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Through a glass darkly – The Supreme Court and Religious Liberty

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers

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The Greek word translated “glass” in 1 Corinthians 13:12 in the NT is, some would say deliberately, ambiguous. The likely meaning refers to a lens or a mirror, as in a poor reflection in a mirror. It has also been translated as “window.” Regardless, the idea is that truth is often obscured by our inability to see objectively.

There is a case before the U.S. Supreme Court right now regarding religious liberty that is obscured, not so much by the objective facts of the case, but by the conflicting clauses in the First Amendment to the Constitution. It’s a case of the right to free speech by government employees versus the prohibition against a government endorsement of religion.

The conservative Justices’ questions suggest that they are trying to thread a needle, carving out a narrow path to finding for the coach. Seems clear cut, but it is anything but.

Joseph Kennedy, a former football coach, was fired by a Washington high school ostensibly

for praying on the 50-line after his team’s football games. The case has been confused by the school’s and student’s statements that he also held prayer meetings in the field house, and that in both places he invited students to join him. Regardless, the Justices have zeroed in on the prayer on the 50-yard line issue.

On the one hand, the First Amendment has been interpreted to extend the guarantee of free speech and free exercise of religion to government employees. On the other is the Constitution’s prohibition of the government’s endorsement of religion. And on the other (yeah, there is another) is the problem of students feeling like they must accept a coach’s “invitation” to participate in prayer because of the coach’s power over them. Who wants to get benched because you wouldn’t pray with the coach!

Reading some of the questions that have been asked, I lean toward believing the court is going to rule on the narrow issue of a coach’s right to pray silently on the 50-yard line and save the rest for another fight. But that’s just my reading of the case through that glass darkly.

This case is part of a broader fight that has been waged for decades, the place of prayer in the public schools. In this case, I have no problem with a coach praying by himself silently on the 50-yard line. It is consistent with the idea that students (or anyone else) can pray silently in school whenever they wish. Once you involve other people, though, I believe you have crossed the line. And it’s that line that I see as the problem with a Supreme Court decision in the coach’s favor. On the other side of a door opened in law, there is a slippery slope. And I’ve seen that slope too many times.

Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, every year found another “Religious Freedom Amendment” or “Religious Freedom Act” advanced in congress.

One memorable fight resulted in 1997 from H.J. Res. 78 introduced by Rep. Ernest Istook, Jr. which read “to secure the people's right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience, neither the United States nor any State shall establish any official religion, but the people's right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, or traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed; and (2) neither the United States nor any State shall require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity, prescribe school prayers, discriminate against religion, or deny equal access to a benefit on account of religion.”

I have bolded the “gotcha” phrase meant to put public prayer in public schools. This amendment stirred up a real hornet’s nest, pitting various religions, political parties, and free speech advocates against each other. The ACLU led the effort opposing it. (Full disclosure: I’m a long-time member of the ACLU and was involved in the debate).

The ACLU’s argument, that ultimately carried the day with congress and defeated the proposed amendment, was that by allowing student led prayer over the public address system of the school (which was the goal of the advocates of this amendment), the school would have to allow prayer representing any recognized religion. Satanism and Wicca are recognized religions in the U.S.

If you do not know, Wicca is the religion practiced by many Witches.

Satanism is a scary word because Satanists have been depicted in too many movies as child sacrificing murderers who drink the blood of children.

Satanists (the religion) are non-theistic, which means they don’t believe in the Christian God, so can’t believe in Satan. Without God, there is no Satan. Most Satanists I’ve met were humanists with very high ethical standards. Very family oriented. Anton Szandor LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, was an author and something of a showman.

Regardless, no one in the debate wanted to go down that slippery slope, with Wiccan or Satanist prayers in the schools. And it’s the same slope that’s on the other side of a Supreme Court decision favoring the coach.

