Letters to the editor

Religious freedom has become religious persecution, courtesy of “We Still Pray” proponents

I must have been asleep or in a coma. How, otherwise, could I have missed this? I didn’t see it on the news or read it in the papers, but it must have happened: The Constitution has been changed! Is it true that freedom of religion has been removed? Is everyone in the United States now required to be a Christian? Why, you may wonder, have I come to this conclusion?

I was recently at a local public high school, on school business, when the entire area was engulfed with vehicles of all kinds bearing the message “We Still Pray.” I was surprised to find out that a prayer rally was being held at the school’s football stadium. The reason, I was told, was to support saying the Lord’s Prayer at football games.

I believe in freedom of speech and the right to assemble peacefully, but is it appropriate for a public school to openly support a particular religious group? I also became aware that flyers were distributed to the students during school and they were encouraged to attend. It’s true that the majority of students at the school are Christian, but there are many students that are non-Christian — including my children. It is disturbing to me that [one of my children’s] own school would allow this infringement of his religious beliefs.

The discussion of what the separation of church and state really means has gone on since this country was founded. The early colonists came to this country to escape religious persecution in their homelands; they were minorities in their particular countries. Our founding fathers were well aware of the need for religious freedom when they wrote the Constitution. They themselves came from different religious backgrounds: Washington, Madison and Monroe were Episcopalians; John and John Quincy Adams were Unitarians; and Thomas Jefferson subscribed to no particular religion. None of them belonged to a religious majority, and not all of them were of Christian beliefs.

Has this country gone from religious freedom to the start of religious persecution? What happened to the basic Christian beliefs of “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you”? When was the phrase “only if they are of the same religious beliefs as you” added?

References to “Christian family values” are frequently heard. Are there any religions that discourage family values?

Allowing this event to be held at a Buncombe County school is an insult to all non-Christian students and their families. This clearly sends a message that other groups are not important, even wrong. This is quite a burden to put on our children. Prayer before public-school football games is appropriate only if prayers of all participating religious groups are said. The Buncombe County School District owes an apology to all students who have been negatively affected by this event, and [needs to] either refrain from supporting a particular religious group or provide equal time for all.

I am asking that my name be withheld to prevent any further mistreatment of my children based on my own expression of freedom of speech.

— Name withheld at writer’s request

End Rep. Charles Taylor’s reign of shady business dealings and moral bankruptcy

Rep. Charles Taylor … has been making headlines, but not the kind belonging to a person claiming to value fiscal responsibility, high moral rectitude and service to the public.

• On Aug. 3, 2000, an Asheville Citizen-Times headline read: “Blue Ridge Savings Gets D-safety rating.” That bank happens to have U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor as chairman of its board. Weiss Ratings Inc., a company that rates over 16,000 financial institutions quarterly, downgraded the congressman’s bank from a D+ to a D-! Why? Because Mr. Taylor’s bank has over $4.4 million in nonperforming loans. So much for fiscal responsibility and services to the public. But Congressman Taylor’s banking practices are only a minor part of the story.

• On Aug. 12, 2000, a Charlotte Observer headline read: “Grand Jury Seeks Loan Data at Lawmaker’s Thrift”! According to that article, bank regulators have had serious concerns about the thrift’s lending practices. Banking regulations prohibit lending more than $500,000 to one borrower, but apparently there are special rules for Taylor’s political friends! [According to testimony by former bank officials], Charles Cagle, a former Taylor campaign aide and one-time Jackson County GOP chairman, was loaned far more than the $500,000 limit. Mr. Cagle just happens to have given $6,500 to Taylor’s campaigns since 1988! So much for fiscal responsibility, moral rectitude and service to the public.

