Sunday, March 20, 2005

Religion imprisoned

From: The Sun

Rarely do Christians and Satanists play on the same team.

But politics make for unlikely alliances.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Monday that challenge governments' ability to limit religious freedoms in prisons and other institutions.

In one corner the state of Ohio, which claims prisoners use religious services to organize violent gangs. The state will argue that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, gives preferential treatment to religious prisoners, violating the First Amendment.

In the other corner a group of inmates supported by unexpected allies: civil libertarians and social conservatives, Jews and neo-Nazis, President Bush and former President Clinton.

"The most important religious liberty case before the Supreme Court this term is Cutter v. Wilkinson,' said Jared Leland, media and legal counsel for the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of 50 civil liberties and religious organizations that include Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and American Indians.

The court's ruling is expected in June.

If the law is struck down, Jews and Muslims could be forced to handle pork, Catholics could be prevented from wearing the crucifix, American Indians could be required to cut their hair and any religion deemed dangerous could be blacklisted, Leland said.

Constitutional scholars do not believe the court will rule against the law because it benefits all religions: The more obscure the belief, the greater the law's need.

"Chances are this will be seen as a constitutionally permissible accommodation for religious liberty and not a cracking in the wall of the separation of church and state,' said Jesse H. Choper, a UC Berkeley law professor who specializes in church-state issues.

It is unclear how the law has improved religious practices at local prisons and jails and if they would be affected by the high court's ruling. Safety first

At San Bernardino County's Central Detention Center, which boards an average of 550 federal inmates daily, sheriff's Capt. Larry Brown said the jail lacks the staff and facilities to offer much more than chaplain prayer and chow-hall chapel services.

"Safety always has to come first. That is usually our problem here,' said Brown, who runs the jail in downtown San Bernardino. "The more you move them around, the more you have problems.'

The jail is bound by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act's requirements because the U.S. government pays the county to house federal inmates, who make up more than half the jail's population.

At the California Institution for Men in Chino, the law has not improved religious services, said Michael Nichols, a staff chaplain.

The Sun was unable to speak with inmates at the Chino prison because it was on lockdown when a reporter was allowed to visit. Brown declined access to inmates at the Central Detention Center.

In Ohio, several inmates claim the state has infringed on their religious rights. They are of various religions, including Wicca, Satanism and the Christian Identity Church, which advocates violence against nonwhites and Jews.

"Ohio is not opposed to religion in prisons,' said Douglas R. Cole, Ohio's state solicitor and lead attorney in Cutter v. Wilkinson. "But Ohio thinks that religious practice needs to be appropriately balanced with safety needs in prisons. State prisons officials are best able to decide, and they shouldn't have their hands tied by Congress.'

In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the current law's predecessor, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The high court said the 1993 law overstepped Congress' authority and infringed on states' rights to manage their own prisons.

The 1993 law still applies, however, to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Unlikely allies

After three years of work, Congress drafted the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Sponsored by two senators of very different political beliefs Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. the law skirted its predecessor's downfall by making it a requirement on states and counties that take federal money for their prisons and jails.

"If you don't want to comply with the federal act, don't accept federal funds,' said Leland. "It's as simple as that.'

The tactic has been used by Congress before. In 1984, it passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which told every state to set its drinking age at 21 or else lose federal transportation dollars.

The Supreme Court upheld this law in a 1987 case, South Dakota v. Dole.

When the court struck down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, only Justice John Paul Stevens said the law unconstitutionally endorsed religion.

The composition of the court has not changed since, which encourages supporters of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

The law has been upheld by four federal courts of appeals, including the 9th Circuit in San Francisco. But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati sided in 2003 with the state of Ohio.

"If (the law) is overturned, it makes it much easier for all religious practices to be obstructed. It doesn't matter what it is,' said Chaplain Gary Friedman, spokesman for the American Correctional Chaplains Association.

"If you prevent one faith from its religious practices, it can domino and often does.'

In general, the California Department of Corrections allows more religious freedom than other state prison systems, Friedman said.

But the men's prison in Chino "is one of the worst in the state,' said Nichols, the chaplains' representative to the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees.

The prison is so often on lockdown, most inmates can't speak with chaplains, let alone attend religious services, Nichols said.

"You have to have consistency of the program,' he said, "and we do not have any consistency. So we are doomed to failure.'