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The longest two weeks ever comes to an end

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FromEditorsDesk TonyAt the beginning of the COVID pandemic, we were told by our leaders that without a doubt, if we masked up, social distanced and shut down everything except Walmart and liquor stores, we’d have this pesky little bug whipped in two weeks.

Two years later, the last of the governmental mask gulags — commercial air travel and the FAA — have finally succumbed to common sense and lifted the mask mandate that required constant and continuous coverage while in their warm embrace.

While I can see that being cooped up in a tube with recycled and filtered air could be problematic when trying to curb contagions (I have kids. Everyone with kids knows there will be sniffles in the family till high-school graduation), the very idea that some desk jockeys can require private industries to comply with an edict that has been deemed ineffective is problematic at best.

I say that because it’s come out, and even been admitted to by the CDC, that paper and cloth masks pretty much did nothing to stop the spread of the disease.

That, however, is just an illustration of the points here. For one, even in the face of evidence — real scientific evidence (as opposed to scientific consensus) — the powers that be still maintained the mandates. They only came off once a judge in Florida ruled that the institution of those mandates was a by-God unlawful overreach by the CDC.

The feds over at the Justice Department are probably going to appeal the ruling, because of course, depending on what the CDC has to say about it. 

I applaud the efforts of everyone in fighting something like this. Where I drew, and will always draw, the line is forced compliance from a government that is supposed to be our government, as opposed to the way things are now, which is we are this government’s subjects.

We the people should not have to sue our own elected officials to exercise our freedom. We the people should not have to be treated as cattle as our “leaders” tell us what’s good for us, all behind the veiled threat of retribution, such as withholding grant funds, tax reimbursements, etc., for non-compliance. What they’re playing with is not now nor ever their money.

We the people should not have to beg our government to be allowed to choose our own destiny. This country was founded by people who wanted to be captains of their own fate instead of being a colony that exists by “if it please the crown.”

None of this was necessary, you know. Airlines were perfectly capable of requiring safety precautions on their own, and prospective passengers would have the choice of doing business with a group or not. It did not, as the judge said, require the hammer of government to maintain safety.

That’s freedom.

Same thing with vaccination passports. It’s not the airline’s responsibility, nor is it within their rights, to require and verify the inoculation status of the passengers. That’s not to say that as a private business, they have to allow everyone on board; they have the right to refuse service just as much as I have the right not to buy their tickets.

All of that is to say that the government doesn’t need to insert itself into everything; because its clumsy, ham-fisted approach not only throttles prosperity, but liberty as well.

Tony Farkas is editor of the Trinity County News-Standard and the San Jacinto News-Times. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Shouting into the darkness

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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Writing an opinion column is often the equivalent of shouting into the darkness, hoping there is someone there listening. Occasionally someone does respond, assuring you that you are an idiot. Mostly, though, there is only silence. If I had wanted to get a lot of feedback from my writing, though, I would have become an infectious disease expert. Or perhaps another expert in pandemics, a federal judge.

When I was a kid in the 1950s, there weren’t a lot of vaccines around. Kids were infected with pretty much every virus that came around. And because my sister and I picked up everything, my parents were exposed as well. Wanting to get all those childhood viruses out of the way as quickly as possible, parents would deliberately expose their kids. One kid in the neighborhood gets the measles? All the parents would get their kids together and expose them. They had no idea how dangerous measles could be, so why not.

Somehow, I avoided mumps. The rest of my family had a bad case, and my dad, who was in his early 20s at the time, almost died from the virus.

The flu was another matter. Even though a flu vaccine has been around since the early 1940s, it was most often administered to folks in the military, becoming more commonly available to the civilian population in the late 1950s. 

And I did get the flu. Every year. And it wasn’t until 1985, when I decided I didn’t want to spend a week or so of absolute misery every year that I finally gave in and started getting the flu vaccine annually. And it has worked. I haven’t had the flu since.

