Church and state do need separation

Occasionally discussions about blog posts do get out of hand, or they twist off into unintended directions.

Such was the case involving a recent item I posted on this blog involving the teaching of creationism in Texas public schools. Here’s the link:

But in the comments responding to the blog as it appeared on Facebook, a couple of the respondents decided to declare that the Constitution doesn’t state categorically that there must be a “separation of church and state.”

I’d like to clear the air a bit on this matter.

I agree that the Constitution doesn’t use the words “church and state separation.” But as with a lot of principles contained in that wonderful document, the interpretations of what it actually says are quite clear.

The First Amendment says, among other things, that Congress shall make no laws that establish a state religion. I’ve read it, oh, about a bazillion times in my life. I know what the Founders meant when they wrote that. They intended to keep church business out of state business. They didn’t want our government to be dictated by religious principles.

They created a secular nation.

There well might have been plenty of debate among the Founders about whether to allow a state religion. It doesn’t matter, in my view, what they debated. What matters now, more than two centuries later, is what they approved when they sent the Constitution out for ratification by the 13 states that comprised the United States of America.

Thus, church and state separation is implied in the Constitution’s First Amendment, just as the “right of privacy” is implied in the Fourth Amendment.

What’s more, Texas happens to be one of 50 states that now comprise the U.S. of A., even though it once seceded with tragic consequences. My point about the candidates for Texas lieutenant governor wanting to teach creationism in our public schools still stands.

Teach science in schools and religion in church — and keep church and state separate.

Christie ‘scandal’ getting pretty darn curious

My friends on the right are outraged at the “mainstream media’s” addiction to the Chris Christie “Bridgegate” scandal.

They’d better get used to it, because it doesn’t appear as though it’s going to wither away any time soon.

A letter has surfaced now that suggests Christie knew at the time that one of his key aides ordered the closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge, the busiest span in the world — and that it might have been in retaliation for the refusal by Fort Lee, N.J.’s Democratic mayor to endorse the Republican governor’s re-election effort.

The letter’s assertion contradicts Christie’s statement that he didn’t know anything until he read about it in the press.

This is what happens when a high-profile politician who portrays himself in a certain manner is accused of doing things that run counter to that public image. Christie, who many people believe wants to run for president in 2016, has cast himself as a hands-on, no-nonsense chief executive. If that’s the case, then how could he not know that his chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, would order the lanes closed, resulting in a horrendous traffic bottleneck.

Now we learn about alleged misuse of federal relief funds dedicated to help New Jersey residents recover from Superstorm Sandy.

No one has accused Christie of ordering lane shutdown himself. Frankly, I don’t think he would be so stupid.

However, this controversy is beginning to take on a life of its own the way other controversies have grown into full-blown scandals.

Two examples stand out: The Watergate burglary in 1972 turned from a criminal investigation into a constitutional crisis involving presidential abuse of power; Whitewater turned from a probe into Bill and Hillary Clinton’s real estate ventures into a scandal that involved a presidential dalliance with a White House intern and his lying under oath to a federal grand jury about whether he did those nasty things with the young woman.

It’s looking as though, regarding Gov. Christie’s involvement in this bridge lane-closing, that history may be about to repeat itself.

GOP differs on immigration? Imagine that

This is about the least-surprising political news of the week: Congressional Republicans meeting this week at an annual retreat are displaying sharp differences over how, or even whether, to move ahead with immigration reform.

Here’s a word to the wise: Do it for the sake of your party’s survival, if not for the sake of millions of de facto Americans who have been living in the shadows, many of them since they were children brought here illegally by their parents.

House Speaker John Boehner is beginning to make sense these days and is pushing back against the hard-line tea party wing of his GOP House caucus. He wants to reform the nation’s immigration policies, which already have been approved in the Senate, but have been stalled in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

Others within his caucus want to move immigration forward as well, but as usual they’re being stymied by the radical right wing that believes giving a “pathway to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants is tantamount to granting amnesty to lawbreakers.

These clowns ought to listen to the likes of border state governors, such as, say, Republican Rick Perry of Texas. He’s as conservative as most of the tea party wing in the House, but he understands better than they do that those who are brought here as children, have grown as Americans and know the United States as their country deserve a chance to work their way toward citizenship.

I’m hoping the speaker will continue to push back against the wacko wing of his House caucus. Immigration reform is a must for the nation. Whether it helps the Republicans is of little concern to me. I just want to bring 11 million American residents out of the shadows.

Creationism has no place in classroom

Paul Burka is absolutely correct in criticizing the four Republican candidates for Texas lieutenant governor and their insistence that creationism should be taught in Texas public schools.

The Texas Monthly editor/blogger took note of their “genuflection” to religious doctrine and said quite correctly that the biblical version of Earth’s creation should be caught in church.

It’s long bothered me that some have held creationism — which essentially is scripture’s version of the world’s beginning as told in the Book of Genesis — on the same level as evolution. One of my former journalism colleagues is fond of referring to evolution as a “theory” in the same vein as creationism. Well, it isn’t.

Yes, evolution is a “theory” but it is substantiated by mountains of scientific data that suggests that the planet was created over billions of years. Paleontologists have uncovered countless fossil remains of prehistoric creatures that aren’t mentioned in the Bible. T-Rex et al aren’t in the Good Book, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist.

I won’t go on and on about evolution.

Nor will I say the Bible is incorrect. I happen to believe in both notions, that evolution and creationism aren’t mutually exclusive.

I also happen to believe that one of them should be taught in school, the other one should be taught in church.

One is based on science. The other is based on faith.

I just wish the four Republicans who want to be our next lieutenant governor would understand that as well.

Grandbaby officially set to start motoring

This flash arrived yesterday from Allen, Texas: Emma Nicole has taken her first step.

OK, you’re asking: What’s the big deal? Emma happens to be our granddaughter, courtesy of our son and daughter-in-law. She lives about six hours away just north of Dallas.

It pains me that we cannot be there to watch her take off like a sprinter now that she’s officially on her feet. We’ll get there soon enough.

Emma happens to be about one week shy of turning 11 months of age. Depending on who’s telling you this, she’s either (a) getting on her feet quickly or (b) is starting to walk at just about the right age.

Indeed, it’s been a long time since my wife and I have welcomed this kind of news. It’s been about, oh, 38 years, which is about the time the younger of our two sons — Emma’s daddy — pulled himself up off the floor and started motoring through the house.

My wife and I have laughed over many years about how our sons managed this feat. They did it differently, which goes to illustrate how different they are temperamentally. Son No. 1 just hoisted himself off the deck and started walking, then running — quickly. Son No. 2 would stand, take a step and then plop down on his padded rear end; we would laugh, making him laugh and then he would do the same thing repeatedly.

That was so long ago, but the memories are burned indelibly into our minds. Kids have a way of doing that, yes?

Time will tell — and probably quite soon — just how little Emma is going to proceed from here. I do know that life will not be the same for her parents or her two much older brothers, who have been as wonderful and doting on their little sister as one can possibly imagine.

I’ll offer this word of advice to those two fine young men: Stay on your toes, boys. You’ll now need to be alert every waking minute of every day for as long as little Emma is nearby.

I offer the same advice to her parents.

This is a game-changer. Bring it, little girl.

Italian court makes mockery of itself

Amanda Knox is living in Seattle, while a court in far-off Florence, Italy, has reaffirmed a murder conviction — from which another Italian court had acquitted her.

Many of us know the story of the young woman dubbed “Foxy Knoxy” by the British tabloids. She and her former boyfriend were convicted of murdering Knox’s roommate in 2007. The case drew international attention and became the stuff of tabloids all around the world.

A court then overturned her conviction in 2011. She came back to the United States.

Prosecutors decided to appeal the acquittal and today then won.

I am left to wonder: To what end?

They aren’t likely to extradite Knox back to Italy. She’ll stay in this country and won’t serve any time for a crime from which an Italian court already has acquitted her.

I am acutely aware that Italian justice doesn’t resemble the U.S. judicial system — which prohibits a criminal defendant from being re-tried for the same crime. If Knox’s case had been heard in this country, her acquittal would stand forever.

Whatever happens in this case, the Italians look ridiculous in pursuing this case. It’s not a laughing matter, given that we’re talking about a case involving someone’s death.

This court decision, though, borders on the preposterous.

Hope for best, plan for worst

It’s been hysterical the past two days watching Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed try to explain their way out of an embarrassing lack of preparation for a storm they knew could be coming.

Georgia and much of the Deep South have been clobbered by a rare snow and ice storm. The traffic crisis in Atlanta appeared to especially acute, with cars jamming freeways, trucks jackknifing everywhere, vehicles crashing — and with virtually zero public works crews responding with assistance.

The city and the state were caught flat-footed.

Gov. Deal said local weather forecasters told him the National Weather Service was wrong in its prediction of seriously inclement weather. He went with the locals. Mayor Reed said much the same thing, that the locals knew best about what to expect.

