that law based on the argument that if every other district employee must undergo a background check, so should school board members. But it meant people, including Abdul-Haqq, were disqualified by old convictions — even though the Plainfield resident went on to become a community activist, county corrections officer and business owner.

Green says he now realizes how hard it is to get a record expunged. By the time this bill comes up for a vote, we hope other lawmakers can see that, too."

I have written recently why I feel the prayer prior to the business of a government meeting is not only meaningless but a superfluous exercise in righteousness. I intend to follow up on that thought sometime in the next week or so.

It is obviously that if the Assembly meetings start with an invocation it did not prevent Assemblyman Green from pursuing a despicable course. In fact he has been accused of indulging in a vendetta.

Be it as it may, the longest serving state Assemblyman should have been aware of the difficulties which prevented Rasheed Abdul-Haqq from serving as a voice of reason on the BOE.

If the proposed bill becomes law will Abdul-Haqq be eligible for reinstatement on the BOE? If so what would happen to the person selected to fill his seat?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

PART PLEASURE




The past week was not all frustration and loss. Look who is at the top of the pyramid; great granddaughter who won her class at the Columbus Ohio area .tournament. How young they are to learn the victory salutation.

At least it seems that there is a medal or ribbon for every one. That is how it should be at that age.

Wish I could feel the same about the local budget hearings. Tuesday will be the start of the 5th month of this fiscal year, and we are now at the hearing stage.

No wonder May 1st is Mayday--the universal call of distress.

To paraphrase Will Rogers; all I know about the budget is what I read in the paper and blogs. With a City Administrator only recently on board, a CFO who is so part time one wonders how he can function, and a Director of Financed and Administration who although has held a administration position for years under this Mayor has only held this office less than a year; one can not be surprised that the budget submitted at the last legal moment to the Council represents the Mayor's innovative financial process.

One of the few prides left to Plainfield is its ingenious Library. This institution is dependent on public funding, yet although it is heavily used by local citizens despite having to cut back services because of fund restrictions last year is once again the target of the Mayor's wraith with a 40% cut in the Library's request.

The Council's consultant,Kochel, remarked in response to questioning that " “The mayor’s position is that we need to have some degree of austerity,” .

Do we practice what we preach? Apparently not. It seems that the Administration and Recreation Commission have already committed and perhaps spent a large amount of dollars on a 4th of July Celebration. Once again without a budget there should have been no funds available on any line for use. But form past experiences we have no fear that the Mayor will find the funds.

There is one more week before we have a Council agenda session. When we will have the public meeting on the Budget is still open as far as I know. I am sure that the Council's budget will differ greatly from the one presented to it and that there will be the now usual 4:3 debate and filibuster.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

1911 :INTERLUDE

And those were the good ole days........don't you wish it was still sort of like this Click Me!


1911 Ford Model T




[]


THE YEAR IS 1911

This will boggle your mind, I know it did mine!
************ ********* ***********
The year is 1911 --- One hundred years ago. What a difference a century makes! Here are some statistics for the Year 1911:
************ ********* ************
The average life expectancy for men was 47 years.

Fuel for this car was sold in drug stores only.

Only 14 percent of the homes had a bathtub.

Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone.

There were only 8,000 cars and only 144 miles of paved roads.

The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.

The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower .

The average US wage in 1910 was 22 cents per hour.

The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year ..

A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year,
A dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.

More than 95 percent of all births took place at home .

Ninety percent of all Doctors had NO COLLEGE EDUCATION!
Instead, they attended so-called medical schools, many of which
were condemned in the press AND the government as "substandard."

Sugar cost four cents a pound.

Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen.

Coffee was fifteen cents a pound.

Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used Borax or
egg yolks for shampoo.

Canada passed a law that prohibited poor people from entering into their country for any reason.

The Five leading causes of death were:

1. Pneumonia and influenza
2. Tuberculosis
3. Diarrhea
4. Heart disease
5. Stroke

The American flag had 45 stars...

The population of Las Vegas , Nevada , was only 30!!!

Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn't been invented yet.

There was neither a Mother's Day nor a Father's Day.

Two out of every 10 adults couldn't read or write and only 6 percent
of all Americans had graduated from high school.

Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter
at the local corner drugstores.

Back then pharmacists said, "Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, Regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact,
a perfect guardian of health!" ( Shocking? )


Eighteen percent of households had at least one full-time servant or domestic help ....

There were about 230 reported murders in the ENTIRE U.S.A. !

I am now going to forward this without typing it myself.

From there, it will be sent to others all over the WORLD - all in a matter of seconds!

Try to imagine what it may be like in another 100 years.

Friday, April 27, 2012

HISTORY: THE NATIONAL ANTHEM

On November 3, 1929, Robert Ripley drew a panel in his syndicated cartoon, Ripley's Believe it or Not!, saying "Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem"

March 3, 1931 President Herbert Hoover signed the law making the Star Spangled Banner the first and only National Anthem.

The Star Spangled Banner started life as a four stanza poem written by Frances Scott Key titled “Defense of Fort Henry” after witnessing the British naval bombardment of the fort in the War of 1812.

It was soon set to an already popular in the United States tune of a signature song “The Anecreontic Song” written for a British Social Club of that era and titled with its present name.

In 1889 the Navy ordered the Star Spangled Banner to be played at the raising of the flag. It had already become popular and was being played a various events such as Fourth of July celebrations.

In 1916 President Wilson order it played at all military and other appropriate occasions. It was first performed at opening day Baseball ceremonies in Philadelphia in 1897 and afterwards regularly at the Polo Grounds in New York. It was not until WWII that it became a fixture before all Baseball games and subsequently all professional sports.

What was the National Anthem before 1931? The answer was none; however there were several songs that were popular and a frequently played as if they had that role.

The most important one was “Hail, Columbia”. The tune titled “The Presidents March’ was written by Philip Phile in 1789 for Washington’s first inauguration In 1798 Joseph Hopkinson’s lyrics were added and it was renamed

Throughout the early 19th Century it was used although unofficial as the national anthem reaching its peak during Lincoln’s Presidency. However for some reason it completely lost its popularity about the time of WW I. Yet it still has an official place filling the role for the Vice-President as “Hail to the Chief” does for the President.

There have been other songs that up to 1931 often filled the role as our national anthem. Foremost was "My Country ‘Tis of Thee” also known as ‘America”. This was the song I remembered from my childhood.

Samuel Francis Smith
wrote the lyrics in 1831 and set it to the same melody of the British National Anthem; today titled ‘God Save the Queen” The melody supposedly originated in Muzio Clementi’s “Symphony #3”. It was first performed July 4, 1831 at a children’s Independence Day celebration in Boston.

Once the most popular alternative for a National Anthem was “America the Beautiful”. It started life as an 1895 poem “Pikes Peak” by Katherine Lee Bates and published in that year’s Fourth of July edition of the church periodical “The Congregationalist”.

Church organist and choir master Samuel A. Ward had written the music “Materrna" for the hymn “O Mother Dear, Jerusalem” in 1882.In 1910 he combined it with the lyrics and gave it its new name. To this day it is one of the most popular patriotic tunes.

In 1918 while in the U.S. Army; Irving Berlin wrote “God Bless America” for the musical revue “Yip Yip Yaphank” but decided it did not fit and put it aside.

In 1938 with Hitler’s rise in Europe; Berlin who was a first generation Jewish European immigrant decided it was time to revise and revive it as a ‘peace song”. Kate Smith introduced it on her radio show Armistice Day Broadcast. She performed it as production number with full orchestra and chorus with trumpets reinforcing the harmonies between stanzas. Kate Smith repeated the song on her 1950s TV series on NBC as well as her 1960 CBS shows.

Since then especially because it is easier to sing it has become the most popular unofficial American Anthem. However it does not merit the respect of a national anthem and those who do not choose to stand should not be subject to criticism or abuse.

Of interest Berlin assigned the royalties of the song to the” God Bless America Fund for Redistribution to the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of USA”.

This is the first of a series on citizen respect for religion and nation and the relationships to the constitution. I hope they will be informative and perhaps instructive.

