The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that a Ten Commandments monument outside the Texas state Capitol can stay, while displays inside Kentucky courthouses must go. The forecast for the future: more lawsuits, and plenty of contentious debate, over which of the thousands of Ten Commandments displays in this country pass constitutional muster. The intent and context of the displays shaped the justices’ two closely divided opinions, leaving room for legal wrangling over when displays on government property are appropriate. The rulings are also likely to fuel the larger debate over how religious people publicly acknowledge God in a nation that is overwhelmingly Christian but includes a growing number of non-Christians.
In the Texas case, Van Orden v. Perry, the high court ruled 5-4 that a 6-foot monument on the grounds of the Texas state Capitol, positioned among other religious and historical displays, was a tribute to the nation’s religious and legal heritage and did not constitute government endorsement of religion. (Read the decision.) In the Kentucky case, McCreary County v. ACLU, the court ruled 5-4 that two displays inside courthouses did imply government endorsement of religion. (Read the decision.)
Many questions — and stories — remain for the months ahead:
- How will the rulings affect other Ten Commandments lawsuits already in the courts?
- How will the rulings affect displays throughout the country, where district courts have previously issued rulings that conflict with each other?
- How will supporters of the displays react? Will they seek to erect more monuments, using the guidelines of the Texas case? Will the Texas ruling bolster their confidence to seek more religious influence in public life in other ways?
- How will detractors of the displays react? Will they seek to remove displays on the grounds of religious intent?
- How will the rulings affect the larger debate about the role of religion in government? With a possible retirement among the justices looming, how might these rulings color debate over other church-state issues? Given the close rulings, how would a change in the Supreme Court justices affect such cases?
- A number of non-Christian religious groups filed court briefs arguing against the displays. Will the rulings encourage more activism among Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and other groups?
- In the last decade, there has been a sharp increase in the number and profile of law firms that specialize in religious issues. What other issues are these law firms working on? In what ways is their influence increasing?
- Polls and support campaigns show that most Americans have no problem with Ten Commandments displays, and many embrace and encourage them. Will the rulings satisfy most Americans that their beliefs are being respected? Or will it inspire them to engage in church-state debates on local, state and national levels?
- The justices considered the intent and context of the displays in their rulings. What about the effect of such displays? What do local community leaders and members say about how Ten Commandments monuments and displays affect their citizens and the way local and state governments acknowledge religion?
- The campaign supporting Ten Commandments displays is overwhelmingly Christian, but not all Christians support them. Will clergy respond to the rulings in sermons this weekend?
- How will legislators at the state and national level react? What will they hear about the rulings from their constituents? Dozens of bills involving church-state issues are in play in state legislatures at any given time. How might they be affected by the rulings?
- The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids government endorsement of religion but also protects religious expression — two ideals that have been in tension since the country’s founding. One justice suggested Monday that the Establishment Clause should be re-examined. What do legal scholars say about which clause is more highly valued now? How has that changed?
- The ban on government endorsement of religion has been cited in many court rulings that protected the rights of members of non-Christian religions. Some argue that those rights have been protected at the expense of Christians’ rights. What do religious leaders, people and legal scholars say?
- Religious groups are increasingly finding themselves allied with other religious groups on one or two political issues –- such as the environment or stem-cell research — even when they are bitterly opposed on other issues. How do church-state issues affect those fragile alliances?
- The majority and dissenting opinions in both Ten Commandments rulings included some very divisive language. If the Supreme Court justices are bitterly divided on church-state issues and engage in dispiriting debate, will the rest of the country continue to follow suit? What local and national examples exist where opposing religious or secular groups were able to work together despite their differences to make progress on an issue?
Racy Teen Books
This summer’s newest smash hit books for teenage girls may shock you.
Some of the most talked-about titles are so racy that big bookstores, including Barnes & Noble and Borders, offer some of them online only, not on store shelves.
“Rainbow Party,” a book that has generated a lot of buzz, is about a high school sophomore who plans an oral sex party. The president of Simon & Schuster’s children’s division told The Wall Street Journal that the book teaches children about the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
USA Today included these quotes about “Rainbow Party”:
“Parents count on us to have books that are appropriate for their children,” says Monica Holmes of Hicklebee’s Books in San Jose, Calif. “We’re not a conservative group, but this one is outside our safe area.”
Elly Gore, a buyer for Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee, concedes that the book is “edgy” but will stock it mainly because, she says, “I knew that if I skipped it, I would have been censoring it. … I couldn’t do that.” …
Gillian Engburg, an editor at the American Library Association’s Booklist magazine, says her publication will not review “Rainbow.” But the reason, she says, has nothing to do with the subject matter. “We just didn’t feel the book had enough literary merit to justify purchase.”
The WSJ describes “Claiming Georgia Tate“ as a book about a 12-year-old girl whose father pressures her into a sexual relationship. And the paper says in “Looking for Alaska,“ prep school students spend their time watching porn and binge-drinking.
The “Gossip Girl” series is also a summertime hit, and this fall you will probably hear about a new title called “Teach Me,” which the WSJ says is about a school teacher who has a sexual relationship with a female student.