The minimum-security portion of the prison, which houses the least violent criminals and allows for more religious exercise than other parts, was on lockdown during a tour by a reporter last week. An inmate had been slashed in the yard shortly after breakfast.

"We try to afford all those that want religious services,' said corrections Sgt. Ari Sams, prison spokesman. "Based on the situation of a particular day, that dictates whether or not an inmate will be able to continue that daily schedule.' Divided chapel

The minimum-security portion has a chapel divided into two rooms. In one there are Islamic prayer mats and Catholic decorations. The other has walls that bear both the Christian cross and the Jewish Star of David.

The prison also has a sweat lodge for American Indian purification ceremonies, which are held weekly for about 35 inmates.

"There are only two things they have left when they come to prison: their identity and their religion,' said Chaplain Al Davis, a Protestant minister on staff.

When the five staff chaplains two Protestants, one Muslim, one Jewish and one American Indian are thrown a religious curveball, such as Wicca witchcraft they seek literature and community members who can better minister to the inmate.

Inmates in the prison's maximum-security central facility are not allowed to go to chapel. Chaplains walk the tiers and talk to them.

But even that practice often is limited, as it was in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 10 killing of corrections Officer Manuel Gonzalez.

Nichols has cited the death as a tragic example of what prisoners are driven to when they can't practice religion. Inmate Jon Christopher Blaylock is the suspected killer. Women's prison

It's a different world at the California Institution for Women near Chino. The prison has about 1,900 inmates. Though it houses everyone from minimum-security inmates to Manson Family members, the women mingle freely in a collegiate-like grassy quad.

"They don't have to utilize the chapel to communicate,' Warden Dawn Davison said during a tour last week. "When they go to religious services, it is because they want to have God in their life.

"For many of them, it has saved them.'

Little research has been done on religion's ability to rehabilitate the 2 million incarcerated American men and women.

"It's very difficult to measure religiousness,' said Harry R. Dammer, chairman of the sociology and criminal justice department at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. "How am I going to measure how religious you are compared to me?'

Anecdotally, though, everyone has heard stories about a person who went to jail for murder and found religion.

"People who commit crimes are broken people, wounded people, people who have pain. Religion gives you comfort,' said Romarilyn Baker, a 40-year-old Catholic who is serving 17 years to life at the women's prison.

"Committing the crime of murder was devastating to me,' she said. "I didn't only break my heart; my soul ached. I had to seek God.'

Baker wears a crucifix on a chain around her neck that she constantly clutches for comfort.

Prison officials, and especially chaplains, say stories like hers show "jailhouse religion' is often a good thing. Creating a religion

Seen as a threat to the exercise of religion are faiths that inmates draft for special treatment. Friedman, the chaplain association spokesman, mentioned an inmate who created a religion that included as sacraments sirloin steak and Baileys Irish Cream.

This is indicative, he said, of the single flaw in the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act: It is too broad in what it defines as a legitimate religion.

But prisons do have the authority to investigate the sincerity of an inmate's faith.

"The concern raised by Ohio about gang activity and sham religious beliefs espoused for other reasons that sometimes exists. But the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act was drafted to address that,' said David Fathi, director of the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

The law's broadness is the reason it likely will survive the constitutional test, supporters said. They hope the Supreme Court agrees.

"Inmates are on the bottom of the totem pole. It is hard for them to get anything,' said Rabbi Menachem Katz, director of prison and military programs at a Surfside, Fla.,-based Jewish organization, The Aleph Institute.

"It is not like (the law) is this magical thing that opens all the doors. But at least it keeps the door cracked.'

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Hindu temple? Not in Apple Valley

From: The Sun

Most 15-year-old girls drift into thoughts about cute boys, but Megha Nayyar daydreams about a Hindu temple rising from the High Desert sand.

"For the past 15 years, I was not able to go every Sunday to a church or place to worship because we didn't have one up here,' said Megha, a sophomore at Granite Hills High School in Apple Valley. "There are so many children. You can just see it on their face. They are confused. They need a temple now.'

When Megha's father, a neurologist, told her he would buy a 2.35-acre lot in Apple Valley if she raised $1,500, she did. Then Mammohan Nayyar upped the challenges: Raise another $3,000 and we'll build it. Megha petitioned peers and adults and collected the money in two weeks.

But in January the Apple Valley Planning Commission denied the temple proposed for 13356 Apple Valley Road because of the traffic it would generate.