PEEVES

Among my pet peeves is the driver of the car in the inner lane who has stopped for a red light and after I have pulled behind him leaving the outside (right) lane open for anyone wishing to make a right turn waits until the light has turned green before signaling for a left turn. Too often I am stuck because there are cars going the other way. I am sure you all have experienced this and even have "missed" the light.

Other annoyances that, since it gives some people pleasure, we tolerate at Council meetings include the unnecessary mandatory reaffirmation of allegiance to our nation with the obligatory flag salute before opening a meeting. Mouthing words does not reveal what is in your heart, or what you truly believe. Not speaking them does not make you a traitor.

Also what is the need for a prayer for guidance when those that ask a deity then act like squabbling spoiled children who have not received the direction they need? When some will always call a matter black because others have called it white?

Fortunately we are not subject to another peeve; the adulation of a popular song written by Irving Berlin in 1918. and made popular by Kate Smith. People are expected to stand in silence and reverence for this song as if it were the National Anthem. I refer of course to “God Bless America”. Today, God Bless America is played while the crowd stands in silence during the 7th inning stretch at all major league ball games.This practice emulates the playing the Star Spangle Banner during the 7th inning stretch in the 1918 World Series.

This is of course just a lead into a series of blogs about the National Anthem, the Flag salute, and the Prayer(s) at public meetings, subject that I have found to be of interest and which most of us have little knowledge. I am posting later today something about our National Anthem(s). real and imaginary.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

R&G ADDENDUM

Most bloggers who post an opinion blog receive commentaries from readers all too often the writer is "anonymous". Some bloggers chose not to post any of these comments which is their right since their blog is private and not public platform for free speech. Others will post most, rejecting only those that may cross the line into libel or vulgarity.

Many comments posted are worthy of further discussion but since days may have passed they become ignored. There is also the problem with what to do with the comment received that has nothing in common with the particular blog post to which it is submitted.

I am toying with solutions to these dilemmas. One and I am doing it today with one to Monday's "Religion and Government" is to copy something as part of a new post. The other is a possibility of having a special posting perhaps monthly devoted to readers comments that they would desire further discussion. The mechanics of "U SAID IT" would have to be worked out. I could not post something from anonymous without assuming legal responsibilities, thus there must be a way of my knowing the author while keeping it confidential if so desired.

A "anonymous" wrote "Deep religious conviction is not exclusive to clergy. If one were to expand your apprehensions then everyone imbued with faith would be excluded from public office. Nor does every clergyman seeking office do so with the motivation of converting the population ti his faith. That cerics may come to public office with moral standards inspired by their religion is a reasonable assumption. Those standards of moral conformity are for the most part the same as those endorsed by your friends Madison and Jefferson ( and while a great man in many respects President Jefferson's subversion of Washington's administration was somewhat less than admirable...but who's perfect? ). On the more contentious issues of, say, paying for contraception, abortion, these are issues on which reasonable men may differ irrespective of the genesis of their motivations. I see (far less trivial the) "threat" from having clergy in office than the threat from lay extremists on both sides of the spectrum" ( I added the words in blue)

The writer is absolutely right religious zealots could be a danger in office but Articled VI does not exclude them. I did not write that I would exclude ministers etc but "I felt that there is an ethical question of bypassing the “separation of Church and State concept”. A Minister, Rabbi, Priest Imam etc are an official representative of an organized religion and would in a public office have great difficult not to practice what they teach.

On the issues of contraception etc. we continue to have restriction on their dispensing written into laws including punishment for those who deliver those services in spite of the law. The so called Obama-care laws with its anti contraception/ anti abortion provisions. The restrictions on Insurance paying for contraceptive material certainly has nothing to do with health care but was a bow to religious dictates. Fortunately this has been deleted. These are examples of religious beliefs being used to defeat the right of individuals of personal choice a right which is given in the Constitution and the Amendments.

Your last statement about the greater danger from radicals from either the far right or left of the political spectrum is true. However, they can be obvious and it would take a complete moral breakdown of the American electorate to put them in power . God (who he) help us if that should happen., The religious leaders impact could be more sinister because few would ever even have any thoughts about their input unless they ran on a platform that proclaim their stance.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

AN UPTICK

"We have had a little bit of an uptick"(in violence), Director of Public Safety Hellwig per Mark Spivey Courier News.

