Petty wordsmithing

I must take issue with the editing that the Independent did to my letter to the editor that was published in the July 18-24 edition.

In my original letter I made a distinction between the way that the Freethinkers quote the First Amendment (by saying, "Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion.") and the proper quote that should read, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

The letter I submitted explained the distinction between the two quotes. The version you printed omitted it, and without the explanation of the distinction; it makes my letter look like petty wordsmithing. But there is a very large and important distinction, and I hope you will see fit to print this letter in its entirety.

The Freethinkers' interpretation of "the establishment" means the promotion of, or the support of religion. Establishing religion is not what the First Amendment is about.

Check out the history of this amendment. Read the initial drafts and the debate that formed its final wording. It was solely around respecting (or promoting) one establishment (or organization or denomination) above another. There was no intent or attempt to scrub government of religious influence or to prevent the mere mention of religion by any agency or agent funded or controlled by the government.

That's why it is important to quote the text properly. A simple change of the word "the" to "an" leads to an entirely different meaning. The essays in the Freethinkers' paid advertisements consistently use the wrong one.

-- Joe Oppelt

Colorado Springs

Ed. note: Oppelt's original letter was edited for length, not content. However, given the volume of response we received to his letter, we are giving him this space this week to clarify his argument. Please, letter writers, keep your pithy masterpieces to 350 words or less!

Schroeder responds

Mr. Oppelt,

Thank you for identifying my incorrect quotation of the First Amendment in the July 4 Freethinkers column. While one of my goals is to maintain my freedom from government-funded religion, my primary goal is factual accuracy.

Your letter states, "I would not argue with Groff that the phrase 'under God' by its very words establishes religion in general," but then suggests that only establishment of a denomination violates the First Amendment.

It appears that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" prohibits general establishment. If not, doesn't the capitalized use of the Judeo-Christian word for god establish a denomination, just as the use of Allah or Vishnu would establish different denominations?

I must also respectfully disagree with your implication that the ruling seeks to force the majority not to say the word "god." The ruling does not restrict anyone from saying "god" except government-paid teachers, and then only in their official duties in the public schools.

Yes, large groups of people sometimes shout religious interpretations that disagree with my own. As I tried to point out, daring to question the dominant religion or working to maintain your freedom to choose a different one can be frightening and sometimes dangerous. The fact that Madalyn Murray and her immediate family disappeared years ago and are assumed to have been murdered is a case in point.

In answer to your question, if the phrase "under God" is removed from taxpayer-funded public use, people who do not believe in miraculous beings would not be forced to endure unwanted religious intrusions by government, or the kind of shouting exhibitions you describe. This would help us to feel more united with other citizens.

-- Groff Schroeder

Manitou Springs

A sneaking suspicion

I am sick of seeing the claim, as in Joe Oppelt's July 18 letter, that the phrase "under God" in the pledge establishes "religion in general," rather than a specific religion, as proscribed by the Constitution.

I don't claim to be an expert, but I'm certain that there are plenty of religious beliefs that do not worship the "God" in the pledge.

Although phrases like the one in the pledge might not establish a specific denomination, they do indeed establish a specific religious belief. If that isn't a violation of the First Amendment, it's still bad enough for me.

-- Michael Falick

Colorado Springs

One nation, except for lefties

After following with interest the debate surrounding the Pledge of Allegiance, I am struck by the fact that so many people have failed to consider a crucial point.

Perhaps then it is no wonder the American judicial system did the same. Amazingly, they did the right things. Not surprisingly, for the wrong reason.

I personally have omitted the phrase "under God" when reciting the pledge from the age of reason onward. My thinking had nothing to do with constitutionality or separation of church and state or politics in any form.

The phrase simply disenfranchises the atheists. Tell me this doesn't smack of a law being passed (as it was in 1954) that clearly favors one religion over another! One might compare this to phrases such as "except for left-handers" or "excluding redheaded people," two groups of similar demographic size, being added to the Pledge.