When a vaccine was finally available for Covid 19, I was all in. I’ve had numerous vaccines in my lifetime, and I couldn’t see a downside. If it wasn’t effective, I lost nothing (it was free). Nothing to lose, everything to gain. First dose 1/13/21, second 2/10/21, first booster 10/24/21, second booster 3/30/22. No significant side effects. Combined with wearing a mask in indoor crowded places, I’ve so far not been infected. I’m 71. My wife is 76, and she too has not been infected.

Why have I been so docile about following CDC recommendations since I’m politically Libertarian? Because I’ve never considered health issues to be political. Following CDC guidelines seems the least I can do to protect others. Over a million people have died in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic. How many more would have died had the lockdowns not occurred? If many more people had not worn masks? How many lives were saved will remain unknowable.

What I fear, though, because the response to this pandemic became so politized by folks determined to let a million people die if necessary to gain political power, is that there will be no country wide effort made to stop future pandemics. That another politician will corruptly resort to demagoguery at the cost of the lives of millions of Americans.

For years I have had taped to the bottom of my computer monitor a meme that informs my entire ethical philosophy. It reads, “Don’t hurt people, and don’t take their stuff.” Despite our differences, we depend on the choices others make for our survival. If you don’t care about your own health, don’t hurt other people by your choices. 

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Does math have a liberal bias?

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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Florida has decided to further elevate its right-wing slant by taking its book banning beyond school and public libraries to math books, rejecting 41 percent of proposed new math books, citing critical race theory (CRT) and elements of Common Core as reasons for the rejection. Since they haven’t been very clear about naming the rejected books, or specific passages in the books that they have a problem with, it’s hard to analyze their objections.

It is certainly hard to understand how math could be used to indoctrinate students with CRT. And Common Core (an Obama era plan to standardize education across the nation) was championed by Florida when it was first proposed. The way math is taught has changed dramatically over time, primarily because it is difficult for many students.

When I was learning math in the 1950s and 1960s, we learned by rote. We memorized addition, multiplication, and division tables, with teachers and parents holding up Flash Cards to drill those tables into our young minds. And, if you were good at memorizing, you could get a good grade by regurgitating those tables when called on by the teacher. Because we didn’t learn the concepts behind those tables, though, we would run into trouble when confronted with real-world calculations in our daily lives.

My sister, two years younger than me, was the victim of the supposed solution to that problem, a method called “New Math.” The idea was to eliminate the rote memorization and teach the concepts behind the math. Once you understood the concepts, the thinking was, you could solve any math problem by reasoning it out. My sister became skilled with grouping, etc. She was, in fact, a straight “A” student (and ultimately Valedictorian of her high school class). But, she couldn’t solve simple multiplication and division problems without working through the concepts.

Over the years since then, educators have worked to refine math teaching methods to make math more relevant to the students lives. For example, most of us rarely need to deal with pure math problems. And even if we do, Texas Instruments in 1971 introduced the pocket calculator (now incorporated into smart phones), that puts any calculation in the palm of our hands. What we need to solve are practical problems that involve math. For example, if I invite 36 people to my child’s sixth birthday party, and I have 7 games they can play, how do I divide them so they can all play each game in the time I’ve set for the party.

The best way to teach this kind of abstract situation in a math class is to have the students solve that kind of problem. And there is the place that culture must enter education. O.K., there are girls and boys among those invited. Six-year-old girls and boys might not want to play with the other sex, they might not like to play the same kind of games. Now the students need to work that into their solution.

Critical Race Theory is a framework taught at the graduate level in universities. If you are suggesting it is being incorporated deliberately and explicitly in elementary level math, you are engaged in some aspect of culture war that sees parts of our society you choose to ignore as bad, and that if you can hide the people you do not like from your kids, they will never encounter them.

Common Core was proposed so that as you moved from city to city, and state to state, your kids would have a uniform educational experience. As a teenager, I moved from a district that was one of the most advanced in Texas, to a poor district that had many fewer resources. I took biology, chemistry, drafting courses, and speech courses in Jr. High that were only offered in High School in the district I moved to. Which means I was forced to repeat numerous courses I had already had. Common Core was promoted to prevent that kind of thing.

