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Home From the Rabbi From the Rabbi - April 2010
From the Rabbi - April 2010 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:                                          

In our community, there are a few corrosive problems.  The future of the Memorial Coliseum is one such issue.   For six years, we have debated the use and viability of that structure.  Some of us are convinced that the building has become an eyesore of no more utility and that it should be razed.  Others of equal conviction and conscience are persuaded that the Coliseum must be preserved and that a new function can be found.

Of a similar level of concern is the decision about the Las Brisas plant.  Some argue that there is a serious risk of dangerous air pollution, while others emphasize the promise of economic development.  There is value and legitimacy to the arguments of the advocates of both points of view, as there is in the matter of the Coliseum.

At some point, probably in the relatively near future, a final decision will be made in each of these concerns.  Law suits will be filed and decided.  Win or lose, we shall move forward.  Some of us will be pleased, others disappointed, but (except for those who are convinced that every issue is governed by an insidious, back-room conspiracy) we should ultimately be impressed that all the people had a full opportunity to be heard and that a democratic process prevailed.

Winston Churchill once said that “democracy is the least efficient system, but still the most effective.”  The questions that trouble us are being dealt with through an open and democratic process.  One controversy, however, is of a longer-term nature and threatens to subvert and even destroy the very process that has made America great – and has made America special haven for Jews and other minorities.  I refer specifically to the rejection on March 11 of the inclusion of the subject of church-state separation in the proposed high school social studies curricular standards by the State Board of Education.   Religious conservatives on the SBOE (a majority of its members) reject the idea of separation as unconstitutional and contrary to the wishes of the Founding Fathers.  This rejection represents, according to most scholars, minorities, and nearly all Jews – and certainly my own reading of the American past – an irresponsible rewriting and misrepresentation of American history and a stunning triumph of political ideology over education and accuracy.  Let me explain.

Their first contention is that the words “church-state separation” are not found in the U.S. Constitution and, therefore, do not and should not exist.  What the opponents say is true; these exact words are not in the document.   But the Constitution is not the only source of American legal precedent.  It is likely that Thomas Jefferson first uttered the words in 1803, based largely on warnings in James Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance” to the Virginia legislature in 1785 – two years before the Constitution was written.  There have been over two hundred years of American legal precedents affirming this idea.  It is as real and as legitimate as other actions that have been taken but are not explicitly written in the Constitution, such as the right to expand the frontiers of the nation.  (Would they propose giving the Louisiana Territory back to France?  Jefferson’s purchase was illegal according to their standards.)

In addition, the Constitution’s First Amendment contains “the establishment clause,” which is clear in its desire to avoid an entanglement of religion and government.  The Founders of this nation understood from European experience the negative consequences of a state-sponsored religion and determined to avoid those dangers by forbidding a repetition of such a relationship.  (Again, read Madison.)  The will of the Founding Fathers is clear, and it is exactly the opposite of what the SBOE majority wants to enact.  The doctrine of separation is hardly the “half-truth” that one of its SBOE opponents called it.  But then he not only questions the doctrine of separation but really does not want it at all.  It impedes a longer-term ambition and needs to be eliminated if the views of the religious and conservative clique are to triumph.

We need to appreciate that what happened last month at the SBOE was a minor skirmish in a patient effort by fundamentalist Christians to change the basic policies, practices and identity of this country.  Make no mistake.  A calculated, deliberate culture war is taking place in our society, and the ultimate goal is to reverse the doctrine of church-state separation, undo court decisions that have derived from it and replace our present system with one that is based on fundamentalist Protestantism.  The SBOE vote is today echoed in nearly half the states of the Union with the objective or re-establishing official prayer in the public schools, then passing government legislation favorable to and funding of certain religious groups and, eventually, declaring the U.S. to be a Christian nation in which everyone else is a second-class citizen.  Advocates of this position have already insinuated an elective course on the Bible, taught by one of their supporters and espousing their ideas, in the CCISD.

It remains to be seen whether Jews and others who would find themselves disadvantaged under such an altered American identity will defend their citizenship rights or acquiesce to second-class status.  You and I have a basic choice: to be pro-active and protect our prerogatives or to disappear.  This is neither hyperbole nor alarmism, but reality.  Please consider joining the Texas Freedom Network or the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.  And write letters to your state representatives and senators – lots of letters.  You can make a difference.

Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi



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