"They deserve a place to worship,' Commissioner Peter Allan said. "But you also have to take into account people who drive on Apple Valley Road and who live in the neighborhood.'

The commission's denial is not uncommon for Hindu temples, also called mandirs. Last year, Chino Hills didn't fully give the go-ahead to a group that wants to build a massive mandir in a residential neighborhood. The city said "yes' to the proposed temple but "no' to its design.

As Hindus have populated new communities across the country, neighbors have resisted their Eastern culture and ornate architecture, Hindus say.

"There is a racial component to it. We look different,' said Vardhan Nadadur, head of the Hindu Temple Society of California in Calabasas. That temple, too, was opposed before it was built more than two decades ago, he said.

"I don't understand why they have a problem approving temples when you have churches at every street corner. Just as Christian needs a church, Jewish needs a synagogue and Hindus need temples,' Nadadur said.

The perceived paradox challenges religious pluralism a characteristic of the United States that minority religions often reference and majority religions often overlook.

"Imagine how Christians would feel if they could not build their church in town,' said Alison Dundes Renteln, a professor of political science at USC.

Cities often use zoning codes to keep minority religions out, said Dundes Renteln, author of "The Cultural Defense,' which argues the legal system fails to protect against such discrimination. She is not familiar with the proposed Apple Valley temple.

But plenty of people around town thought the Planning Commission's denial was based in bigotry.

"I believe your decision, if not against the U.S. Constitution, is against its spirit,' wrote resident Anne Pyle, a Catholic. "Your arguments are farfetched and seem racist if not down right prejudice.'

After receiving letters like Pyle's and impassioned appeals from local Hindus, the commission agreed to rehear the project tonight.

Temple vs. traffic

The 7,950-square-foot temple and 7,415-square-foot cultural center would centralize a Hindu community that is accustomed to moving religious meetings from house to house. It would be the only mandir house of God between Riverside and Las Vegas. The Riverside mandir is 58 miles southwest of Apple Valley; Las Vegas is 202 miles northeast.

The temple would be built across the street from Sonlife Community Church, which the city has prevented from accessing Apple Valley Road a traffic treasure the temple wants.

Sonlife pastor Mark Allen Mikels said the temple would congest the road and could establish it as a strip mall of religious centers.

"When there is already something else there (Sonlife), why put something else balled up on the same corner?' said Mikels, who recommended the temple be built elsewhere. "If it was a Baptist church, we still would have said we didn't want it there.'

Deputy Town Engineer Richard Pedersen told the Planning Commission that during peak commuting times, the temple would add about four cars to Apple Valley Road. On Saturdays and Sundays about 100 vehicles would visit, architect Robert Martinez said. There would be 148 parking spaces. Hindus do not hold services on a specific day of the week.

"I'm not convinced the traffic impact is as small as it appears,' Commissioner Allan said in an interview.

Commissioners Brian Hawley, David Hernandez, Bob Tinsley and Chairman Elliotte Fajardo did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

A pointed problem

Traffic also has been an issue in Chino Hills, where a group of Hindus wants to build a temple it once billed the next "Wonder of the World.'

"We are not a tourist attraction, nor do we want to be,' said Councilwoman Gwenn Norton-Perry, who voted in September against the project's size and location, when the City Council overruled the Planning Commission. "We are a quiet community, and that is the way we want to keep it.'

The group no longer wants to build the largest temple west of London, said Paresh Patel, the chief developer for the group, Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swarminarayan Sanstha, commonly known as BAPS.

He said about 38,000 people would visit annually a 90 percent reduction from traffic numbers once filed with Chino Hills that said 380,000 would visit each year.

"That was an error and no one was willing to accept it,' he said.

After a year of heated public debate, Chino Hills temple talk had been dormant since September.

Patel met with city staff Feb. 14 to discuss plans for the 164,372-square-foot development that stalled when the council denied a request to build five spires two at 52 feet, two at 67 feet and one at 73 feet.

The group has been waiting to see if religious leaders in India will allow them to build the temple without the spires, which have religious significance. In India, many temples are built in the center of town or atop hills. The spires, which point to the heavens, are like God's calling card.

"I do not have a definite thing right now, but I know that 42 feet doesn't work for us and 80 feet doesn't work for the city,' Patel said. "So we have to find a compromise.'

Structured faith

Architecture is a fundamental part of the Hindu religion.