This is a nation unique in all history in that, once the yoke of tyranny was throw off, we said, "We are all in this together."

Those of us who love this nation for the abiding principles upon which it was founded find the concept of any group or individual being left out of it to any degree odious and contemptible. It is simply true that, "One nation, indivisible" includes all of us, and in the modern world, this is more important than ever.

-- Randall Martella

Colorado City

Life is what we make of it

In his letter published in the July 18-24 Indy, Douglas Hammerstrom, M.D. attributes the "conclusion that the last great question in philosophy is that of suicide" to Sartre. The discussion of this question was actually written by Albert Camus, who was also French, in his 1940 essay "The Myth of Sisyphus."

I've long suspected that those, such as Dr. Hammerstrom, who can only find meaning in life when a god -- no doubt a personal one -- is involved, are really afraid to look beyond the manufactured and packaged fairy tales that are the core of the monotheistic religions. It's kind of like being afraid to grow up or being afraid of going through the looking glass.

As Camus points out in his essay, there are many ways of finding meaning in life that don't involve living in spiritual serfdom under one deity or another. Life is what we ourselves make of it.

As a scientist I've found meaning and magic in life and more interesting things to investigate than I could do justice to in many lifetimes. Like Zarathustra, I came to the conclusion some 50 years ago that "that god, whom I created, was human work and human madness, like all gods."

Many Indy readers probably have similar stories and have full and meaningful lives outside of the confining worldview in which Dr. Hammerstrom seems to find meaning.

The Indy is a breath of intellectual fresh air in a state that needs much more of such. Keep up the great work!

-- Lowell Morgan


Opiate of the masses

Douglas Hammerstrom's line of reasoning is that some people commit suicide because of depression at perceived lack of meaning in their lives; existence of God would provide meaning; therefore God must exist.

This is Voltaire in action ("If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.").

But if Dr. Hammerstrom is inventing God as a cure for depression, he should in accordance with FDA rules list all of the dangerous side effects, and also ensure that use of God is limited to the ailment for which it has been licensed.

Otherwise religion could well become the opium of the masses.

-- Tom Fagan

Colorado Springs

A-mens and thank-yous

Carroll Westbrook's and Steve Levine's letters [July 4, July 11] really got my circulation moving. Thanks, editors! Zingy letters sell newspapers. That's something that has been forgotten by the editor at the daily newspaper. You only get A-mens and thank-yous over there. He prevents contrary views so completely that I doubt anyone reads their letters column. Unfortunately, he probably doesn't read this letters column either. Thank Easter Bunny for the Indy.

-- Tom MacDonald


Looking for dried cheese

I frantically discarded the sundry empty boxes I could find, all because an African-American male got voted into office. Imagine that.

Are you wondering what the disarray in my home has to do with politics? So did Charles E. Wingate (AKA Watergate) as the harrying Keystoners descended on his home, Pizza Connectionstyle, looking for dried cheese.

But wait, five detectives earning a national average of $57,000 a year make -- about $137 an hour. If they spent four hours planning then executing their "raid," at least $548 worth of our hard-earned tax dollars was spent for an alleged $100 transgression? We've seen it all.

But for what? It may seem that Charles has made some folks angry, is not a part of the "in crowd" or may be just a lousy civil servant. But look a little more closely and you might reason that many who have come before him have met the same fate -- such as the infamous Promise Lee, for example.

Are there others? Then, you might realize the powers that be in a Wonder Bread town like Colorado Springs just ain't ready for the likes of "them" and will stop at nothing to derail the will of its good people.

Folks, people of color are growing exponentially in every demographic area, not just crackhouses. I know things are different on our pristine, mountaintop Ivory Tower, but it is just a matter of time and space. Gaining political, financial, and even social clout in ways that would make the reformed George Wallace proud, we are coming soon to the theater nearest you.

Oops! There are some old spark plugs on the windowsill of my garage, which may ignite in the sparkling sun. The Keystoners shouldn't find them, with the Open Fire Ban.

-- N. Villanueva

Colorado Springs


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