• On Aug. 11, 2000, the Raleigh News & Observer headline read: “Taylor, Tax Collector Tangle Once More.” Staff writer Joseph Neff documents that Charles Taylor paid delinquent taxes only after three counties within the 11th Congressional District threatened legal action! Taylor owed over $14,883 in delinquent taxes in Jackson County; over $20,000 in Transylvania County, with $17,000 still outstanding; and, in 1994, Taylor paid delinquent taxes owed in Haywood County in the face of additional legal action! So much for fiscal responsibility, moral rectitude and public service!

What does Mr. Taylor say about these stories? It’s all political, says Taylor — just the evil work of his Democratic opponent, Sam Neill. That’s Taylor’s usual confused, radical-right-wing logic. Apparently Sam Neill controls the actions of a federal grand jury, and the editorial boards of the Asheville Citizen-Times, the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News & Observer! Only the fanatic followers of the multimillionare congressman would believe such drivel!

The average citizen pays taxes, even those of us who must skimp and save to pay them. What of the very wealthy among us who pay their delinquent taxes only when threatened with legal action? That’s our congressman, who claims to value fiscal responsibility, high moral rectitude and service to the public.

Enough of the shady business dealings, the moral bankruptcy and service to the favored few at the expense of the general public. Let’s end Taylor’s reign of irresponsibility, personal excesses and abuse of our trust. It’s time for a much needed change. Let’s elect Sam Neill on Nov. 7.

— Don Anderson
Mars Hill

Do city traffic lights reflect ignorance or humor?

Is it just me, or are the traffic lights in Asheville as screwed up as a can of fishhooks?

There are several streets in this town (Merrimon Avenue, Patton Avenue and Hendersonville Road) where you have to break the speed limit to catch any of the green lights. Why can’t all the main streets go on caution flash after 11 p.m. or 12 a.m.?

The word “traffic” is both a noun and a verb. Here in Asheville, it appears to be just a noun. The people responsible for the traffic system are either plain ignorant or have a wicked sense of humor. I lean in favor of the former.

— Don Humphries

America’s biggest threat

The biggest threat to America today is not AIDs, homosexuality or global warming. It is the artificial radiation emanating from space. Light waves sting our eyes, sounds disturb our nervous systems, and gravitational forces are altered that cause us to lose our balance.

The government refers to this as nonlethal warfare, but it is the most serious mental-health risk in the universe. Until each of the candidates for president addresses this issue of artificial radiation and does something about it, a voter may as well cast his or her ballot into the ocean. Terrorism, by use of instruments from space, is striking high-ranking Americans from inside and outside American soil.

Foreigners monitor the activities of high-ranking Americans; they dispatch men to secretly infiltrate American homes and places of work; they seek to disable Americans of faith. Many of us would like to ignore this situation, but it is real.

What will the next president do to stifle the flow of terrorist activity? How will he shore up American defenses with good men to protect the skies from dangerous radiation? What are his feelings about protecting the mental health of all its citizens? These are questions the public should be asking of the next president.

Until the issues of terrorism, artificial radiation and mental health are discussed and conquered, America will continue to swim in a dark sea of discontent.

— Kenneth Lee

Open presidential debates for all candidates

Please take the time to consider the presidential debates. The debates will begin Oct. 3 and will feature the two mainstream candidates, but absent will be the other candidates, such as Ralph Nader, Harry Brown and Pat Buchanan. The Commission on Presidential Debates states as its mission: “The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners.” Even though its message is such, the CPD has arbitrarily decided that, before a candidate can enter the debates, the party must have received at least 15 percent of the popular vote in the previous election. However, a candidate may receive federal funding if the party receives 5 percent of the popular vote in the previous election. It is ludicrous to give federal funding (i.e., tax money) to candidates, but then refuse them the privilege of addressing the public in the presidential debates. Aside from that fact, the debates would be more lively and stimulating if more opinions were present.

