2007-11-09 / Columnists

Nooses, Driver's Licenses, Old Age And Other Hot Button Topics

From the Editor's Desk
Commentary By Howard Schwach

There is an old saying in the Jewish community when somebody castigates another person for something they have said or done.

That saying is, "Call me pisher," which roughly translates into "You don't like it? So what, what can you do to me?"

I think about that saying more than ever these days, especially since I passed my 68th birthday on Monday and therefore I am a lot less worried about what people think of me than I used to be.

I think about it whenever a story about nooses or swastikas pops up, as they often do these days.

Why do those symbols of hate bother people to such a degree that they have to go on television to decry them?

Whatever happened to the First Amendment to the Constitution? I'll tell you what happened, and it has nothing to do with wiretapping, EZPasses or driver's licenses. It has more to do with the hate speech acts and hate crimes and political correctness.

Anybody calls me a "Kike," roughly the equivalent of the N-Word (I'm not even supposed to use the word when discussing why I should be able to use it), I laugh at him or her and say, "call me pisher."

Somebody comes up to me with a swastika on their shirt, I might try to explain to them why that is not an appropriate insignia to wear, but I would defend their right to wear it at the same time.

Elias Cose, a black columnist for Newsday magazine, who writes a column called "Facing Facts," agrees.

"Maybe its time to stop getting so upset about these stupid gestures [such as nooses]. Use them as occasions to educate - to revisit and extract lessons from history. And, in cases where prosecutable crimes are committed, make the fools feel the full impact of the law. But to treat their acts as a serious expression of anything other than cruelty is to grant them an importance they do not deserve."

The same feeling that drives the overdone anger about symbols of hate drives the furor over another of the First Amendment protections - the separation between church and state guaranteed by the Establishment Clause. There are lots of people who want that separation dimmed at least and rescinded completely at best.

The latest battle in that war (and don't think that it isn't a war) is over a proposed charter school run by a minister.

While the minister says that there will be no religious teaching going on, the church-based charter school could find a myriad of ways to inculcate religion without teaching it in the curriculum.

The Blaine Amendment, written in post-Civil War America to insure the separation of church and state, an amendment that failed, but that spawned dozens of state rules (including New York's) dedicated to forbidding religious institutions from receiving public funds, is under fire.

That amendment and the state rules that followed were written, in fact, to keep the Irish-dominated Catholic Church "in its place," but its spawns have been used to keep any faith from gaining political prominence in New York State.

The anti-Irish bigotry of the late 1860's now is being dragged out and put up as a straw man to insure that everybody believe that denying the charter is not a question of constitutionality, but of race bias.

The fact is, giving a public school charter to a religious institution violates both the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment to the Constitution, no matter what religionists throw into the game in an attempt to muddy the water.

Using religion to circumvent or subvert the Constitution and to look the other way at both state and federal law has become the new game.

Religious leaders do not have to obey zoning regulations as long as their building program, often out of line with the surrounding community, is done in the name of religion.

Religious organizations can fire employees (both secular and religious) in violation of state and federal laws because it is done in the name of religion.

I have often written about this; the local parochial school teacher who was pregnant and unmarried who was fired in contravention of federal law.

One of the largest reform synagogues in the city recently fired two of its teachers because the new principal wanted a younger image for his staff, also in contravention of federal law.

The Salvation Army has been sued for refusing to hire anybody without a church affiliation, even for secular duties.

The Orthodox Jewish community in neighboring Lawrence have taken over the public school board and are pushing expensive busing programs that benefit nobody but their own yeshiva students.

The list goes on and on.

Now, the Pope, the ultimate Catholic religious leader, says that it's perfectly all right for pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control medicine or any other medicine that can be used in opposition to the faith's teachings.

What ever happened to the Constitution and its provisions setting up a separation between church and state?

Religious zealots say that "Freedom of Religion" does not mean "Freedom from Religion," but that is exactly what it means.

Our Founding Fathers, the men who wrote the First Amendment, knew all too well what happened to dissidents under a formalized state religion.

They wanted freedom from religious intolerance for all the residents of their newborn nation and they wanted to make sure that one person's religion would not control the lives of those who do not similarly believe.

They did not want the people of one religion, particularly the majority religion, running roughshod over all the other religions. They did not want public money spent on religious pursuits.

If you don't believe me, read "Miracle in Philadelphia," or read some of the early diaries of those who were there at the Constitutional Convention when it was signed.

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