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Freedom upheld

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Freedom upheld Religious freedom is under heavy attack — from fundamentalist preachers, Catholic bishops, even Arkansas school administrators. Thank heaven, there are still federal judges who’ll defend it. If this is judicial activism, keep it coming. Last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals at St. Louis ruled unanimously that the DeValls Bluff School District cannot allow group prayers at mandatory teachers’ meetings, even if the teacher who filed suit challenging the prayers is not present. The panel enlarged on a 2002 ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who said that the prayers violated the First Amendment prohibition against government-established religion. Wright had ordered the school district to refrain from prayers at meetings attended by Steve Warnock, an art teacher who sued. The 8th Circuit panel said the prayers were impermissible at all mandatory teachers’ meetings, not just the ones at which Warnock was present. “We agree with the district court that the practices in this case are unconstitutional, but we think that they are constitutionally infirm not because they offended Mr. Warnock but because they endorsed religion,” Circuit Judge Morris S. Arnold of Little Rock wrote. Religious indoctrination is not the job of the public schools. Education is. When the DeValls Bluff School District gets back to basics, its pupils will be better served. War on workers George W. Bush is no great shakes at wiping out terrorists, but when it comes to eliminating jobs and health insurance, nobody does it better. Maybe he believes that if he can make America as impoverished as the Third World countries, they’ll like us better. New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the number of Americans living below the poverty line rose by 1.3 million last year (to 36 million) and the number of uninsured rose by 1.4 million (to 45 million). This was the third straight annual increase for both. As for jobs, a net of 1.6 million have been lost since Bush took office.. He is still on track to be the first president since Hoover to post a negative job-creation number. And the employment picture is even worse than the number of lost jobs indicates, because many of the jobs that remain are low-paying service jobs, while manufacturing jobs that paid better and provided more benefits — health insurance included — have gone to other countries. Arkansas has fared especially badly under Bush. The state’s median household income dropped almost 4 percent from 2001-02 to 2002-03. It was one of the steepest drops in the nation, and it happened in a state whose median income already was well below the national average. That’s something to remember while watching the over-privileged few frolicking at the Republican Convention this week.

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