That is a conservative approach to 4 shootings and one fatal stabbing in the past two weeks. Since the stabbing victim was I believe an homeless person and the arrested alleged "perp" a 14 year old accompanied by two older individuals in a car it may be safe to presume that this was a gang related initiation. The shootings happened in high crime areas.

If one reads the papers or listens to the TV/radio news it is apparent that there is an increase nationwide in violent crime. the bigger question is "what national and state resources both quality and quantity is being used to fight this trend.

Although I have not been able to find the reference; I read somewheres that at the Budget hearings Director Hellwig remarked that the Division planned to ad 15 new patrolmen this budget year to make up for a shortfall in the present force staffing. The report did not explain how this increase would not cost the taxpayers anything.

Why the shortage in patrol level police was not explained. Could it have been due to the lack of appropriation of sufficient funding, or due to a low department morale fulled by the lack of a Police Chief ? Department staffing and proper employment are the keys to successful combating the recent incidents; not the new gadgets which are only tools.

Monday, April 23, 2012

RELIGION AND GOVERNMENTS

This is not to be considered a commentary on the two Council races that will in essence be decided by the primary election. In the first week of June I intend to post my opinion on the merits and demerits of the four candidates on the Monday the week before the election. Until then what I have to post today should not be taken as a negative comment about Rev. Tracy Brown.

I do have an inherent distrust for any religious leader, no matter what his/hers faith, holding an elective government office.

Although not forbidden by law there is an ethical question of bypassing the “separation of Church and State concept” Why? It is extremely possible that the individual’s deep convictions can influence his actions in office.

Most of the original 13 colonies were founded by 15 and 16 century fugitives from the restrictive national religions which persecuted non followers. Almost all had official “state” religions often disenfranchising non believers. One exception was Virginia with its Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, originally authored by Jefferson and championed by Madison.

All feared the establishment of a national religion thus; The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Furthermore Article VI of the Constitution states “no religious Test shall ever be required as Qualification for any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Yet today that is being raised as an issue in the Presidential race as it was when JFK was running.

Because of fear of the Catholic Church’s influence on a President John F. Kennedy, in his Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on 12 September 1960, addressed the question directly, saying,”

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute—where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote—where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference—and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him. I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish—where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source—where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials—and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all. [...] I do not speak for my church on public matters—and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject—I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”

In 1797, the United States Senate ratified a treaty with Tripoli that stated in Article 11: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries” (bold face mine)

Both Jefferson and Madison wrote in support of separation of State and religion as follows: President Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to Baptists from Danbury, Connecticut, and published in a Massachusetts newspaper soon thereafter wrote;

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

Madison contended during the discussion about the 1st Amendment “Because if Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it is subject to that of the Legislative Body." Several years later he wrote of "total separation of the church from the state." "Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion & Govt in the Constitution of the United States", and he declared, "practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government is essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States”

Yet today there is a continuous attack on these basic principles especially from the Religious Right as championed by Santorum” during his aborted campaign for the Republican nomination who would impose their will on all of us.

Additionally no matter what the faith we are always being exposed to sermons from the pulpit in attempts to influence us in political matters.

Despite the position taken by the Catholic Church according to Zachary R. Calo (Professor University of Virginia/ University of Pennsylvania) who in discussing Vatican II (1965) wrote Dignitatis declared that a person should not be “forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”

“the right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus is to become a civil right.” The Bishops have been outspoken in their objections to birth control and abortion.(boldface mine)

They stand not alone since many fundamentalist leaders of diverse religions have expressed similar convictions for their congregants to enact.

It would under such circumstances be difficult to find any lay person of deep religious convictions to take a “Kennedy” stance. It would be almost impossible for a Minister. Priest, Orthodox Rabbi or an Imam at any level of government to be influenced by his religious convictions.

That is why I would have difficulty voting for any religious leader. It has little to do with the person’s qualifications and in cases where I consider the opposing candidate to be wrong for the office I would keep an open mind before casting my ballot.

Once again I apologize for the change in font sizes which occur. The entire document in word is written in Veranda 14 yet does not transpose that way. any suggestions?