Both of these things have been turned into something evil by those who are using them as a wedge issue to tear the country apart.

Look, if you want to indoctrinate your kids to think exactly as you do, then take the time to indoctrinate them. As their parent, you have far more power to influence them than overworked teachers. But they will be far better off if you work to teach them to think independently, so they can survive in a world that will continue to change long after they are out of your direct control.

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Men are dying from a lack of attention

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Christine FlowersChristine FlowersRecently, a friend showed me a sobering graphic depicting the gender disparity in suicide rates between men and women. While females tend to attempt suicide more often than men (and experience suicidal thoughts more frequently,) males are more “successful” in completing the act.

There are a lot of reasons for the striking difference along gender lines, but one thing is clear: men are in crisis mode, and that crisis starts from early adolescence and carries all the way through to old age.

Years ago, Christina Hoff Somers wrote a book called “The War On Boys.” It was a welcome response to the volumes devoted to exposing the horrible state of girls in society, the Ophelias who were drowning in their own despair. Years of the second and third feminist waves were devoted to examining the particular problems facing females at school, at work, in love and at every level of their lives. Men were either ignored, ridiculed or in the worst case, demonized.

I remember the disturbing trend of sitcoms in the 70s and 80s that depicted the father figure not as a dependable and honored head of the family, but as a barely-tolerated buffoon. It was as if Hollywood needed to completely dismantle the solid, respectable role models from the Golden Age of Television shown in “Father Knows Best,” “Leave It To Beaver,” “My Three Sons” and similar beloved programs.

I can only imagine the impact it had on young men, who saw themselves portrayed as fools, or on the other end, manipulative predators. Virtually every episode of “Law and Order: SVU” shows male villains stalking their innocent female victims. And while Elliot was usually on the side of the angels, he was saddled with a violent temper while his partner Olivia was basically canonized. The fact that she was the product of a rape herself was not a coincidence.

The guys I knew generally swallowed the media malpractice with as much grace as they could muster. But as Christina Hoff Somers demonstrated, the “kids were not all right.” Statistics showed over two decades ago that boys were having problems in school while girls were flourishing. Part of this has to do with the fact that females are more able to articulate their feelings of anger or upset, and are taught that it’s okay to talk while boys were taught to just be quiet and suck it up. If they dared to express any sort of anger or upset, they were saddled with the label of “toxic masculinity.”

All of this came to a head with the Supreme Court hearings of Brett Kavanaugh. I think that those of us who watched those hearings in real time are still traumatized by what was done to that man. The fact that he was ultimately confirmed doesn’t change the fact that a man was set up for destruction, based entirely on fabrications. He was attacked, vilified, defamed and abused in a way that no nominee before, or since, has experienced. His reputation was drawn-and-quartered, and he became less than human.

When I saw the statistics on male suicide, I realized that the pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction. I’ve often dealt with victims of abuse in my immigration practice, and while many have been women, a sizeable number have been men. The very first Battered Spouse Petition I ever filed was on behalf of a man who had been threatened with deportation by his U.S. citizen spouse, a woman who joked about how she could lie about him abusing her, and no one would believe him if he defended himself.

I thought of that man when I watched the Kavanaugh hearings, and I thought of that man when I read that graphic which, to be honest, scared me. A society that doesn’t provide safety nets for all of its troubled children, regardless of gender, is a society headed for extinction.

March 31 was dubbed “International Trans Visibility” Day. We say that Black Lives Matter. The entire month of March was devoted to Women’s History. June is Gay Pride Month. There are lists of people we want to honor, and protect.

Judging from the disturbing statistics on suicide, there’s an even larger group of people dying, literally, for some attention.

Copyright 2022 Christine Flowers, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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