"Temples are typically a whole philosophy in stone,' said Vasudha Narayan, a religion professor at the University of Florida.

Temples in the United States, she said, are built with visions of India but "are more of a creamy white instead of the loud colors from India.'

There are 29 temples in California, according to the Council of Hindu Temples of North America. It is unknown how many Hindus live in the state. (The U.S. census does not track religion.)

Most Hindus are of Indian descent. There were 4,370 Asian Indians in San Bernardino County in 1990, the census shows. That number grew to 7,368 in 2000. That year, there were 5,526 in Riverside County, 60,268 in Los Angeles County and 314,819 statewide.

As the home-building boom continues in the High Desert, more and more Indians are moving to the sun-baked region.

Hinduism is unlike most Western religions. It has no documented origin, founder or central authority. And believers worship various gods that are different representations of "The God.'

One place to go

The Shri Lakshmi Narayan Mandir in Riverside is the only temple in the Inland Empire.

At 9292 Magnolia Ave., the mandir does not stand out from the cityscape. It sits nondescript between a thrift store and an office building that looks like a motel.

Ten years ago the temple was a bank. Its walls are white. There are no commanding colors. It is unlabeled and the tallest spire is only 35 feet.

"Those really should be much higher, but you have to compromise,' said Shukavak Dasa, head priest of the temple and a part-time Yucca Valley dweller.

About 500 people each week worship at the mandir, run by the Hindu Society of the Inland Empire. They come at their convenience. Unlike other religious gatherings, there isn't a big once-a-week meeting; Hindu worship, called puja, occurs at home and in the temple.

Though the temple's edifice is uninspiring, its interior is flush with Hindu carvings and decorations. Beautifully painted sacred images sit atop marble flats.

The smells of incense waft in the air. Indian music plays quietly. Shoes are piled outside the front door.

"When you come in here, it should look like a temple. It should smell like a temple. ... And it should put you in a state of mind,' Dasa said.

His temple is preparing to grow into bigger clothes a 35,000-square-foot temple and cultural center will be built nearby at a cost of $5 million.

"They've been really good neighbors and good people and we are glad to have them in Riverside,' Mayor Ronald O. Loveridge said.

The Hindu Society was born 21 years ago when Hindu doctors met in San Bernardino. The temple draws people from Anaheim to Apple Valley and beyond.

The base is building and "the seeds are going out,' Dasa said.

True believer

Nayyar is one of those seeds. The Apple Valley neurologist visits the Riverside mandir once or twice a month.

Nayyar estimates there are 200 to 300 Hindu families in the High Desert who choose between a long drive and worshipping at home.

"Indian population has grown and our children don't have much exposure to our scriptures as we had in India. The children are urging us to build a place where they can learn about the scriptures,' Nayyar said.

He believes local temples will stabilize the Indian community and will encourage their children who leave for college to return.

"If my children have somewhere to educate their children (about Hinduism), they will come back. Otherwise, they will settle somewhere else,' Nayyar said.

That could prevent a group of highly educated adults from living in the area, where more than 50 Hindus, of several hundred, are physicians most in specialized fields. Last month, Nayyar and 33 others formed Physician Hospital Management and took over the administration of Victor Valley Community Hospital in Victorville. The doctors lent the troubled hospital $6 million out of their own pockets.

"There is no doubt they are a tremendous asset to Apple Valley and to Victor Valley as a whole,' Apple Valley Mayor Scott Nassif said.

He is glad the commission will reconsider the temple proposal and hopes traffic solutions will be found. "I'm fairly certain some amicable solution will be coming forward.'

Megha, the 15-year-old visionary, and her friends will pack Town Hall tonight.

"We are looking forward to the reconsideration,' she said. "All the kids are so anxious right now. We are all going to be there.'

Monday, March 14, 2005

'The spiritual backbone of the unit'

Source: The Sun in San Bernardino

TWENTYNINE PALMS - Navy Lt. Robert Grove awoke before the sun rose and prayed.

During the next 12 hours, Grove chaplain for the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines welcomed 40 Marines and sailors to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center here; he prayed over 103 men leaving for Iraq; and he celebrated with 139 returning home.

It was a typical whirlwind. Grove's workload has been heavy since he joined the Navy after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

It intensified two years ago when the United States attacked Iraq, where 150,000 American troops remain. There are another 17,000 in Afghanistan. California has sent more troops to the Middle East than any other state; thousands have been from Twentynine Palms, Fort Irwin and the California Army National Guard.

