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School Board Budget Questions, Roger Buchanan, April 11, 2004
School Vouchers, Clark Moeller, September 29, 2003
Rendell Invites the Public, Hon. Pedro A. Cortes, July 22, 2003
Articles of Impeachment, Clark Moeller, June 9, 2003

Interfaith Working Group Correspondence on Gay Rights, Reproductive Freedom, and Church/State issues


Roger Buchanan
School Board Budget Questions
April 11, 2004

To the Editor:
   The first meeting of the _________ School Board budget discussion degraded into the wrong question. It was the usual wrong question and heard every year at every school board meeting from now until the budget is passed. True to form, the broken record was played again: "Do you know how many of my neighbors will lose their home if this proposed budget is passed?"
  Before the question could be answered, a fellow traveler of this hang-dog mentality, a wealthy landlord, held up a newspaper showing all the properties on the sheriff's sale. She has the right idea of course. The game plan is clear. When school budgets are based on the ability of the very poor to pay their taxes, then folks with massive real estate holdings can laugh all the way to the bank.
  It is time for concerned citizens to attend budget meetings and demand that the School Board ask the right questions: Will this school budget enable every student to take whatever the modern world dishes up? Will we turn out graduates who will survive and thrive in a world of outsourcing and downsizing? Will those who ought to go to college acquire what they need to make good? Will the marginal student graduate and no longer be marginalized?
  We can no longer afford to have some youth with low motivation who waltzed through the grades and accomplished very little. We can no longer afford to turn out underachievers, only to have them join the ranks of the underemployed.
  We need graduates who will do well in the modern world, and that doesn't happen with a bare-bones minimum school budget. We have a history of wealthy landlords attempting to subvert the school board for their own greed. This era must end.
  Schools exist for the next generation and not for the protection of a few self-serving whiners who have everything money can buy but lack one thing: a vision for the future.
(Please feel free to copy/paste this letter, sign, and send to YOUR newspaper editor)

Roger Buchanan is a Board member of the Freedom to Learn Network (FLN), 2020 Downyflake Lane, Allentown, PA 18103, 610-797-7333, flninpa@netcarrier.com. FLN is a nonprofit, all-volunteer, public education advocacy organization.
Clark Moeller
School Vouchers
September 29, 2003

Dear Editor:
   The Daily Review printed an AP article (9/29/03) discussing the United States Senate's deliberation over a voucher bill to fund private and religious schools in Washington, DC, using tax dollars. The voucher, it is claimed, would economically enable parents to withdraw their child from a public school and place the child into a school of their choice. That is the idea in a nutshell.
  In 22 referenda on vouchers over fifty years, voters have rejected school vouchers at the ballot box, because vouchers are a bad idea, that rests on false assumptions. First, funding religious institutions with public taxes would violate the Constitution of the United States, which says, "Congress shall make no laws respecting an established religion."
  Second, those who complain about the cost of public education fail to explain how taking money from public schools and giving it to private schools is going to save money. The primary advocate for vouchers is the Catholic Church which runs the largest religious school system in the country. It is a system seeking public relief because its cost per student has gone through the roof as its student enrollment plunged from 4.5 million students in 1965 to 2 million in 2002, as its overhead costs have increased because low-paid teacher-nuns are no longer available and its school buildings have aged.
  Third, some politicians now are calling their voucher proposals "school choice." However, vouchers are not about parental choice, but about choice for the administrators of private academic and religious schools. They are the ones who decide whether to accept or reject a child. Private schools have the option of expelling children without having to take responsibility for what happens to a child after she or he is gone. None of the religious schools must accept your child if you profess the wrong religion, you are from the wrong side of the tracks, or you once offended the religious leaders of these schools.
  Fourth, perhaps one of the most disingenuous claims of pro-voucher advocates is the free market idea that "economic theory supports the notion that vouchers would deliver higher quality services, more customer satisfaction, and lower prices." However, a common survival strategy for companies competing in a free market is to downsize, lay off employees, and jump on the next consumer trend. Do you want under-funded public schools in our city centers be to close classes, kick children out, and start yoga classes for affluent young professionals?
  Fifth, anyone who is spending citizens' taxes for schools, or for any other purpose, has a fiduciary responsibility to be accountable to the public for those expenditures. Yet private religious schools do not want to have public representatives on their boards of directors, or public audits.
  Call our Senators Specter and Santorum and ask them to reject school vouchers for Washington, DC. Adequate public funding is what is needed.

Yours Truly,
Clark Moeller, Towanda PA

to contact your senators: Senator Arlen Specter, 711 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510; Senator Rick Santorum, 511 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510; Congressman Don Sherwood, U.S. House of Representatives, 1223 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515; or find your representative at http://www.house.gov/)


Hon. Pedro A. Cortés
Rendell Invites the Public
July 22, 2003

To the Editor (sent to Democracy Dispatches #35-National News):
  The Pennsylvania Department of State has taken a proactive approach to maximize public input and solicit comments from the general public regarding its State Plan as it relates to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The Department advertised and held three public hearings; placed display and legal advertisements in local and regional newspapers; and proactively sought participation from stakeholders such as directors of elections, groups that represent persons with disabilities, consumer protection groups and organizations that represent individuals speaking alternative languages.
  With the commencement of the incoming Rendell Administration in January, the composition of the State Plan Advisory Board was not influenced by myself or any new members of my staff. However, we sought to maximize public exposure of the State Plan in an effort to include as many participants as possible. Accordingly, the Department opened the advisory board meetings to the public and incorporated into the Preliminary State Plan many of the suggestions made by various advocacy groups. The Rendell Administration and the Department of State take the public’s input very seriously in this respect and look forward to submitting a final copy of the State Plan that includes the many valid and helpful comments provided by representatives of diverse constituencies.

Hon. Pedro A. Cortés,
Harrisburg, PA
The writer is the Secretary of the Commonwealth in Pennsylvania.


Clark Moeller
Articles of Impeachment
June 9, 2003

Dear Senators Spector and Santorum and Congressman Sherwood,
  The Bush administration has not found weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or any creditable smoking gun which documents that Iraq harbored and abetted al Qaeda. Now we learn from Pentagon officials that they knew last fall that they did not have hard evidence that Iraq had WMD. However, President W. George Bush sent our troops into war based on his assertions that Iraq did have WMD. On March 17th, President Bush said, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." What is passing curious is why weapons of mass destruction (WMD) haven't been found yet because Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said on March 30, 2003, "We know where they [WMD] are. They are in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad."
  What is becoming increasingly apparent is that the Bush administration has not been telling the truth to the American people. Here is more of what we have been hearing from the lips of our President, "Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons." - September 12, 2002; "Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent."- George W. Bush, State of the Union address, January 28, 2003; "We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons -- the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have." - George Bush, February 8, 2003; "We are learning more as we interrogate or have discussions with Iraqi scientists and people within the Iraqi structure, that perhaps he destroyed some, perhaps he dispersed some. And so we will find them." - George Bush, April 24, 2003; and "We'll find them. It'll be a matter of time to do so." - George Bush, May 3, 2003. As recently as May 6th President Bush said, "I'm not surprised if we begin to uncover the weapons program of Saddam Hussein -- because he had a weapons program."
  Since last summer, others in President Bush's administration have made the same claims. "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." - Dick Cheney, August 26, 2002; "If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world." - Ari Fleischer, December 2, 2002; "We know for a fact that there are weapons there." - Ari Fleischer, January 9, 2003; "We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more." - Colin Powell, February 5, 2003; "Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly . . . all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes." - Ari Fleischer, March 21, 2003; "There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. As this operation continues, those weapons will be identified, found, along with the people who have produced them and who guard them." - Gen. Tommy Franks, March 22, 2003; "I think you have always heard, and you continue to hear from officials, a measure of high confidence that, indeed, the weapons of mass destruction will be found." - Ari Fleischer, April 10, 2003; "There are people who in large measure have information that we need . . . so that we can track down the weapons of mass destruction in that country." - Donald Rumsfeld, April 25, 2003; and "I am confident that we will find evidence that makes it clear he had weapons of mass destruction." - Colin Powell, May 4, 2003.
  However, President Bush has changed his tone now and said only that Iraq was "capable of producing biological agents... ." - June 5, 2003. Unfortunately, the United State's credibility is so compromised at this point that if the administration actually were to find WMD, people around the world will assume the United States had planted the "evidence."
  To put this sorry story in perspective, President Clinton's lie about Monica Lewinski did not result in our soldiers dying in battle, nor thousands of innocent civilians being killed and maimed with our bombs, nor compromise our national security by having our allies refuse to help us, nor turn the U.S. into a pariah among nations. What happened was that in December of 1998, Congress impeached President Clinton for lying about his relationship with a woman. Congress charged Clinton in the articles of impeachment with the abuse of power which included making "false and misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States; ... " The President made perjurious, false and misleading statements to Congress."
  There is a serious possibility that President Bush has intentionally mislead the American people and Congress to the degree that his claims rise to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors" because these led to war that cost the lives of American soldiers among other misfortunes. The appropriate place for this issue to be discussed with the gravity it deserves is Congress, and the appropriate format is within the context of articles of impeachment.
  I am requesting that you take the steps necessary for such articles of impeachment to be drafted for debate in Congress so that the American people can have a full and accurate accounting of what President Bush knew before the invasion of Iraq and of his relevant statements to Congress and the American people during that same time.

