- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

Mary Frances Berry. Remember that name? Her telephone number is 202-376-7417. Bear with me for a bit and you'll see why. First, I need to give you some facts about religious discrimination that one of my co-workers recently revealed, things that are occurring in America's public schools. And not, mind you, in one or two schools, or one or two school systems. The religious discrimination and constitutional violations are occurring around the nation.
First up is Plymouth, Ill., a village situated southwest of Peoria that has an estimated population of 500, and where a principal has instructed a second grade teacher not to read a book about Christmas. Next, we pop over to another Plymouth, this one in Massachusetts, where ninth-graders at one school were told not to use the words "Merry Christmas" on Christmas cards, and not to set up a nativity scene. Now check into a middle school in Rochester, Minn., where students were disciplined for wearing red and green scarves during a school skit, and for closing the skit by saying, "We hope you all have a Merry Christmas."
What's truly outrageous as well is what happened in Georgia and New York, N.Y. In Covington, Ga., the school board caved in to demands from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and deleted the word "Christmas" from the school system's calendars. What New York school authorities managed to pull off is simply blatant bigotry toward Christians. New York officials allowed schools to display the menorah, a candelabrum used in Jewish ceremonies, and the star and crescent, symbols of the Muslim faith even Kwanzaa symbols, which can be overtly religious. But they scratched nativity scenes off the list. This policy was explained in a memo written by the general counsel to the chancellor of New York schools, Harold Levy.
Now, there are countless other public schools where similar discriminatory policies are in place. But Joyce Howard Price, the reporter who first pointed the aforementioned instances out to you in a front page story on Tuesday, didn't list them all. She can't. Besides, do you really need to see scores of other examples to know that Christians are on the receiving end of this bigotry and hypocrisy?
I say hypocrisy because now enters one Mary Frances Berry. Miss Berry is the chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and she's been around forever. (I first met her in the 1980s, when I lent my voice to hers and others raising the roof about apartheid South Africa. So the gal ain't all bad.) But Miss Berry seems to have a political chip on her shoulder these days. Tight with Bill and Hillary's politics and adverse to Republicans and conservatives (even black ones), she has not steered the commission toward anything of substantial consequence. Even the panel's most recent report, on last year's election debacle in Florida, was ho-hum and didn't tell us anything we didn't already know and didn't recommended anything of substance. And, sadly, that might not be a bad thing, considering the commission often spends years studying something every which way but loose, then still leaves you empty-handed.
Well, this issue regarding religion is something right up the commission's alley, because discrimination, including religious discrimination, is something that each commission member especially Miss Berry, whose claim to fame is being an independent is mandated to study.
An independent agency established by Congress during the early stages of the civil rights movement, the commission has historically tackled such issues as voting, housing and employment discrimination. However, it also is mandated to study cases "relating to discrimination or a denial of equal protection of the laws under the Constitution because of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, or in the administration of justice."
You don't have to be a Christian or a person of any faith to see that the religious bigotry being hurled in public schoolhouses around this nation denies Christians "equal protection of the laws under the Constitution."
So, what has to happen before Miss Berry and the commission pick up on what's going on? Does the person complaining have to be a black-Baptist? How about a Catholic-Indian? Hey, maybe a gay-Hispanic-Methodist-hearing-impaired-Democrat. Surely that's enough (politically correct) hyphens.
Indeed, in Frederick County, Md., "a school employee was told by an administrator that employees would be prohibited from handing out Christmas cards in the school because cards with a Christian message 'may not be a legally protected right on a public school campus,' " Ms. Price said in her article. No word yet on the employee's other orientations. But I ask, have you personally come across such a bigoted law or policy? What did you do?
I ask because, while the queens of advice such as Dear Abby, who can tell us how to clean our hubby's grimy shirt collar without really trying, and Miss Manners, who can offer advice on the intricacies of in-law schmoozing can help us with the more personally important things in life, religious discrimination is the purview of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission (unless, of course, said agency has fallen victim to its own political prejudices).
Perhaps you should call Miss Berry (202-376-7417) and find out for yourself. I sure hope you don't have to wait until next Christmas before you get an answer.

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