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Jewish World Review August 23, 2000 / 22 Menachem-Av, 5760

Don Feder

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Book covers breach
wall of separation -- THERE IS EVIL AFOOT in the land. Would-be theocrats are at large. Like the walls of Jericho, the wall of separation twixt church and state is about to come tumblin' down -- at least according to First Amendment hysterics. In Chicago, a group is distributing Ten Commandment book covers and, shockingly, the head of the public schools approves.

"I am enthusiastically supportive," says Chicago schools CEO Paul Vallas. "I view the Ten Commandments as history's value statements." Vallas is commending the Total Living Network for distributing 100,000 of these book covers to schoolchildren.

Vallas' words enraged Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. The school's CEO "has no business taking a position on whether the Ten Commandments or any other religious document is good, bad or indifferent," fumes Barry Lynn, the group's executive director.

Not to be outdone, People for the American Way warns that, based on Vallas' comments, some children might be intimidated into using the covers for fear of "disappointing school officials." PAW inhabits a universe where students live in dread of hurting the feelings of school officials.

Americans United, PAW and the ACLU are determined to expunge any expression of God or God-based morality from the public domain, as a trip to Americans United's website confirms.

Ohio's motto ("With G-d, all things are possible") is currently under judicial assault. A House resolution supporting the slogan is "outrageous" and "deplorable," the organization charges. Government funding of faith-based programs to fight addiction is "misguided and constitutionally dubious."

And National Day of Prayer, officially established by an act of Congress, is "little more than a propaganda vehicle for the Religious Right to ... attack church-state separation."

There is a relentless escalation of the campaign to evict God from our national life. First, school prayer was forbidden. Then, a moment of silence was rejected. Holiday decorations were removed from classrooms and creches expelled from public parks. In its latest move, the Supreme Court's establishment Ayatollahs decided that student-initiated prayer at football games is unconstitutional.

In the wacky world of church and state, double standards abound. When the next president takes the oath of office with his hand on the Bible and the words "so help me G-d" on his lips, isn't he taking a position on the value of a religious document?

Government offices close on Christmas to facilitate the observance of a religious holiday. The motto "In G-d We Trust" on our currency acknowledges that our national destiny is in the hands of a force higher even than the Constitution (if such can be imagined).

None of these faith incursions is currently challenged. The thinking seems to be that adults can handle official recognition of spiritual values but impressionable adolescents (who can watch R-rated movies on cable TV) will be traumatized by a school official saying the Decalogue is good.

The expression "wall of separation between church and state" appears nowhere in the Constitution. It was read into the document in a 1947 Supreme Court decision and repeated by rote ever since.

Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase in 1802. However, as Alabama Judge Roy S. Moore noted in a Hillsdale College lecture, two days after his famous letter to the Danbury Baptists, Jefferson attended a church service in the halls of the House of Representatives. So, it's unlikely that our third president intended for his doctrine to prevent government-sanctioned religious expression.

On July 20, 12-year-old Miguel De La Rosa became the fourth Chicago child shot and killed last month. All of the shootings are attributed to juvenile gangs -- children raised without the instruction found on the book covers Lynn obsesses about.

"What in the world is wrong with 'Thou shalt not kill?' or 'Thou shalt not steal?"' Vallas asks. Silly man, doesn't he understand that for school officials to state a preference for the Mosaic code warps tender psyches?

Let's pass more gun control laws and buy metal detectors for every public school in the land -- anything but tell kids that life is sacred, because its Creator deems it so.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate