By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
This is not an American History lesson. Im sure I have some of
you sitting back with a sigh of relief.
However, it should be one. But time the fact Lil and I took a
three-day weekend to celebrate her birthday and I didnt get to write this until
Tuesday night and therefore the lack of extensive research allows me to merely
ramble from memory about the settling of this, our great land.
Names like Roger Williams, Anne Hutchison, William Penn, the folks from
the Mayflower, and Flushings very own John Bowne I quickly recall as those who
exemplified the commitment to religious freedom as our land was settled and roots were
planted for what was to be the birth of a nation based on freedoms including the
freedom from government establishing a religion.
Yes, those folks our nations ancestors came here
largely because they believed that no government, no monarch, no one, had the right to
dictate what religion should be followed.
They laid the foundation for what was to be the First Amendment to our
Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or
of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
Government for a redress of grievances."
In this case, this writer is not concerned with the precious freedom it
grants our profession of journalism but with the more precious freedom it grants all
people: to believe in god, or not believe in him/her; to call that god by any name; to
follow the teaching of any religious leader, or not follow any particular one; most
importantly, it prevented the government from choosing one religion over another.
On this great and wonderful freedom, our Supreme Court has built a
legacy that places the United States alone (or among a very small few) as the land of the
free where anyone can practice any religion without pressure from government. And
government, for the most part, has been held in check by the Supreme Court and some very
wise men that through most of our history have kept that very clear separation of church
It is a good thing. Just ask Roger Williams, Anne Hutchison, William
Penn, the folks from the Mayflower, and Flushings very own John Bowne.
To remind you, the Flushing Remonstrance, written on December 27, 1657
to New York Governor Peter Stuyvesant in protest of his attempt to interfere with the
religious practices of the Quakers, was the first document of religious freedom in the new
world. The town of Vlishing proclaimed on that day, "desiring to doe unto all men as
we desire all men should doe unto us, which is the true law both of Church and State"
shall grant "free egresse and regresse unto our Town, and houses."
And so on the site of what is now the Flushing Armory, down the block
from the Bowne House, a courageous group of our ancestors from what was to become our
borough of Queens, declared that the government shall not interfere with individuals
religious beliefs or practices. And that legacy through our Constitution and Courts
lives today preventing the government from establishing a religion or showing
preference for one religion over another.
At least I thought so until Sunday night.
I received an email from uncle Nat. Uncle Nat is a seventy-something
Queensite transplanted to Florida and Roslyn who has taught himself the computer. He seems
to be online quite a bit. I email him humor, my column and stuff. He occasionally
reciprocates at times a bit raunchy for a man of his generation. However, Sunday
nights email was quite revealing. It wasnt funny.
It contained the web address of the State of Texas and pointed to a
page containing a proclamation dated almost 350 years after the Flushing Remonstrance,
nearly 225 years after the first amendment, and quite a number of years after this writer
had come to accept that government was to remain out of religion.
From the website of the State of Texas, a proclamation
from Governor George W. Bush declaring "Jesus Day" in the state.
Now, Im not a
religious man. And perhaps, my humor occasionally offends some devote folks, but I believe
in your right to worship or not worship whatever god you choose. I couldnt even name
all the religions and gods who dwell in our borough, the land of multiculturalism, but
each of us can follow whatever beliefs we choose and the government stays out of religion.
Not so in the great state of Texas. And on
that web page (http://www.governor.state.tx.us/Proclamations/May00/5-00Jesus.html) was a
proclamation declaring "Jesus Day" in the State of Texas. It said in part:
"Throughout the world, people of all
religions recognize Jesus Christ as an example of love, compassion, sacrifice and service
. . . To honor his life and teachings, Christians of all races and denominations have
joined together to designate June 10 as Jesus Day. As part of this celebration of unity,
they are taking part in the 10th annual March for Jesus in cities throughout the Lone Star
State . . . I urge all Texans to answer the call to serve those in need. By volunteering
their time, energy or resources to helping others, adults and youngsters follow
Christs message of love and service in thought and deed.
Therefore, I, George W. Bush, Governor of
Texas, do hereby proclaim June 10, 2000, Jesus Day in Texas . . ."
