Realize our freedoms price and remember

On Memorial Day we remember those who died in battle – but it is also a good time to assess the status of the freedoms for which they fought. Religious freedom in particular, has taken its blows in recent years, but recent Associated Press stories assure us that the First Amendment rights still stand.
In Oklahoma, the U.S. District Court required the Mukogee Public School district to make exceptions for religious apparel in its dress code after it twice suspended a sixth-grade Muslim girl for wearing a head scarf, or hijab, to class. She had worn the scarf for several weeks before school authorities said head coverings were banned – her scarf frightened other students.
Head coverings related to gang activity can be forbidden the court said, but assured the school authorities that there has to be an exception for religious wear.
That ruling contrasts with the law recently passed in France which forbids all conspicuous religious symbols and clothes in schools. The basis for that law began when girls wearing the hijab were suspended from school. In Michigan, the American Civil Liberties Union announced a settlement with Utica Community Schools to restore the Bible verse Abby Moler, valedictorian of the class of 2001, wanted to accompany her senior picture. Asked to note her thoughts for the Stevenson High School yearbook, she wrote down Jeremiah 29:11: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”’
It was deleted before publication because of it religious nature. Moler sued, not for monetary compensation, but to clear up a general public misunderstanding of religious freedoms.
Under the terms of the settlement, the school district agreed to place a sticker with her entry in copies of the yearbook on file at the high school; ordered current yearbook staff to not censor other religious or political speech; to train its staff on free speech and religious freedom issues; and to write Moler a letter of regret.
A very public and repeated display of a religious quote, has the full support of the police in New Orleans, the most murderous city per capita in the United States.
Rev. John Raphael Jr. a policeman turned preacher had seen enough headlines, wailing families, silent onlookers and murder victims near his church, New Hope Baptist Church. He assembled worshipers to blanket the city with 1,000 THOU SHALT NOT KILL posters. The posters went up everywhere including the relatively small region of the city where half of last year’s 275 murders occurred. The posters were distributed, drilled into trees, staked into street medians and tacked to decaying buildings where trouble happens. Even trash cans were painted with the message.
He got the idea from the profusion of political campaign signs posted in yards. If a simple sign can sway people’s vote, he thought, why not one to turn them away from murdering another person.
With beefed up patrols and FBI support the New Orleans’ homicide rate is down 20 percent this year, but people are still being murdered and the police welcomed Raphael’s campaign as a symbolic boost to their efforts.
“Anything that will help reduce the violence is welcome,” said police spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo.
The First Amendment rights still stand. Our soldiers did not die in vain and that is a good thing to realize this Memorial Day.
(Joan Hershberger is a reporter at the News-Times.)

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