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Allan Powell: Searching for that which is significant

November 18, 2011|By ALLAN POWELL

Writers are continually faced with choices about what subjects merit attention. Some topics are so complex and seemingly insoluble that wisdom warns them to back off and pick another topic. Gun regulations, the Israel-Palestine debates, why we are in two wars and a number of other thorny issues scare even the most venturous writers.

Each writer makes decisions about what subjects are worthy of attention based upon their educational background, interest and judgment about what is vital to the public’s need to know. They need a minimal amount of expertise about each subject they write about or they risk credibility. This is especially true when they choose to defend or refute a sticky issue which admits of different perspectives.

This is why I feel comfortable in areas such as history, philosophy, science and biblical/theological matters. Many articles, by necessity, are responses to events, trends, or new developments that should be aired in the public forum. It is a simple fact that many people are busy earning a living, raising children and meeting many demands that drain their capacity to be informed. They are pleased to have precise, accurate reports by those who write so that they may have some awareness in forming opinions.

One perennial issue which deserves much more emphasis than I have given is the principle of separation of church and state. This very important political concept is, at present, undergoing an assault that is hard to understand in view of the fact that this principle was seldom challenged 20 years ago. In recent years, a virtual avalanche of breaches of the wall of separation threatens the viability of this American contribution to political science.

Fortunately, there are several reputable organizations that exercise a caring vigilance over the many would-be violators that knowingly wish to weaken or destroy this principle. All of these organizations have lawyers on staff to initiate legal challenges or to assist by friend-of-the-court briefs. Without this constant monitoring, it is clear that this principle would be vitiated to extinction.

One specific abuse which will not go away is the relentless attempts to get public money to aid religious institutions. A favorite form of this unconstitutional practice is to pressure legislatures to grant vouchers to students in church schools. Those parents want their children to have training in religion even though many realize that this is forbidden by the First Amendment. In addition, many politicians seeking to win the support of these parents will try every new session of the legislature to get laws passed to provide money from the public treasury for parochial schools.

Then, too, many parents want to have their religion or special religious beliefs taught in public school classrooms. At this moment, a science teacher in a Mount Vernon, Ohio, middle school is openly insubordinate in teaching creationism — the biblical account of origins — in his science classes. This case will be settled in the courts, but at the considerable cost to the school system for all of the legal bills. Several church-state monitoring groups are involved.

In another Ohio case, Richland County Judge James DeWeese is trying to persuade others that he should be able to display the Ten Commandments in his court room. His argument is that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution applies only to the Congress of the United States and does not apply to state court judges. He surely must be aware that only a couple of years ago a 2 1/2-ton monument showing the Ten Commandments resting within the Alabama State Judicial Building and placed there by former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore had been ordered removed.

There are certain political principles that Americans should protect because they are revered as fundamental to maintaining our way of life. The superiority of the civilian authority over the military authority, the separation of powers of the three branches of government, the concept of inalienable rights and the separation of church and state are several of these political values. They have been an integral part of our success as a free society.

Some writers prefer to deal with the immediate, sensational but transitory elements of life. For my own part, I prefer the stable and the permanent features of existence, but most important is to exhibit fine writing. As Keats put it, “fine writing is next to fine doing.”

Allan Powell is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

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