Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Writer confuses issues surrounding tobacco, alcohol

Re: Guest column, "Smokers, big tobacco are easy targets for censorship," by Sheryl Young

Dear Editor:

Ms. Young provides a perfect illustration of the lack of critical thinking skills that runs rampant through our society today, skills that would go far in reducing the problems of drinking, smoking, drug abuse and other social ills.

To begin with, all three are drug abuse. All seek chemical aid to alter the mood and, to some extent, provide an escape from dealing with life's burdens. Naturally, they have some things in common, and I have no beef with treating them equally, except where there are significant differences.

Patrons drinking alcohol at the table next to me are only going to affect me if they begin acting unruly, in which case I would be justified in asking the manager to remove them. A smoker at the next table affects me the instant he lights up, the noxious fumes entering my nostrils within seconds. The only true analogy with liquor would be if someone at the next table insisted on pouring their booze into my glass and down my throat. I would again expect the manager to remove the offender, much as smokers are appropriately removed to an area where they are no longer free to annoy other patrons.

I'll agree that public prayer is a similar issue, but Ms. Young has this one absolutely backward. I know no ordinance, nor any court ruling, that prevents someone from quietly praying, or otherwise expressing their religious beliefs, in public. For that matter, I know of none preventing them from loudly doing so, as long as they are not violating noise ordinances that would apply equally to loudly cheering for a football team, playing the tuba or reading poetry. Even if expressing your religion means dancing naked, uh, well, I guess there are ordinances against that, because the churches put them there. If anyone is guilty of censorship, she need look no further than her local church.

However, what undoubtedly has confused Ms. Young, as it has so many others of an evangelical nature, is that our Constitution prevents government from endorsing, or even appearing to endorse, any religion. In Florida, the government provided very specific guidelines in our state Constitution: "There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace or safety. No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."

I've always thought the first and last sentences were pretty clear, but the voucher crowd seems confused by the last one, and Ms. Young is perhaps by both. The first sentence means she's free to practice whatever her religion says she should do. The second part is a bit unclear, because people like Ms. Young cannot understand how the perception that government is endorsing religion can interfere with public peace. Of course, the "public morals" thing is an invitation to hypocrisy and grandstanding by local politicos over things like lap dancing and rock concerts. So the second sentence isn't the greatest, but the third more than makes up for it. No cash from the public coffers to religious groups, organizations, schools, monuments, agencies or whatever. You're free to do whatever you believe your deity wants you to, provided it hurts no one else and you do it with your own money.

Religionists like Young confuse "the right to pray in public" with "the government, or its representative, making everyone pray in public." I couldn't care less what Timothy had to say 2,000 years ago, but if she does, that's her business (though I suspect if she actually read all of Timothy, especially the non-revised 1 Timothy 2:9-14, she might not have much respect for the old misogynist.) In either case, the government _ or its representatives, including teachers, principals, jail clerks, chaplains, judges, elected officials or dog catchers _ has no business telling me anything about religion.

Now I'd agree that smokers should be responsible for their own health, if only the tobacco companies hadn't lied and lied and lied about tobacco's harmful effects. I've never known a chocolate company to deny that certain people might have negative reactions to their products. Yes, there are those little warning labels, forced on packs by the government, but attitudes like hers keep smokers in denial, convincing themselves it's just more government trying to take away their rights. Let's talk about really taking responsibility. Let's talk about the world's biggest group of drug pushers, targeting children with advertising, lying about the effects of their drugs, taking responsibility for murdering thousands through deception. Of course, considering the millions who have died in religion-based conflicts, there's an even bigger group ducking responsibility, but one thing at a time.

Brent Yaciw