Religion, government and how they mix

January 22, 2003|by BOB MAGINNIS

What is the role of religion in government? Most would agree we want our elected leaders to be moral people, but most Americans don't want government setting itself up as God's interpreter and telling citizens what they must believe or can't read.

That sort of arrangement might be accepted in a country where everyone is of the same faith, but that isn't America. For example, Jewish members of the Maryland General Assembly are now balking at having each day's session opened with Christian prayers.

Do members of all religions feel the same way? If you're interested in finding out more about other faith traditions, you may want to attend the next event sponsored by the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County on Tuesday, Feb. 4.

The event, which will run from 7 to 9 p.m. at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater, will feature speakers from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths exploring the following questions:

  • What beliefs do Jews, Muslims, and Christians have that challenge the state?

  • What beliefs do these religious communities affirm about the state?

  • What is the place of the church, mosque, and synagogue in shaping public laws and policies?

It's just the latest event for the group, which held its first forum last April to promote tolerance and understanding between those of different faiths. Since then there has been a summer picnic and a program last October that featured a specialist in conflict resolution.

Part of that session involved breaking into small groups and talking about belief and different religious practices, such as arranged marriages.

There's value in these exchanges because if we resist the melting-pot experience they provide, we miss part of what it means to be a citizen of America.

For more information, contact Pastor Ed Poling, coordinating chairperson, at or 301-733-3565.

Washington County Commissioner John Munson's quest to get a $10,000 raise rescinded took a step forward last week when delegation Chairman Bob McKee said all he needs is a formal request. Presumably Commissioner Munson could make that as an individual, if he's still committed to the promise he made during the campaign. If not, the voters will show Munson what happens when you talk the talk, then refuse to walk the walk.

Without mentioning any defendant's name, let me remind letter-writers that just because someone is arrested for a crime doesn't mean that they've been convicted. And so please hold off on letters that call the defendant a criminal until the trial is over and the verdict announced.

Maryland state Sen. Alex Mooney, R-Frederick, Washington, had no comment recently when asked if he were running for Congress, but I believe it's only a matter of time. It will play out something like this:

Mooney, deprived of a Democratic governor to rail against, will announce that Republican Robert Ehrlich is not a true conservative, especially if the governor pressures the senator to go along on legalizing slot machines and increasing the gasoline tax.

Mooney will then declare that the only political forum hospitable to true conservatives is the U.S. Congress. That's where Sixth District Republican Roscoe Bartlett has been in office long enough that he's probably made the mistake of voting for some bill that Mooney can make seem like Satan's work in mass mailings and TV advertising.

Can the young family man triumph over the grandfatherly Bartlett? After watching Mooney defeat Sue Hecht, the region's most effective state lawmaker, I wouldn't bet against him.

The federal "No Child Left Behind" law may eventually improve education, but keeping the records it requires will be a monumental task.

To ensure that no one group of students is falling behind, test results will be broken down by five different racial classifications, including American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, African-American, White and Hispanic and three special service categories, including: Students with a limited proficiency in English, those in special education and those from economically disadvantaged families.

Who decides which category mixed-race children fit into and whether a student's proficiency in English is limited? It's uncertain now.

Students in all of those categories must improve - as a group - every year, or their schools risk federal sanctions. This law may or may not produce the desired results, but consider how many members of Congress would have reacted to the same bill had its chief sponsor been Hillary Clinton instead of George W. Bush.

Congressional conservatives would have trashed the bill's takeover of local school boards' authority as un-American. They may yet use that argument when they find out how expensive it will be for local governments to implement.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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