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February 25, 1999

How Much Freedom of Religion?
The Court and the First Amendment
By Adam J. Bernay, Commentator

     FRESNO CAMPUS - Thomas Paine wrote in his tract on Common Sense, "As to religion, I hold it the indispensible duty of government to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know no other business which government hath to do therewith."
     Well, the Gulfport, Mississippi school board has reversed its decision to prohibit a Jewish child from wearing the Star of David on a necklace because local gangs were using a six-pointed star in their symbols. This was despite the fact that the school said they could very easily tell the difference.
     While some might say this a victory for the Free Exercise Clause, of the the First Amendment, to my mind it is only a semi-victory. My question is: why the heck did the school board uphold the prohibition, and why did the school prohibit this kid from wearing the Star of David in the first place? No, they didn't mistake it for the gang symbols - they have already admitted that they could easily tell the difference.
     The announced reasoning was that it would be "unfair" to let him wear his six-pointed star when they told gang members they could not wear theirs...despite the fact that the gang symbols always have some other part of them - a pitchfork or other identifier. So, now we base decisions on the free exercise of religion on "fairness" instead of religion?
     A little common sense should be required by government officials. It is a perversion of the Constitution to serve "fairness" towards gang members expressing their supposed "right" to get together to commit crimes, yet not serve "fairness" - not to mention the Constitutional rights - to a young man wishing to silently express his religion to the world. Lots of gang members wear garish crucifixes as well...yet they are not told not to wear them.
     Apparently, we need a right to be a gangbanger, which needs to supercede the right to the exercise of religion. I would suggest a Congressman bring a Constitutional amendment up to do so during the next session.


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