In order for change to occur, we, the people, must vote and educate ourselves. It is imperative for the sake of our democracy that the debates be open to more candidates. Please write, call or e-mail the CPD [and ask them] to suspend their asinine and undemocratic requirements. Their address is 1200 New Hampshire, NW, P.O. Box 445, Washington, D.C. 20036. [The e-mail address and phone number can be found on the CPD Web site at] http://www.debates.org/pages/contact.html.

— Jennifer Felder

For the sake of clean air, hop, skip or conga to your destination

I don’t know about you, but I am horrified by the ease with which many residents of this fair city write off our responsibility for keeping the air clean. So what if the majority of our air pollution comes from outside this region? Why do people feel that this is some sort of a justification for not making an effort to reduce our pollution output? Not only is our pollution going somewhere and affecting someone, but — until we reduce our own output — we lack the moral standing to ask others to reduce theirs. It’s really not hard, Asheville. Please walk, bike, hop, skip or conga to your destination as often as possible. It will get you to work, cancel out your need to go to the gym, and you might get to see some of your neighbors in the course of your journey.

— Claire Ellington

Feel-good depiction of San Cristobal masks turmoil of indigenous peoples

Thank you, Mary Lasher and Rob Turner for informing Ashevilleans of their commercial relationship with … Chiapas, Mexico [Commentary, “Feeling right at home in San Cristobal, Aug. 16]. I strongly support your efforts to promote travel to this beautiful city. However, your enthusiasm for San Cristobal’s tourist industry rings hollow with something akin to colonialist ignorance, insofar as your failure to mention or even see the very real “cultural” and “environmental” turmoil that the chiapanecos are enduring at this very moment.

A little less than a year ago, local human-rights group Carolina-Chiapas Connection sponsored me to join an emergency human-rights delegation to Amador Hernandez, a Tzotzil village that had just been invaded by Mexican federal troops. This was just the latest episode in the Mexican government’s secret campaign of “low-intensity warfare” being waged against indigenous communities suspected of being politically sympathetic to the Zapatistas.

The Zapatistas (taking their name from peasant revolutionary Emiliano Zapata) announced their presence to the world when, in 1994, they briefly occupied our sister city, San Cristobal, to make it known that the indigenous were not going to sit idly by while the U.S. and Mexican governments plotted to expropriate their land, labor and resources through the fast-track negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA effectively destroyed any claims the indigenous peoples had to their lands, as well as their abilities to maintain the self-sustaining agricultural basis that had been their cultural life-support for centuries. Being strong-armed into an export economy in which they had no hopes of competing, the Zapatistas rightly perceived these negotiations as a “death sentence,” amounting to cultural genocide.

Our delegation found more than enough dire evidence to confirm the indigenous peoples’ cause for distress. Having been followed, harassed, photographed, interrogated, spied-upon and threatened from Mexico City to Tuxtla Guitterez to Comitan to Amador Hernandez — and especially in San Cristobal — by Mexican military, intelligence and immigration authorities, from the federal to the municipal level, only gave us a small taste of what these people endure daily (and even more so since then).

So maybe you can understand why I was a little taken aback by the bizarro style of cheeky, upbeat, Chamber of Commerce boosterism, in which our “sister city” was introduced by a “cultural” and “environmental” delegation.

I have to ask: In San Cristobal, did you not see those same Tzotil women selling Zapatista dolls, T-shirts, key chains and trinkets, right next to the amber jewelry you so adored?

Did you somehow miss our sister city’s quaint refugee camps for the indigenous, where scores of women and children must live — having been forcibly displaced from their homes by the bullets and machetes of the federal military’s covertly financed paramilitary units?

And did you talk to those Tzotil, who would inform you that your U.S. tax dollars have funded and sent the Huey helicopters flying over their villages, and the cattle prods that have literally herded them into San Cristobal?

Did you somehow have the misfortune of not being able to meet the preeminent, quasi-environmentalist organizations such as CIEPAC, who would have told you (in great detail) how the defoliant Moscamet is being sprayed over indigenous communities — killing the land, water, air and wildlife of one the most biodiverse regions on the planet?