Peppered throughout the nation's military are about 4,000 chaplains with a daunting task: Win the emotional wars waging within troops.

"I am responsible for the spiritual fitness of this battalion,' Grove told the new Marines and sailors during a breakfast address.

On the battlefield

That day, newspaper headlines announced the death toll for American troops in Iraq topped 1,500.

The number didn't phase Grove, a two-tour veteran of Iraq.

Death is sad, he said without a hint of emotion, but it is part of war. It's the reason the military employs chaplains.

"There are no atheists in foxholes,' the axiom says. And so military ministers are there to prepare troops to meet their maker whatever they believe it may or may not be.

"They are the spiritual backbone of the unit. ...' said Gunnery Sgt. Frank Patterson, Twentynine Palms base spokesman. "Chaplains provide an invaluable service.'

Almost all are Christian. Of the 1,400 active-duty Army chaplains, nine are Jewish and six are Muslim, according to the Office of the Chief of Chaplains. Six are Orthodox Christian. The rest are Protestant or Catholic.

"In a time of war, all chaplains are trained to minister to soldiers of all faith groups,' said Col. Ron Huggler, the chief chaplain at Fort Irwin near Barstow. "We know how to deal with death and dying issues, whether it is a Jewish soldier or a Christian soldier or a Muslim soldier.'

Chaplains themselves become masterful bullet dodgers. They don't carry firearms, even in combat zones where warriors are dressed like civilians and crude bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, erupt around them.

"From a sniper's point of view, or, obviously from an IED's point of view, we are a soldier just like anybody else,' Huggler said.

No chaplains have been killed in Iraq since Operation Iraqi Freedom began; three were seriously wounded.

Terms of service

Chaplains have been a part of the U.S. military since before the United States existed. At the urging of Gen. George Washington, the Continental Congress hired the first chaplain in 1775.

There are about 2,500 chaplains in the Army, with 1,100 in the Reserves and National Guard. The Air Force has 600 chaplains. The Navy, which provides the chaplains for the Coast Guard and Marines, has 871.

Job requisites are strict: a masters of divinity degree, two years of pastoral experience, a church sponsor and good health.

During peacetime, chaplains are involved in the daily spiritual struggles of base service members and their families.

They take their shepherding on the road during war.

Grove found in Iraq that planning was restricted by the volatility of the region and the possibility the battalion would be moved at any moment.

So he developed an informal system of combat visits: He traveled throughout southern Baghdad in American convoys, stopping to meet with troops where they were stationed and then moving to the next spot.

"It can be emotionally draining at times,' Grove said. "Being only one chaplain for roughly 1,000 sailors and Marines, the workload can be overwhelming.'

That would be a lot of people for any person to care for under ideal circumstances.

"Here we have about seven assistant pastors to help take care of the flock,' said Raul Ries, senior pastor of a 15,000-member church in Diamond Bar, Calvary Chapel Golden Springs.

But chaplains do it thousands of miles from comfort, in an environment saturated with death and loss.

Chaplains do more counseling than they do preaching and teaching. Leading worship services and religious devotions are part of the job. But often, chaplains say, they are approached for their impartial ears.

Overseas and at home, they are available around the clock.

"All the time, Marines walk into this office and say, 'I need to talk. Now,'' Grove said, sitting in the comfort of his sparsely decorated office on the base.

Conversations are confidential. Like communication with attorneys, the content is protected by law.

"Whatever happens with the chaplain, stays with the chaplain,' Grove said.

Easter without the resurrection

Grove spent last Easter in Fallujah with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. On Resurrection Sunday he listened on a military radio to the ambush of a close friend.

Two other Marines died that day.

"It was probably the worst day of my life,' Grove said of April 11, when Christians celebrated the resurrection of Jesus in 2004.

But Grove didn't mourn for 1st Lt. Oscar Jimenez of San Diego.

"There really is no time to grieve when you are in combat,' the chaplain said. "You've got to move on. You grieve later.'

The next day the chaplain gave a memorial service under the hot desert sun. It was a brief break for bereaved Marines before they returned to fighting in the then-insurgent dominated city in Al-Anbar Province.

"I wish I would not have to do any memorial services,' Grove said. "But that is a fact of war.'

