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Religion amendment isn't a solution

I attended the June 23 congressional subcommittee hearing in Tampa on the so-called Religious Equality Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was not about an attempt to reintroduce state-sponsored prayer in the public schools, as many of us feared. Rep. Charles Canady of Lakeland specifically excluded that objective. It's just as well. I've participated as well-meaning clergy tried to create interfaith religious events. It's embarassing, painful, and the results usually banal. It demonstrated the best argument I know of against official school prayer __ which is, it is bad religious education. I don't want my children growing up thinking that's prayer.

The hearing, Canady said, was instead about cleaning up the confusion as to the "free exercise" clause which leads school officials to prevent religious expression by students. The list of censured behavior _ some reported in person by students and parents, others only referred to _ all fell within current constitutional protection. The congressman said he was seeking clarifying language for a constitutional amendment that would prevent these violations of the free exercise of religious expression.

And he's right, at least to the extent that it does seem hard for school administrators to "get it." I have represented the Greater Tampa ACLU in local school religious issues. They've been about equally divided between school officials prescribing and others proscribing religious behavior. One group does not understand that it cannot advocate sectarian religion; the other does not understand that student-initiated religious expression is constitutionally protected. Why not? Why is this so hard to get straight?

The reasons, I believe, are different for the two groups. The advocates just don't see themselves as "the state." It often doesn't occur to them that separation of church and state means them. Besides, religion is a good thing, right? The rights of minorities are still a new and awkward idea in the Bible Belt.

The other group, the thwarters of adolescent evangelism, have heard the loud electronic preachers moaning that God has been taken out of the schools and believed it. Fearful of being sued, they try to keep religious expression off their campuses. But they're wrong! The same picture of Jesus, or Buddha, or the Goddess, that cannot be hung by the school in the hall can be brought to school by a student, worn on a T-shirt or passed out to friends. It's the law. And yes, it would be helpful if the loud preachers were held to a higher standard of veracity.

But Canady wants an amendment that will make the problem go away. It won't. Even if a good amendment is passed, it too will be litigated, establishing a new body of case law that school administrators still won't bother to learn and enforce in an even-handed manner. And those who see school as a field white unto evangelistic harvest will still push the envelope. And those who want their children never to hear a word that differs from Mommy's will still be offended.

The Rev. Mike Young, minister,

Unitarian Universalist Church

of Tampa

Equal opportunity

Re: The silent support for affirmative action, June 18.

Many years ago now, when we lived in Milwaukee, Wis., I was engaged in computer information systems design as a consultant. One of my clients was the Medical College of Wisconsin and one of the systems I designed for them was to track and evaluate applicants.

One of the factors that went into the evaluation of applicants was based on the ethnic origin and sex of the applicant. I recall distinctly that the most favorable weighting was given to a female American Indian and the most unfavorable weighting was given to a male of Chinese origin.

I thought to myself at the time, how stupid. If I were seriously ill, I would want the best doctor available regardless of his ethnic origin or sex.

A few years ago, one of my daughters graduated from Flagler College in St. Augustine, magna cum laude, with a double major in commercial art and art education. When she applied for a teaching position with the Pinellas County Schools, she was told that although she was very well qualified and there were four openings for an art teacher, she could not be considered because she was Caucasian.

I thought to myself at the time, how stupid. Pinellas County Schools need the best teachers available regardless of race.

My opinion over the years on the subject of quotas and formulas based on sex or race or ethnic origin for schooling or for jobs has not changed. The concept of quotas and formulas is basically and seriously flawed. The concept denies society the best qualified. The concept encourages weakness. The concept creates an addiction and the attendant painful withdrawal problem if the quota or formula is altered or ceases to exist.

The only concept that is sustainable and just is the concept of equal opportunity for an education and for employment. All efforts should be focused in this direction.

Earl C. Kratzer, Safety Harbor

Fight discrimination

As we see affirmative action come to the forefront of public debate, let's keep the "debate" itself on a level playing field. I am a white, 42-year-old male who has seen the horrors of blatant discrimination based on a person's race, sex and age in organizations with much touted workforce diversity policies and affirmative action goals. Discrimination has never been more prevalent than in today's society. Corporate downsizing and re-engineering processes are the secretive vehicles of prejudicial, greedy management higher-ups.

When African-American males with masters' degrees, exceptional skills/dimensions/credentials and accolades from many mid-level managers are removed from their job positions because they don't have the "image and impact," then something obviously reeks.

When people in their 50s are notified by mid-level managers that they have been selected for a promotion but circumstances beyond their control, such as a senior officer's concern about their age, overrules the mid-level manager's selection, then something obviously doesn't seem right.

When pompous, upper-level managers gleefully delight that they have ingeniously achieved their affirmative action goals by re-engineering the organization and placing minorities into low-level, quasi-supervisor jobs but discover four months later that they've screwed up because mid-December's re-engineering in the "previous" year doesn't count for this year, then something obviously is wrong.

Legislators, don't waste your time by writing company presidents pleading to save your 50-ish buddies' jobs. Do the right thing by protecting all minorities, the aged and the disabled by slowing/stopping the vehicle of discrimination that exists in corporate downsizing and re-engineering processes. Conduct hearings, pass bills and fight for affirmative action.

Larry Bayes, Perry

Ring fans respond

What a cheap shot! I'm referring to the TV Notes column by Monica Yant in the June 18 Times (Wedding hype has an odd ring).

If WTVT-Ch. 13, which provides Viewer magazine to the public, wishes to highlight one of its own, that is its prerogative. As Yant pointed out, Viewer is free _ no one is shortchanged. If you aren't interested in its content, don't pick one up.

Is it possible I detect a tint of the green-eyed monster? Or do I smell the odor of sour grapes?

Marianna Hagewood, Inverness

I am absolutely outraged at the article Monica Yant wrote in Sunday's (June 18) Entertainment page concerning Kelly Ring's wedding. Sounds to me like Monica is jealous. It was most unfair.

Kelly comes into our homes at least twice each day. She seems like "family." We feel like we know her personally. We all wish we could have attended her wedding. She is our princess and of course we want to know all about her "big day." It's "media" like Monica Yant who try to make a beautiful romance look cheap.

We wish Kelly the very best, and many "boos" to Monica Yant!

Hazel VanderVoort, St. Petersburg

We went for the oil

Re: Understanding the militia mentality, letter, June 25.

We did not go to the Persian Gulf to defend two dictatorships.

We went there to protect our supply of oil! As a nation we are terribly dependent on oil for our national and economic survival. We must have foreign oil and that is why our military is still in the Persian Gulf and will remain there in force.

The political reasons are all fluff.

J. Sample, Bradenton

Surrender that job

During his recent column on affirmative action, associate editor Martin Dyckman convicted himself out of his own mouth. He admitted to being a white male; yet he continues to sit in a power seat with his newspaper.

Have the courage of your convictions on affirmative action, Mr. Dyckman. Resign your "above-the- glass-ceiling" choice position and give the job to the all-inclusive liberal candidate, an emotionally challenged lesbian of color.

Until you put your job on the line, you're just blowing a lot of smoke.

Donald Haines, Stuart

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