Did you not get to read the Chase Manhattan Bank memo that very explicitly instructed ex-President Ernesto Zedillo to squash the Zapatistas who are making it so difficult for General Electric, Pulsar, Smurfit Newsprint, ITT and a whole consortium of investors to seize the precious minerals, oil deposits, and timber that have resided under the loving care of the indigenous for so long?

And so, then, it is also sad that your delegation could not see the truth about our sister city, where a bourgeois-thin veil of consumer privilege hides the realities of an environment and culture under siege by the forces of international finance. The selective sight in which you may be viewing the “mirror image” of your “magical” and “enchanting” “sister” compels me to question the sincerity and depth of your “environmental” and “cultural” concerns. Frankly, they sound pretentious, shallow and vain. How far does your love go for this narcissistic reflection of your “sister”? Maybe you should ask yourselves again, gringa, gringo: Why were you “feeling” so “right at home”?

— Eamon Martin

“We Still Pray” rally ironically anti-Biblical

Last Thursday, “We Still Pray” activists gathered at Reynolds High School to plan civil disobedience against the Constitution. In the process, they disrupted normal afternoon commerce, travel and emergency-access routes to area hospitals. Sounds a little like the [World Trade Organization] activists in Seattle. Yet here, police directed traffic rather than disperse or arrest the activists for such disruption.

Civil disobedience is a time-honored form of protest — especially among people of various faiths — and one we should protect and honor for all who decide to stand up for what they believe. However, those who make that decision should be fully prepared to pay the price for breaking the law. Likewise, the authorities should be equally active to respond to such lawlessness by whoever takes such a stand and without regard to the cause espoused.

This specific rally to plan anti-Constitutional activities has some especially unique aspects to it. A U.S. congressman, who is consistently disdainful of protesters, was a participant. The Rev. Ralph Sexton, who otherwise has called on the Constitution to protect his right to erect a church building as big as he wants and wherever he wants, is a leader of the anti-Constitutional activists. The subversive rally took place on public property where students are required to follow the rules and taught to obey the law. The activists claim their faith calls them to respond to a higher authority than the Constitution. Many of these protesters root that faith in the Bible and its literal application. Their goal is to be allowed to participate in public prayers and subject everyone else present to those prayers. This ignores the biblical injunction (Matthew 6: 5-7) to avoid public prayer, common to “hypocrites,” and the “vain repetitions,” common to the “heathen” — and, instead, to pray in one’s “closet.”

So a faith-based, anti-Constitutional rally is instead anti-biblical, and the Supreme Court decision is consistent with the biblical expectation. Strange.

As Bob Dylan said, “But to live outside the law, you have to be honest.”

— Bill Petz

What’s so free about killing babies?

This letter is in response to Robert Bonadonna’s letter in the Aug. 16 issue of Xpress [“A vote for Bush a blow to ‘freedom addicts'”]. In that letter, he states that abortion is a right that can never be taken away. How is being able to murder one’s child (or have someone else do it) vital to our freedom? If a woman is raped, she is not allowed to kill her child after that child is born, so why should she be able to have someone do it before the child is born? If a woman, who is single, poor, retarded, 12 years old or unable or unwilling to take care of her child, kills the child, she will be arrested for murder. Yet Mr. Bonadonna says that such a woman has a right to kill her child if that child is not yet born. If it is legal for people to kill their children before they are born, then it should also be legal for people to kill their children after they are born.

Robert Bonadonna says that there will be an uproar after newborn babies are found in dumpsters. How is leaving a newborn baby in a dumpster any worse that killing an unborn baby? If aborted babies were left in dumpsters, there would be an uproar much greater than the uproar Mr. Bonadonna described. Mr. Bonadonna says that freedom is addictive. Mr. Bonadonna says that he loves freedom, and yet he defends the idea that people should be able to kill their children. What is so free about that?

— Josh Johnson

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