- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2000

Times headline about FDA sends the wrong message


I was disappointed by the imprecise headline on the front page of the March 22 issue of The Washington Times: "Court strips FDA of cigarette control." The Supreme Court cannot "strip" or take away power the agency never possessed.
The point may seem small, but semantics is important when reporting on the parameters of governmental authority, especially in a sound-bite society. In its recent decision, the court did not wrest a vital power over tobacco from the Food and Drug Administration. It upheld constitutional boundaries.
It is a tenet of constitutional law that the government may not act beyond its authority.
Within that framework, it is a vital principle of constitutional democracy that agencies may not act beyond legitimate statutory authority granted to them by the elected legislature, Congress (no matter how tenuous adherence to that proposition may be in practice).
Unelected bureaucrats at the FDA never had the authority to regulate tobacco, and as the court's opinion makes clear, the FDA itself maintained that position for decades.
As I stood outside my office building taking a type of break now free from the FDA's grasp due to this week's decision, a survey of the newspaper boxes lined along the street revealed more semantically responsible headlines from the Wall Street Journal ("Supreme Court ruled the FDA lacks authority to regulate tobacco") and even the New York Times ("High Court Holds F.D.A. Can't Impose Rules On Tobacco") and The Washington Post ("FDA Can't Regulate Tobacco, Supreme Court Rules 5-4").
To its credit, The Washington Times headline was less sensational than USA Today's "Tobacco Youth Ban Toppled."
The Times article itself, of course, accurately describes the ruling and reasoning of the court. Nonetheless, headlines play an independent role in the news media's education of the public. Rather than allowing this headline to sound like a sound bite for Vice President Al Gore's attack on the court, greater precision should have been applied.
DONALD J. KOCHAN
Washington

Columnist trivializes the race problem


Jeffrey Hart's March 19 Commentary column, "Is there a race problem?" is a blatant denial of the complexities of race relations throughout the history of the United States.
By simply blaming the "violent and criminal black underclass" for police bigotry, Mr. Hart ignores the systemic economic, social and political racism created by years of slavery, Jim Crow laws and today's more tacit forms of bias and discrimination. Blacks are no more responsible for society's racism than women are for being raped or blind people are for their inability to see. Mr. Hart's denial of the importance of talking intelligently about race cannot be obscured by his respect for his black students and appreciation of the Dominican baseball player Sammy Sosa.
Because Mr. Hart, New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and others trivialize the pervasiveness of racism in American society, they fail to recognize the fundamental difference between "agonizing" over the race problem and talking about it in the context of everyday life.
ARI LEVY
DAVID MICKENBERG
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Article distorts Clinton's visit to India


Your news story chronicling President Clinton's first day of meetings with his Indian hosts, "Indian president rebukes Clinton" (March 22), was a disappointing portrayal of the day's very positive realities.
The Times article neglected to mention the signing of a comprehensive document laying out even closer relations between the United States and India in the years to come. Furthermore, your failure to mention the creation of a Science and Technology Forum gives readers the false impression that official discussions have focused narrowly on Kashmir and nuclear nonproliferation.
Unfortunately, you have no firm understanding of the complex, multidimensional relationship shared by India and the United States, and most other advanced democracies.
Even more hurtful to the day's apparently meaningful exchange is the implication that Mr. Clinton was "ridiculed to his face" by his Indian hosts at the state dinner in his honor.
Mr. Clinton's previous remark that the violence-prone Kashmir region is "perhaps the most dangerous place in the world" only plays to the warmongering generals in neighboring Pakistan, who through their words and actions have done their utmost to make Kashmir the central and sole issue of this trip. Indian President Kocheril Raman Narayanan's rejoinder was well placed and well intended in asserting India's role in finding a peaceful solution to the Kashmiri violence.
By injecting rancor and dissension where there is none, you do a tremendous disservice to the Indian and U.S. officials who are sincerely trying to work through tough issues toward common ground.
MERVYN DYMALLY
Washington
Mervyn Dymally is a retired congressman.

Church-state 'wall of separation' a paper tiger


The latest attack on religion in America by the American Civil Liberties Union is described in your Feb. 24 story, "ACLU demands coach stop prayer tradition at Colorado." This prayer tradition, claims the ACLU, is a breach of the constitutional wall of separation between church and state.
Similarly, Susan K. Oglinsky's March 15 letter, "Tearing down Jefferson's wall of church-state separation," assails Virginia's Senate Bill 209. This bill provides our schoolchildren daily with "one minute of silent meditation, prayer, or reflection." Miss Oglinsky claims that allowing a child to pray silently in school for a minute would violate the "wall of separation between Church and State."
This so-called wall, if real, forever jails religion in our republic. There can be no prayer, Ten Commandments, voucher-funded school choice, etc., in the public schools because the "wall" bars it.
But, we urgently need to ask: Is this "wall" metaphor real? Does it truly represent what the Constitution states? According to Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the answer is absolutely not.
In his dissent in Wallace vs. Jaffree, Justice Rehnquist declared that the Constitution contains no such thing as any "wall of separation between church and state." This whole "wall" theory, stated the chief justice bluntly (as recorded in the Supreme Court Reporter), "is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging … . [T]he 'wall' notion's greatest injury is its mischievous diversion of judges from the actual intentions of the drafters of the Bill of Rights… . It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned."
According to our chief justice, then, the "constitutional wall of separation between church and state" is a paper tiger. It is simply a false metaphor, both "mischievous" and injurious.
Misrepresenting the Constitution, the metaphor should be abandoned. Yet, far from this, it has been seized upon and enshrined (as a valuable catch phrase) by our irreligious friends of the left.
To further its own anti-religion agenda, the ACLU again and again trots out this paper tiger of the mythical "wall." Many of us have been taken in by it.
What the Constitution does contain, clearly and unarguably, is the declaration that government shall not prohibit the "free exercise" of religion.
Thus, the ACLU and Miss Oglinsky have it backwards: It is not the permitting of prayer, but the prohibition of prayer, that breaches the Constitution.
GEOFFREY SHAW
President
Americans for School Freedom
Charlottesville

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