PAYING ATTENTION WITH TOM DUGGAN
Originally Published in the North Andover Citizen November 29, 2001
By TOM DUGGAN
North Andover selectmen took a courageous stand this week when they approved the placement of a menorah on public property to celebrate the holidays. Surprisingly, there was no opposition to the selectmen’s vote. There was no word from the ACLU, no complaints at public participation, no emergency injunctions at Lawrence superior court. There wasn’t even a word of dissent from the board. They voted to approve the menorah unanimously.
For years, anti-religious zealots have brought court actions against cities and towns that allow religious symbols on public property. Their quest is to sanitize all public buildings and property from any reference to God. In California the ACLU is suing a school district because the superintendent there displayed the phrase ” God Bless America ” on the marquee outside a school building. The superintendent refused to take down the sign when threatened with a lawsuit and now the courts must decide if this violates the Supreme Court’s twisted interpretation of the Constitution’s establishment-of-religion clause.
The founding fathers must be rolling over in their graves. Their vision for America was a future where individuals would have the freedom to practice and observe any religion they choose, in public or private. They never imagined a time when the courts would prohibit religious symbols from appearing on publicly owned property. They never could have fantasized that a religious symbol could possibly offend anyone. Or that a few ridiculous people being offended by religious symbols could impose their anti religious sentiment on the majority of Americans. How could they?
They envisioned a land where local people could practice and celebrate their religion any way they want. The establishment clause was designed to stop the government from imposing a religion on the populace, as the King of England was forcing all of his subjects to be Protestant. It had nothing to do with sanitizing all government-owned property by wiping away any reference to God or religious symbols. In fact, The founders were very religious people who invoked the name of God even after becoming government officials.
Until the anti-religious zealots came along, religious symbols and references to God were on government buildings. Every President (even in the time of our founders) held their hand on a bible and swore to God when they took their oath of office.
When this issue was first brought before the board last month I was asked by one selectman to wait until it was officially approved.
” I was hoping there would be no publicity. We don’t need any problems on this, ” he said. I adhered to his wishes because I found it sad that elected officials are fearful of respecting religion in a country founded on religious tolerance.
It was obvious that the board was aware that a vote approving a privately funded menorah could stir enough controversy to cause the town ” problems. ” Despite this, however, they had enough courage to stand up for what our founding fathers believed the establishment clause to represent: letting the public observe any religious holiday or display any religious symbol without government interference.
Those who disagree strive to eradicate all references to God in our schools or town halls across the country. Their form of bigotry and intolerance should be accepted no more than racial prejudice. Unfortunately, bigotry against religion is much more acceptable today than prejudice against race or skin color.
While some are only objecting to the display of such symbols on public property because they say the government is ” establishing a religion, ” I say ” grow up and worry about yourself. ” If you see a religious symbol that does not represent your faith or you have no faith at all, that symbol is meaningless to you.
I cherish the fact that a menorah will be proudly displayed on the common this holiday season. And though I was raised Catholic, I am not offended by the display of a symbol contrary to my religious beliefs. In fact, I cherish it. There are some countries where you can be killed for simply being Jewish, never mind praying or observing your religion in public. There are some countries where you can be imprisoned for not conforming to the ” established ” religion of that nation.
Here in the Untied States we have avoided this type of tyranny because of the establishment clause in our constitution. No where in the writings of any member of the constitutional convention was there a sentiment against religious structures of symbols being respected or celebrated on government property. That’s because they believed we cannot celebrate our differences unless we are exposed to them. We can only understand and appreciate those who believe in a different moral code when we are tolerant and respectful of them. America is about being able to live harmoniously with each other and respect – yes, respect — other races, cultures and religions equally.
The board of selectmen did a great service to the town and the nation by preserve the integrity of our constitution and the intent of the founding fathers. If Thomas Jefferson were alive today I think he would be as proud of North Andover as I am.
Tom Duggan hosts the Paying Attention! radio program on WCCM every Saturday, noon to 2 p.m., and the Paying Attention! television program on Channel 8 cable access in Andover, North Andover, Lawrence and Methuen.
Watch MetroWest Daily News managing editor Joe Dwinell’s live report on WB-56 every Thursday and Friday at 7:45 a.m.