In Iraq, chaplains also counsel troops who feel guilty about the death that surrounds them, maybe even follows them.

"It is very important for a chaplain to help each soldier be able to draw on his faith so he believes what he is doing is morally and ethically and spiritually right,' said Huggler, the Fort Irwin chaplain.

"Especially when they see the horrors of war. Without that, you have a soldier who becomes hesitant ... and all the sort of things that can get him or his fellow soldiers killed.'

Evil as war may seem, chaplains say, it has its time and place. They point to the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, a sacred book for Jews and Christians:

"There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the sun: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, ... a time for war and a time for peace ...'

A fallen soldier lives on

Spc. Daniel Unger was the first member of the California Army National Guard killed in combat since the Korean War. Unger was attached to the 1-185 Task Force, headquartered in San Bernardino. He died last May in a rocket attack on an American camp.

When his body was returned to Exeter, Calif., his father spoke at the funeral. By his side was the adjutant general of the California Army National Guard, Maj. Gen. Thomas Eres.

Eres was so impressed that three months later he had an assistant offer Marc Unger a chaplain job.

The 53-year-old pastor of Exeter Baptist Church signed up for 11 years of service.

Throughout the week, Unger counsels soldiers via telephone. He drives from his Central Valley home to the Central Coast to the Bay Area. Sundays he preaches in Exeter, a 9,500-person farm town southeast of Fresno.

"Our son's ministry to his country lives on as his family continues to minister to our country as a chaplain family,' Unger said.

Help on the home front

Unger and other chaplains who remain in the states assist families while a mother or father, husband or wife is thousands of miles away.

Whether the need is spiritual guidance, money or a babysitter, "we are going to find a way to meet it,' Huggler said.

This is most pronounced in the Army Reserves and National Guard, where families do not live on military bases and don't have the geographical support network.

When the 1-185 Task Force deployed for Iraq last March, few soldiers had prepared their families for the long separation, unit Chaplain (Maj.) Steve Harrell said.

"Midway through the deployment some of the spouses experienced extreme burnout, stresses on their home life that were just beyond them,' Harrell said. "The results were not good.'

There are also problems long after combat ends that require the chaplains' attention.

About 15percent of Iraqi veterans are returning with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the National Center for PTSD, a branch of the Department of Veterans Affairs. In these people, the stresses of war cause intense flashbacks and nightmares, impairs sleeping and estranges a person from their surroundings.

"When soldiers come home, we realize he is not the same and she is not the same. No matter what,' Huggler said. "Just being apart for the year, there are going to be all kinds of changes.'

Chaplains at Fort Irwin spend weeks weaning soldiers back into civilian life. Through Reunion and Reintegration Training, they explain to couples the hurdles that will soon present themselves. They train spouses to look for signs of post-traumatic stress and, if needed, seek help.

Praying for protection

The skies were bright and brilliant as the Marines and sailors of Mike Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines prepared to deploy for Iraq. Black clouds that had dumped hail on the San Bernardino Valley and spun a twister in Fontana were moving north over Big Bear Lake. But the air of Twentynine Palms was clear and quiet except for 'hurrahs' and sobs.

Before the troops boarded buses to March Air Reserve Base near Riverside, an officer announced the chaplain would pray with those interested. About 60 men surrounded Grove.

"It's important we get spiritually right before we go on a deployment,' the chaplain told the men, many of whom looked like boys.

They were talkative and anxious while waiting in the parking lot. Around the chaplain they were respectful and reflective.

"Lord God, we give thanks to you for this day. We thank you for the blessings of this life. For our health, for our family and friends ...' Grove said.

"We ask your blessing to be upon the Marines and sailors of Mike Battery as they deploy for Iraq. They have been given the tremendous responsibility to serve our country, to be peacemakers ...

"Keep them strong and resolute. ... Protect them and bless them. ... And by your grace and mercy, bring each one of these Marines and sailors back home safe and sound. And we pray this in your most holy and precious name, our Lord and our God. Amen."

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Split decision on Ten Commandments

From: Me and AP

WASHINGTON -- Supreme Court justices struggled Wednesday to clearly define whether monuments to the Ten Commandments on government property establish an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

Rulings in the two Ten Commandments cases before the court from Texas and Kentucky could decide the shape of church-state relations for decades to come.

The cases are being watched closely in Southern California, where, on Wednesday, Redlands City Clerk Lorrie Poyzer said residents had gathered enough signatures to put before city voters whether to reinstall a Christian cross on the city logo.