Yours truly,
Clark Moeller
(You may copy and sign your own name, address, and phone number if you wish. Mail to: Senator Arlen Specter, 711 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510; Senator Rick Santorum, 511 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510; Congressman Don Sherwood, U.S. House of Representatives, 1223 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515; or find your representative at http://www.house.gov/)

Larry Frankel

Democracies Die Behind Closed Doors
August 28, 2002

To: Kelly Powell Logan, Secretary
Department of General Services
515 North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA 17125-0001

Dear Secretary Logan:
  I have heard that your agency has proposed that members of the Harrisburg Capitol press corps be required to submit to criminal background checks in order to maintain their access to the Capitol complex. I have also heard that all persons visiting the Capitol will be required to pass through metal detectors each time they wish to enter the building.
  I am sure that these new rules are motivated by security concerns. However, I think that these proposed policies might, over time, prove problematic. As someone who has visited the Capitol complex on hundreds of occasions during the last ten years, I write to express my thoughts about these proposals.
  I believe that further consideration be given to the potentially adverse consequences of these rules on the public’s ability to: (1) keep informed of the actions of government; (2) observe legislators in action; and (3) influence the decisions of their elected officials. I also believe that more thought should be given to developing less intrusive means to meet security concerns and that more public input on these proposals is necessary.
  There can be no doubt that the press plays a critical role in maintaining our democracy. Just this week, the United States Court of Appeals issued a decision, Detroit Free Press, et al. v. Ashcroft, holding that the blanket closure of deportation hearings in “special interest” cases is unconstitutional. While that court was writing about a policy of the federal government with regard to immigration hearings, I believe that the language quoted below, is relevant to most governmental actions at any level of government. The court wrote:
  "The only safeguard on this extraordinary governmental power is the public, deputizing the press as the guardians of their liberty. ‘An informed public is the most potent of all restraints upon misgovernment[.]’ Grosjean v. Am. Press Co., 297 U.S. 233, 250 (1936). ‘[They] alone can here protect the values of democratic government.’ New York Times v. United States, 403 U.S. 713, 728 (1971)(per curiam) (Stewart, J., concurring)."
"Democracies die behind closed doors. The First Amendment, through a free press, protects the people’s right to know that their government acts fairly, lawfully, and accurately in deportation proceedings. When government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation."
  I think that the Court of Appeals correctly articulated how important a free press is to the proper functioning of democracy. The media play a significant role in keeping the public aware and informed of the actions of elected officials. This is as true in Harrisburg and Pennsylvania as it is in Washington, D.C., or any courtroom in America.
  The importance of a free press and the vital role that it plays in our democracy should be carefully considered when security procedures are being developed. New safety measures should not, intentionally or inadvertently, become a means for limiting or reducing the media’s coverage of governmental operations. The First Amendment and the public’s right to know should not fall by the wayside.
  I believe that requiring reporters to submit to criminal background checks is an intrusion into private business relationships. The reporters do not work for the government. Their employers are the ones who are responsible for hiring decisions and their employers should be the ones for setting the rules for their employees.
  Furthermore, many members of the public will perceive this as a heavy-handed ("Big Brother") approach to security in the Capitol. I fail to understand the justification for subjecting reporters to background checks since, to the best of my knowledge, there have been no criminal incidents in the Capitol involving members of the press corps. Many of the members of the press corps have worked for years in the Capitol without causing any security breaches. How have they suddenly become a problem?
  The proposal also raises a host of privacy questions. What limits will be placed on any information obtained through such background checks? Will confidentiality be respected? Will any attempt be made to verify the information that is received? Will there be a clear standard for deciding what information is relevant? What discipline will be imposed on those who violate any privacy or confidentiality policies?
  I think that more time should be taken to consider such concerns about background checks, because they could very well deter many intelligent and experienced reporters from even seeking to cover state government. Pennsylvanians should not lose their ability to be informed. There must be a less intrusive means for protecting the Capitol that will not do such damage to the First Amendment.
  The concerns I have regarding metal detectors are more logistical, although they also implicate the public’s ability to directly observe their government in action and personally petition their government.
  What are the plans for handling large crowds of visitors ­ be they school children on a field trip, members of a trade association, a senior citizens group or citizens coming to Harrisburg to rally in support of their favorite cause? What will happen to individuals who are seeking access at the same time as large groups? Will they have to wait their turn or will some effort be made to accommodate those who have the misfortune of arriving at the same time as a large group?
  Even for individual visitors to the Capitol or lobbyists, the metal detectors will be a deterrent to even entering the Capitol. This could result in fewer visits to legislators in their offices and fewer observers of committee meetings and proceedings on the floor. Unanticipated delays encountered in passing through the detectors could lead to missed appointments and missed opportunities to speak with legislators about important matters.
  Thus, both the proposed policy about criminal background checks for reporters and requiring visitors to pass through metal detectors raise significant issues related to the people’s access to their own government. As someone who has been a regular visitor to the Capitol complex, I must say that I can recall no event that would justify such security measures, particularly in light of the burdens they impose on the public and the press.
  I urge you to rethink the potential for loss of public trust and confidence that will result in the event that these security measures diminish public access to government, its actors and its actions.