Why would booksellers risk the wrath of parents? The young adult books are selling well compared to books aimed at the adult market. Young adult book sales are up 23 percent since 1999.
The Portland (Maine) Press-Herald recently told the story of racy Japanese comic books that were making their way to library shelves:
Increasing numbers of school and public libraries in Maine are devoting shelf space to Japanese comic books, which have become hugely popular among adolescents.
The purpose is to lure young readers to libraries by giving them what they want. But some people dispute the value of books that feature female characters dressed in sexy outfits and sometimes behaving in ways that conform to sexist stereotypes.
The Albany Times-Union said there are some who are urging librarians to put warning stickers on racy teen books, sort of like labeling records for graphic content.
Kids & Summertime Computer Use
In my workshops about how to use the Internet as a new research tool, I often raise a pet peeve of mine: journalists too often portray the Internet as a place where boogiemen lurk about, waiting to steal your identity or harm your children. And yet, it probably makes sense for parents to pay some special attention to what their kids are doing online, especially during the summer, when a lot of kids are alone at home.
Slightly more than half of parents say they don’t have monitoring software on household computers that teenagers use or don’t know whether their computers have such software, according to a survey released by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and broadband service provider Cox Communications. Similarly, 42 percent said they don’t review what their teenagers are reading or writing in chat rooms or via .
That compares with nearly half of the parents surveyed, who said they monitor their children’s online activity daily or weekly.
Almost three in 10 respondents were unaware whether their children chat with strangers online.
Part of the problem for parents could be where computers are located. The survey reported that 30 percent allow teenagers to use computers in bedrooms, home offices or other private areas. Parents said they were more attentive when the teens and PCs mix in more public areas.
The biggest shortfall for the adults is an age-old one: keeping up with teen slang. In this case, that means common instant-messaging terms like LOL (laughing out loud), BRB (be right back) and — more to the point — lingo like POS (parent over shoulder) or P911 (parent alert) used to indicate that parents are watching.
Kids Losing Ground Over the Summer
Kids who are not involved in some kind of education activity stand to lose ground, particularly in math skills, over the summer. An MSNBC story said that school teachers often spend as long as four to six weeks re-teaching skills lost over the summer break.
What you can do to help kids’ minds from turning to mush over the summer?
- Learn to love your local library (and librarian!). It’s a wonderful place to promote the love of reading, and the librarian can suggest grade-level, as well as pure recreational, books that will keep your kids’ neurons clicking.
- Check out safe, parent-approved Internet sites. There are many that offer a “summer camp” theme — a daily craft activity to do alone or with a parent each day, some brain teasers, video streaming of important world events (volcanoes erupting, the Martin Luther King ”I have a dream” speech), and tons of grade-related math, reading and science work to be checked out in a fun way.
- Consider your local newspaper — many have summer writing camps. Your performing-arts center has summer camps that involve singing, dancing and set decor as well as script reading (notice the reading part?).
- Even if your child attends a public school during the year, many private schools offer summer programs for all students that involve academics as well as sports, crafts and field trips. Learning academics is more fun when interspersed with active movement and game-like activities.
- The summer months are an excellent time for your child to fill in learning gaps or zoom ahead with enrichment activities at supplemental learning centers, or via tutors or last year’s teacher. Your child’s teacher is an excellent resource to give you ideas for summer books to read and math workbooks to complete in between play and television watching.
Library Internet Lines
A few months ago during spring break, my family took a quick trip over to the Atlantic coast of Florida. I was horrified to find that I had left my laptop at home and, of course, I still needed to file Al’s Morning Meeting somehow. So I drove to the local library and waited in line for a half-hour to get a seat at one of the six online computers. Even then, patrons were only allowed to stay online for a half hour, then we had to get up and get back in line for another computer.
Here is the lesson: Your library is a hotbed of online activity. The St. Petersburg Times discovered this recently.
Virtually every library in Florida now has Internet access, but it’s proven so popular that more than half the libraries are struggling to keep up with demand, according to a national survey released Thursday.
The story continued:
The report, done by Florida State University and sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, marks a milestone in a quiet evolution in the nation’s libraries.
A decade ago, 21 percent of the nation’s public libraries were hooked up to the Internet. Today it’s 99.6 percent.
What does that mean? Gone are the old card catalogs, telephone calls to other libraries to find books or inconvenient restrictions to magazines to which the library subscribes.
The Internet allows patrons access to every library, even in other states. Reserve books online and get an e-mail message when they’re ready. Need an article from a magazine the library doesn’t get? No problem. Electronic databases have just about every article from just about every magazine.
You can download some books — digital text or audio, your choice — and take it with you.
“These may be the great days for public libraries,” said Charlie Parker, executive director of the Tampa Bay Library Consortium.
But there’s one catch: A third of all Florida libraries reported their computers are always in use. And only 10 percent statewide had enough.
“Our computers are in constant use,” said Patrice Koerper, a spokeswoman for the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System. “It’s just one of our big items for the public. It’s one of the best services we can offer them.”
We are always looking for your great ideas. Send Al a few sentences and hot links.
Editor’s Note: Al’s Morning Meeting is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed, and a link will be provided, whenever possible.