Also Wednesday, supporters of a similar effort to return a cross to the Los Angeles County logo conceded defeat.

If the high court rules governments can display the Ten Commandments, Redlands voters would support the cross initiative because they won't fear the city being sued, said Scott Siegel, the resident who led the petition drive.

"I see the Supreme Court ... making it very clear this nation is allowed to have religious symbols on display,' said Siegel, noting the country's founding as a religious refuge.

A decision probably issued by the end of June could significantly raise or lower the wall separating government and religion. In doing so, the justices could clarify decades of confusing, muddled jurisprudence on what constitutes government endorsement of religion.

"What the court will probably say is: 'Context is everything,'' said Rob Boston, spokesman for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in Washington, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief challenging the constitutionality of the cases.

In the Texas case, a homeless man filed suit challenging the constitutionality of a 6-foot by 3-foot monument in the shape of two tablets, inscribed with the Ten Commandments, two Stars of David and other symbols.

The 43-year-old granite monument one of 38 on the Texas Capitol grounds in Austin was donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. The tablets are located roughly 75 feet from the Capitol building and 123 feet from the state Supreme Court.

Opponents say that because the monument is on the Capitol grounds under the authority of the Texas Legislature, it constitutes government endorsement of Christianity and in particular Protestant faiths, from which the display's Ten Commandments text is derived.

"Here you have a monument that claims not only is there a God, but God has dictated 10 rules for behavior,' said former USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, an attorney for the Texas man who wants the tablet removed. "Imagine the Buddhist or Muslim who walks into the Supreme Court. He will realize this is not his government.'

But lawyers supporting the monument and other similar displays argued that the Ten Commandments are a historically recognized symbol of law. And they noted that in a 1983 case, the Supreme Court found it was constitutional for a state legislature to begin its session with prayer.

"I don't see why one is good and the other is bad,' said Justice Antonin Scalia.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, often a swing vote when the justices are closely divided, questioned how appropriate it would be if "the legislature itself wants to have the Ten Commandments displayed in its legislative halls.'

When Chemerinsky said that would be unconstitutional, O'Connor complained "it's so hard to draw that line.'

If legislatures can open their sessions with prayers, O'Connor wondered how displaying the Ten Commandments in the same hall could be unconstitutional.

The Kentucky case involves the constitutionality of Ten Commandments displays in two county courthouses. The displays have been modified twice in response to lower court rulings against the exhibits.

The first ones consisted of a framed copy of the Ten Commandments. In its current version, the Ten Commandments are surrounded by historic American and British political and patriotic documents. A description in the final displays asserts the exhibits are of "documents that played a significant role in the foundation of our system of law and government.'

Opponents of the Kentucky exhibits argue county officials clearly had a religious purpose in posting the Ten Commandments and that the subsequent modifications were little more than a "sham' designed to insulate the displays from scrutiny.

Justice David Souter said it seemed clear the displays were religious in nature.

"There's no reason the intent of this display has changed as the context has changed,' Souter said.

But supporters argue the court should not give too much weight to the original intent of county officials in erecting the displays.

Kentucky authorities were only trying "to do the best they could' to follow previous court decisions, said Mathew Staver, who represented the Kentucky counties. "They have got to be able to adjust their missteps whenever they step on a constitutional land mine that is blurry and confusing.'

Acting Solicitor General Paul Clement, who represented the Bush administration in defending the Texas and Kentucky displays, said "municipalities should be rewarded, not punished, for trying to change the context to try and get it right.'

During the arguments Wednesday, justices appeared to struggle with how to judge the Texas and Kentucky displays and whether a single test could be constructed to decide when government-sponsored religious exhibits or actions run afoul of the Constitution.

Justice Stephen Breyer doubted the high court could fashion a one-size-fits-all solution.

"We are a religious nation,' Breyer said. "I think the only way to do it is to look at the divisive quality of the display on a case-by-case basis.'

Even as justices weighed the issue, they noted that religious symbols are displayed throughout the Supreme Court building. Above the dais, a large frieze depicts Moses holding the Ten Commandments without text displayed. Other historic lawgivers including Chinese philosopher Confucius, Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus and former Chief Justice John Marshall also are depicted on the panel.

Supreme Court sessions also open with a clerk proclaiming: 'God save the United States and this honorable court.'