- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette, May 6, 2014

Sound decision

It was just three years ago that the Bowie County Commissioners Court was in the news regarding the practice of opening their meetings with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.

A group calling itself the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the practice. The group argue that nonsectarian prayers before government meetings were coercive and unconstitutional.

Bowie County is not the first target of the group and others like it. But it may have been one of the last.

In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Marsh vs. Chambers. A Nebraska state senator had filed a lawsuit arguing that state’s practice of opening legislative sessions with a prayer violated the First Amendment’s Establishment cause. He won a partial victory in district court when the judge ruled having a chaplain paid by the state was unconstitutional. He won again on appeal, when the 8th Circuit said both the prayer and the chaplain were unconstitutional.

The case went to the nation’s highest court, where by a 6-3 decision the justices ruled the prayer was indeed constitutional.

“This unique history leads us to accept the interpretation of the First Amendment draftsmen who saw no real threat to the Establishment Clause arising from a practice of prayer similar to that now challenged,” Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote for the majority.

He went on to say asking for “divine guidance” did not establish a religion, but simply acknowledged “beliefs widely held among the people of this country.”

A year later, in a case involving Christmas decorations on public property_the court advanced the “endorsement test” for cases where government and religion intersect. The question becomes, in Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s words,” . whether the government intends to convey a message of endorsement or disapproval of religion.”

And in the case of prayers before public meetings_such as in Bowie county_the justices have answered.

Greece, N.Y., a city of 100,000 outside of Rochester, has for a number of years opened official meetings with a prayer from a member of the community. The majority of those prayers have been Christian_which reflects the makeup of the population. But there have also been prayers offered by other religious representatives, including a Wiccan priestess.

But in 2007 two community members objected to the prayers_they deemed them to be too heavily weighted on the Christian side and not “inclusive” enough. They also said residents were “forced” to listen to the prayers as a price for participating in the meetings. So they filed suit.

They lost in district court in 2010 but won at the appellate level two years later. The city appealed to the Supreme Court.

And on Monday the court handed down its decision.

The vote was 5-4_as so many are these days_for the city. The prayers do not violate the Constitution.

“The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.

In other words, there is no right to be shielded from any and all mention of religion or Christianity at public meetings. Congress opens with a prayer and the Supreme Court itself opens with the words “God save the United States and this honorable court.”

And now our local governments can do so without fearing a lawsuit over every word.


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 1, 2014

This imperfect world

What a scary display. What a scary headline. What a scary way to start the morning.

The paper, your paper, shouted the news the other morning: Responders prep for school attack. If this were a tabloid, surely there would’ve been a slammer - an exclamation point - at the end.

The vigilant types at Fort Chaffee have built a small city on the fort for one purpose: to train those in uniform-various kinds of uniforms-to deal with things the rest of us don’t even want to think about.

This time the scenario ran like this: Somebody with a gun walked into the “school” at the fort, and began shooting up the place.


But all too real.

And the whole all-too-possible scenario would be even scarier if nobody was preparing for it. To those who serve and protect us, and prepare for the worst:

Thank you. It’s good to know you’re there. And getting ready.

All you have to do is pick up the paper or turn on the radio to understand just how realistic this exercise was. And what a scary place this world is. Can anybody still need reminding about what happened at Columbine or Sandy Hook? And, of course, at Jonesboro, Ark.?

The other day it was Fort Smith’s police force that was training its SWAT teams at Fort Chaffee. The news stories said the trainers did all they could to make the scene realistic, even recruiting drama students at Northside High to fill the fake school and act as victims. Some of the details about how trainers made the scene realistic were … scary is still a good word for it. You can imagine.

Yes, some of us don’t like to imagine. And would rather take our coffee over the sports pages and the crossword. But thankfully there are those who do imagine. And train for it. And train others. They know this is an imperfect world. And they’re doing something about it. Bless them one and all.


Log Cabin Democrat, May 3, 2014

Communities rebuild after getting knocked down

It may not seem like the most appropriate song to sing after a tornado hits your town, shattering buildings and homes, but the 1990’s hit “Tubthumping” immediately comes to mind: “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You ain’t ever gonna keep me down.”

We all know that the vibrant communities of Vilonia and Mayflower have been knocked down in recent years, Vilonia by an almost identical tornado in 2011, and Mayflower by an oil spill near Lake Conway in 2013. And they’ve been knocked down again with the tornado that came through Faulkner County a week ago.

Once again, the towns of Vilonia and Mayflower, as well as other areas of Faulkner County, have to deal with the wreckage the storm has wrought. Vilonia will have to start over again with their intermediate school, much as they did a few years ago. Mayflower and Saltillo have homes and businesses ruined. More important than all of those material items are the lives lost, some children, from this non-judgmental beast. We will never ever be prepared for the amount of devastation that can be unleashed in the span of a few minutes.

And yet, we get knocked down, but we get up again. It hardly seems fair that this area keeps bearing the brunt of recent disasters, but the fact that we keep fighting back, we pull together, we never give up and we move forward is a testament to what Gov. Mike Beebe said earlier this week - that we are “resilient.”

This will be another long road to complete recovery, but if we’ve learned anything, it’s that these are the people who will be able to achieve it.

There will never be enough thank yous to go out to people from around the state and from around the country who have responded by volunteering their time and skills and others who have donated food, clothing and other essential items. There have also been financial contributions from individuals and groups that will most certainly help us rebuild more quickly.

That’s what we’ll do. We’ll rebuild. We’ll mourn, we’ll clean up, we’ll move on. There’s no one that has been able to do it better than us. Hopefully, we’ll never have to do it again.

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