Well, now they’ve been quite chastened by their constituents for failing to heed the warnings from the NWS, which didn’t exactly predict such a storm would occur, but said that it could happen.

Those of us in the Texas Panhandle know how difficult it is to predict the weather, given its volatile nature and its sudden changes in fortune.

Deal today did apologize to Georgia residents for the state’s failure to respond. For that he deserves a pat on the back.

Still, it seems odd that the state’s elected officials — namely the governor and the mayor of Georgia’s largest city and the home of its state government — wouldn’t react to what they were told might occur.

You hope for the best but plan for the worst.

Ready for court fight, Mr. President?

The overheated and inflated response of congressional Republicans to President Obama’s vow to use executive authority to move issues forward would make you think the president is imposing some brand of imperial law on the country.

It’s not happening.

The sound had barely been turned off in the House of Representatives chamber after Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night before we heard GOP lawmakers proclaiming the president was overstepping his constitutional authority, was trying to crown himself King Barack the First or seeking to render Congress totally irrelevant.

Give … me … a … bleeping … break.

Barack Obama’s use of executive orders is but a fraction of its use by many of his predecessors. He’s acted in such a manner less frequently than President George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan, two heroes of the GOP right/far-right wing.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., believes Obama is abusing “the intent of the Constitution.” Really? What precisely is that intent, senator? He doesn’t offer specifics, other than to rattle his sword and bluster about taking the Obama administration to court.

Let’s quit hyperventilating here. President Obama’s legal team is fully aware of the constraints placed on him by the Constitution. He cannot write law. He cannot raises taxes. He cannot increase the minimum wage for every American — but he can, and did, raise the minimum wage for some Americans, such as federal government contract employees. This is small stuff, ladies and gentlemen of the GOP.

Let’s lose the righteous indignation and take Barack Obama up on another pledge he made at the State of the Union: let’s work together.

10 combat tours are more than enough

President Obama introduced the nation Tuesday night to a young Army Ranger, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, who is recovering from grievous wounds he suffered when a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan.

But then the president said something that took my breath away. He said SFC Remsburg was injured on his 10th tour of duty in the war zone.

Tenth tour!

Think about this for a moment. We are sending young men and women repeatedly into harm’s way. Is this how it’s supposed to be? Is this how a nation is supposed to buy into a conflict when we depend on so few of these brave warriors that we have to keep sending them back into battle?

Cory Remsburg suffered near-fatal wounds. As was quite evident at the State of the Union speech Tuesday, while he has come a long from where he was, he has a long and difficult road ahead.

A member of my own family, a young cousin, also is in the Army. She, too, has answered the call multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan. She’s still serving our country and I’m so very proud of her.

Still, I cannot help but wonder whether we’re asking too much of these young Americans. I feel to compelled to bring up something that has next to zero political support, but I cannot get the image of SFC Remsburg out of my mind.

Mandatory military service would be one way to spread the burden to more young Americans, just as we did during all our wars until near the end of the Vietnam War. The draft became wildly unpopular back then mostly because of the deferments that were granted to those who had connections, leaving the war-zone experience to those who didn’t qualify for any of the deferments that were available.

The only way conscription could work — if hell were to freeze over and we would bring it back — would be to eliminate all deferments except for those who were physically unable to serve in the military.

Cory Remsburg came within an inch of his life of paying the ultimate price, as have so many others who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ten combat tours is far more than enough to ask any brave American warrior.

GOP response to SOTU reflects huge split

Could there be a more telling example of the political schizophrenia afflicting the Republican Party than its response Tuesday night to the State of the Union speech?

There were three of them — four if you count the response given by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtenin of Florida, who essentially translated one of the responses in Spanish.

You had Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rogers of Washington giving the “establishment wing” response; then you had Sen. Mike Lee of Utah delivering the tea party response; and then — and this is the strangest of all — you had Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky delivering what can best described as the Rand Paul wing response.

What’s going on here?

Are Republicans speaking with one voice or three? I get that the tea party wing is trying to “legislate” by obstructing everything under the sun. The establishment wing that includes Speaker John Boehner wants to do certain things and wants to actually legislate, but it’s being held hostage by the tea party cabal.

And Rand Paul? Who or what in the world bestowed this guy with the gravitas to speak independently of either the establishment or tea party wings of a once-great political party?

All of this seems to suggest to me that Republicans can’t sing from the same hymnal, let alone from the same page.

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