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Simply having a book of rules (bureaucracy) has not been satisfactory. The elected officials who put those rules into law never think of all the circumstances under which they might be applied. Furthermore, elected officials could never pass laws that were too specific. It would be impossible to satisfy all of their individual and conflicting objectives and get a majority vote if there were not some deliberate ambiguities in the law. (See almost everything that passes state legislatures and the U.S. Congress.)
As we always discover when the pendulum swings too far, extremes don't work. With rule-bound bureaucracy at one end of the spectrum and unfettered discretion, with its stew of biases, at the other, we have to find methods somewhere in between.
G. David Robinson
God and the State
Cathy Young's "God Talk" (January) presents a number of borderline cases where it is alleged that our nation's traditional "wall of separation" between church and state is sometimes being preserved at the expense of violating First Amendment freedom of speech rights.
As is often the case in freedom-of-expression controversies, the instances cited seem to be based on the implicit assumption that one's rights are violated simply by a refusal to grant the requested means of expression, such as a school auditorium or public address system. One is reminded of past cases when students protested that freedom of the press was violated when schools refused to allow the use of their facilities for the publication of material of which they disapproved.
Recognition of speech rights does not require providing the location or other property needed for delivering the speech in question. This is quite clear where the property in question is privately owned (which, ideally, should be the case with schools). In the case of property funded by taxpayers, there is, of course, the underlying question of what rights taxpayers and others have regarding the functions for which such property may be used. A reasonable answer would be that its use should be restricted to the purposes for which it is intended. In keeping with the important church-state separation principle, this should clearly be non-religious.
Cathy Young tells us that a certain attorney claims "rather persuasively" that it is part of the American way that we are sometimes forced to listen to speech we don't like. If "forced" means that we sometimes encounter situations where it is difficult, inconvenient, or embarrassing to avoid certain speech, then the statement is essentially correct, and no violation of rights is involved. But if "forced" denotes coercion by others, especially by agents of government, such is certainly not the "American way," and ought always and everywhere to be staunchly resisted and denounced.
Daly City, CA
I am surprised that in "God Talk," an interesting but entirely beside-the-point analysis of the tensions between First and Second Amendment rights in tax-funded schools, Cathy Young got nowhere near proposing the straightforward solution to the problem: Stop funding schools with tax money. The closest she got was a quick parenthetical remark about vouchers, which are still funded by the government and therefore susceptible to the same tensions.
Every social issue addressed by spending tax money raises the same problems: The solutions are forced on people (or rather, on the minority who voted against the tax), and control rests with some government group rather than with the people who provided the funding.
The answer I'd like to see? Repeal education taxes; privatize existing schools; send your child to the school of your choice, paid for by your money, where the curriculum, speech code, dress code, behavioral code, and so forth are to your liking.
Los Angeles, CA
Joyce Malcolm's review of Michael Belle-siles' book Arming America ("Concealed Weapons," January) missed the book's main point.