Larry Frankel, Legislative Director, ACLUPA

Al Richardson
Editorial on Voucher Shortsighted
June 30, 2002

To: Editor, Erie Times-News
The analysis of the Ohio tuition voucher ruling in your June 29 editorial was shortsighted.
   As a parent, I don't question the value of educational choices. All four of my children received progressive education in a private elementary school in Pennsylvania. But no state or federal law gave me the right to have the government either subsidize my alternative school choice or absolve my civic obligation to pay taxes to the public school district where I chose to live.
   That's one salient point missing from your editorial.
   As a taxpayer, I object to government underwriting of tuitions to sectarian schools where young children receive religious indoctrination -- be it Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Wiccan, or whatever. That would amount to a religious tax, which is still unconstitutional in Pennsylvania. That's another missing point.
   If taxpayer money were used to help less fortunate families exercise educational choices, fairness would require a level playing field for the resulting "competition." This means at least two things --
   Private schools that accept government subsidies must comply with public school regulations regarding admitting students with special needs, hiring accredited teachers on a non-discriminatory basis, health, safety and public reporting standards, etc.
   Public schools must be provided with adequate funding to reduce class sizes in at least K through 3rd grades, to match the class sizes of their private school competitors.
   In the last century, public education made a major contribution to a sense of national unity in our pluralistic society. By enabling more students to leave public schools, vouchers would foster undesirable polarization of children in our multi-faith, multi-cultural population, and they would detract from finding better ways to give ALL students a quality education.
   State legislators should resist renewed lobbying efforts by those who desire a private education at taxpayers' expense.

Al Richardson, Erie PA

Floyd Cochran
Don't Underestimate
March 10, 2002

Dear Editor (Potter Leader-Enterprise):
    In the last few months, Potter County, Pennsylvania resident Neo-Nazi August Keis has announced his desire to create an "all white homeland in Potter County, Pennsylvania." Kreis, the "information officer" for the Aryan Nations, has also declared that "non-whites should leave Potter County or they will be put to death." Currently, Kreis and his Aryan criminals are threatening to build a "Aryan church grounds and host racist rocks fests."
   So far, the response from local Potter County residents has been both anger and silence. Angry that Potter County is being labeled "a homeland for Aryans", and silence in not knowing how to respond. Some residents are willing to take a visible stand against racism and Aryans, while others wish to ignore August Kreis and his Aryan criminals.
   Many Potter County people don't view Kreis as a threat, they point out that Kreis doesn't have much of a following, that he lacks charisma, has no education, and that he is a "welfare Nazi." To underestimate August Kreis is doing him a favor.
   We here in Pennsylvania have already experienced an "Aryan Nation church." Back in the early 1990's in the Allentown, Pennsylvania area, racist leader Mark Thomas announced that his home would become the "aryan nations of the east coast." Local Lehigh and Berks county residents didn't pay much attention, after all Thomas was un-educated, lacked charisma, lived in house without a roof, and collected food stamps.
   For the first few years people choose to ignore Thomas and the Aryans, that is until the spring of 1995, when two racist skinhead brothers (Bryan and David Freeman), who received counseling from the Aryan leader Mark Thomas, killed their mom, dad and young brother. Shortly after this crime, Aryan Nations supporter Tom Blair was appointed to a local school board, this was followed by attacks on Pennsylvania synagogues; but it didn't stop there. Along the way Thomas did TV interviews, held racist rallies and planned bank robberies.
   In 1997, Thomas was arrested, convicted and sent to prison for his role in robbing banks with the "aryan republican army."
   It didn't take long for the people in the Allentown area to respond, but instead of responding to the Aryan Nation in a direct way, people organized, public officials spoke out, the issues of racism (organized and un-organized) were addressed.
   People did something to offset the negative with a positive.
   Recently local Potter County resident Jerri Miller suggested a "Diversity Festival." Excellent idea! While it may not stop August Kreis directly, it certainly is the first step in setting the tone and getting the message out that Potter County is not a homeland for nazis.

