- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

August 17

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia, on expressions of faith:

On any given fall Friday night, you’d be hard-pressed to find a football field in the South without a bowed head or a bent knee.

But even before the season begins in a few weeks, the issue of prayer on public high school fields was put in the spotlight last week when a humanist group accused Chestatee High School of “unconstitutional infusion of religion into the high school football program.”

In its letter to the school, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the legal arm of the American Humanist Association, wrote that coaches are leading and participating in prayers and that Bible verses are printed on workout sheets and cheerleading banners. All this amounts to government-endorsed religion, the group argued.

Yet the humanist center’s effort to parachute in and dictate policy has, so far, backfired. The community outpouring of support for the coaches and players has mostly drowned out dissenters. Other schools have held prayer gatherings in support, and social media pages and links have been created to celebrate the cause.

We agree no school should force prayer or religious expression on anyone. By all accounts, no one at Chestatee has crossed that line. Yet we also agree individual students should be free to express their beliefs, whether they pray to Jesus, Allah, an ancestral god or none at all.

There is a difference between talking about faith after class with a student who has initiated that discussion and preaching the Gospel in front of 20-plus young people who aren’t allowed to grab their bags and step out of the room.

Guidelines on what teachers can discuss on school grounds lean toward limiting their speech altogether to ensure a student never feels the school endorses certain beliefs. But teachers should not lose their own religious identities simply because they speak to impressionable young minds.

Everyone’s beliefs should be respected. Discussion about religion, however, should not be discouraged. The only way for a Christian to understand a Muslim’s beliefs, and vice versa, is to hear them firsthand and learn about them.




August 17

The Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle on Veterans act:

The $16-plus-billion emergency fix for the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs is designed to do a lot of things.

It is intended to help hire more doctors and nurses; build more VA facilities; and make it easier for veterans to get health care from non-VA providers.

What it won’t do is start to reform a culture that rewards liars, punishes whistleblowers and shields itself from scrutiny with a bureaucratic brick wall.

That would require the ability to quickly and easily fire bad employees, which this recently approved bill doesn’t do.

“Throwing money at the VA won’t solve their problem,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. “A fundamental change in culture and real leadership from the president on down is the only way to provide the quality, timely care our veterans deserve.”

The media have ballyhooed provisions enabling the VA secretary to immediately terminate senior executives - an authority new Secretary Bob McDonald should have anyway. But the measure signed recently by President Obama does nothing to streamline the termination process for the VA’s rank-and-file civil service employees.

As many as 1,000 veterans may have died while languishing on secret waiting lists at VA facilities nationwide, including in Augusta. Considering the depth and breadth of the scandal, one would assume at least some mid- to low-level employees also should be held to account.

After all, the falsified and omitted records and cover-ups that led to the preventable veteran deaths - and $100 million in pay bonuses for VA administrators over a three-year period - clearly bear the fingerprints of federal employees at multiple pay grades.

Reforming the VA requires overhauling its employee culture, from the top down and the bottom up.

If lawmakers are serious about reform, they should change the way government employees are evaluated, promoted and disciplined. And they should start at the VA, where decisions by government workers literally can be a matter of life and death.

Otherwise, the $16 billion VA bill is nothing but a reward for failure, and it’s only a matter of time before the next scandal arises.




August 16

Morning News, Savannah, Georgia, on marshland protection:

Gov. Nathan Deal must send word to the state Environmental Protection Division that it’s making a big mistake to strip protections from state-owned marshes.

Last week, EPD Director Jud Turner flouted a recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision and advised counties and municipalities to continue to require buffers around state waters only in limited circumstances.

“EPD will continue to make buffered state water determinations under existing protocols and recommends that the local issuing authorities do the same,” Turner wrote in an Aug. 12 memo.

That’s the wrong position. Just a month ago, four judges on the appellate court rightly stood up for state law and marshland protection, finding that all state waters should be protected by a 25-foot vegetative barrier. They reversed a short-sighted directive from Turner earlier this year.

This was a significant ruling - and one the EPD should embrace, not fight.

Buffers are cleansing mechanisms that filter out pollution from rainwater and other sources that otherwise would flow into sensitive marshes. They also help reduce erosion.

Unfortunately, Turner, a 2012 appointee of Deal, believes this layer of protection wasn’t mandated, except when both a bank and wrested vegetation - plants that are pulled or twisted by action of water - were present. This unjustified and inexplicable bureaucratic action reversed 20 years of responsible oversight of Georgia’s salt marshes. It left hundreds of thousands of acres of marshland vulnerable to the same contamination the state’s 1975 Erosion and Sedimentation Act was written to prevent.

The Georgia Supreme Court hasn’t agreed to take the EPD’s case yet. That makes the appellate court’s decision the prevailing rule and one that must be enforced.

This is why the Georgia Legislature must act next year to strengthen the existing marsh protection law, so there’s no doubt where the state stands.

Georgia is home to about a third of the salt marsh on the East Coast. It provides crucial habitat for wildlife and shields the coast from floods and hurricanes.

This public resource must be wisely managed. Gov. Deal, who’s running to keep his job for four more years, should agree.



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