Yes, that is the same George W. Bush who is
leading in the polls to become the next President of the United States. It was just one
night ago that General Colin Powell stood before the Republican Convention to introduce
Mr. Bush as a champion of ethnic diversity.
But the State of Texas website doesnt
introduce a man of inclusion but a bigot of the worst type. No, Im not accusing the
Governor who wants to be President of hatred; Im accusing him of ignorance and
insensitivity. He is ignorant of our countrys marvelous heritage of religious
freedom which separates church and state; and he is insensitive to all who are not like
Now, if you are a Christian, you
shouldnt feel comfortable. Anyone who can be so insensitive to people of other
religions or so indifferent to our heritage of freedoms cannot be relied on to treasure
any of our freedoms. Minority rights and sensitivities dont seem to matter when the
Governor can declare "Jesus Day" in his state.
What will he do if he becomes President?
Whose rights will be trampled next?
God save us!
McCAFFREY: Last week, NY1 and
the Queens Tribune revealed some serious questions about the campaign
finances of Councilman Walter McCaffrey. Those questions resulted in McCaffrey withdrawing
from the Congressional race against incumbent Joe Crowley.
In our story, done in cooperation with our
sister paper, The Hill in Washington, DC, we raised several questions about
McCaffreys campaign filings: inquiring as to the details of more than $80,000 in
disbursements paid directly to McCaffrey himself, $36,000 paid to his former chief of
staff, Catherine Scimone and asked the whereabouts of a second campaign account, Citizens
for McCaffrey, which according to the Board of Elections records, has failed to file the
disposition of an additional $107,960.
McCaffrey has not answered our questions
and has withdrawn from the Congressional race. He is no longer speaking to the press and
has designated longtime friend, Marty McLaughlin as his spokesperson. These questions have
again been put to McLaughlin along with the additional inquiry as to McCaffreys
intention concerning the additional sum of $295,255 he raised in his aborted Congressional
To date, the only official statement we
have received from anyone is from McCaffreys City Council leader, Council Speaker
Peter Vallone. Vallones entire statement was: "I am glad Councilmember
McCaffrey will again be able to devote 100% of his time to Council matters. He is one of
the brightest and most capable officials I know."
Peter Vallone is an honorable and
compassionate man. This time, compassion clearly got the best of his honor.
In welcoming McCaffrey back to the Council
Vallone failed to mention the more than $200,000 in questionable disbursements and
unaccounted for funds in McCaffreys control. These were funds raised while McCaffrey
was in the City Council to be used ostensibly to run for Council. Yes, McCaffrey has
withdrawn. Perhaps he is crying out for help. His conduct with several hundred thousands
of dollars has clearly jeopardized his life of public service. Like Speaker Vallone, we
are sorry for Walter.
However, we believe that any businessman
who failed to provide details on more than $100,000 in disbursements mostly to themselves
and failed to account for an additional $100,000 would face some serious consequences
unlike Speaker Vallones tribute for McCaffrey.
Public officials must be held to an equal,
or might I suggest, higher standard than the rest of us. Speaker Vallone and other public
servants while showing compassion must insist that McCaffrey disclose all and face the
music if there has been wrongdoing.
We wish Walter McCaffrey no ill and
strength during this ordeal.
However, Speaker Vallone, who sits with
more than $2 million dollars in his own campaign account, cannot open his arms to the
returning Councilman allowing him full and complete privileges of the Council including
participation in significant fiscal negotiations involving the Council committee he
chairs. Vallone, if he wants to be Mayor (thats why hes raised $2.5 million
plus), must ask the tough questions and must not let compassion or cronyism interfere with
his responsibility to maintain the integrity of the City Council.
One elected official, a longtime friend of
McCaffrey, requesting anonymity, expressed shock at Walters circumstance. The
official told of another colleague who had a significant "change of lifestyle"
using campaign funds. The suggestion was clear that public officials frequently abuse
campaign funds. Seems no matter how much they speak about campaign finance reform, the
guys and gals who make the laws, really dont mean it.
For a moment, there was a brief expectation
that this sad McCaffrey situation could result in true campaign finance reform and
disclosure. But then our anonymous elected official reflected back to the sad days after
Donald Manes took his own life, when reform and change were on the lips of every New York
Things havent really changed very
much since then.
Have they, Mr. Speaker?
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
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