Thank you,
Floyd Cochran
Education & Vigilance Network, Renovo,PA 17764, www.evnetwork.org
For documention of the activities and crimes of the "aryan nations of the east coast", contact the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission in Harrisburg. 717 - 783 8438 or contact the Education & Vigilance Network at 570 - 923 - 9946

Eleanor Levie
Pickering Will Chip Away Freedom
February 8, 2002

Dear Senator Specter:
  On behalf of the National Council of Jewish Women, I thank you for your active and probing questioning of Judge Charles Pickering in yesterday's hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. I understand from the director of our Washington office, who attended the hearing, that you made your own pro-choice stance clear right off the bat, and that you asked Judge Pickering to go beyond his claim that he would uphold the law and cite specific examples of situations where he did in fact uphold laws in which he didn't personally believe.
  We of the National Council of Jewish Women remain very troubled by this nominee's record on reproductive and civil rights. We believe that once placed in this for-life position, Charles Pickering will indeed chip away at those areas that should be matters of religion, privacy, and basic human rights and freedoms. We urge you to vote to reject this nominee to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
  NCJW is a volunteer organization, inspired by Jewish values, that works to improve the quality of life for women, children and families and to ensure individual rights and freedoms through research, education, advocacy, and community service programs initiated by its network of over 2,000 volunteers, supporters, and members in Pennsylvania, and over 90,000 nationwide.

Eleanor Levie

Larry Frankel 
We Need Reason to Trust
December 12, 2001

(Published in the Philadlephia Inquirer)
   I was taken aback by Mark Bowden's defense of the detention of hundreds of people as part of the Justice Department's investigation of the criminal acts of September 11 (Inquirer, Dec. 9).
   We just don't know what our government is really up to. That is why the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations filed a lawsuit last week requesting the disclosure of basic information about individuals arrested and detained since Sept. 11.
   Without such information, it is impossible for any of us to know whether the government is acting prudently or treating those who have been detained in a reasonable and nondiscriminatory manner. Maybe if we had some information about the number of individuals arrested, the charges, and their status, we would have better reason to trust what our leaders are doing.
   Americans shouldn't have to demand that our government provide us with these basic facts. Surely, the United States can defend itself against terrorism without stonewalling its own people.

Larry Frankel, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania

Liz Hrenda
Compelling Prayer Undermines Religious Freedom
October 24, 2001

Dear Senator _____ (sent to every PA State Senator)
   We urge you to oppose House Bill 592, which mandates unconstitutional religious observance by school children.
   The pledge to the flag or other expression of patriotism, freely offered, resonates with the love of country felt by many. A prayer for comfort or guidance, offered sincerely and voluntarily, can be a beautiful expression of faith. But to compel these prayers and pledges, as HB 592 would, undermines the very essence of these activities and the respect for freedom of speech and religion which central democratic values on which our nation was built.
   It is difficult to reconcile these requirements with the language in HB 592 specifying instruction in patriotism, including “instruction in the fundamental principles of our form of government, an understanding of the provisions of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Constitution of the United States of America, the values to be found in the freedom of speech, of religion and of the press.” One can only imagine the difficulty a teacher would have in conveying these values to students after compelling them to participate in speech with religious content.
   Rather than demand acts of rote patriotism from our children, we should provide them with a government which respects their religious choices and those of their families. Should HB 592 come up for consideration in the Senate, we urge you to oppose it.

Liz Hrenda, Executive Director,
Pennsylvania Alliance for Democracy