A high school in Jackson, Ohio, has a devotional painting of Jesus, “The Head of Christ,” hanging in the hall students pass to go to the cafeteria. In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill, allowing schools to pray over school intercoms and at assemblies, graduations and sports events.
Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and a minister, approves of churches and schools blending.
“We ask why there is violence in our schools but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee says. “Should we be surprised that schools would become places of carnage?”
Removal of God has nothing to do with violence. The Mississippi measure is corrosive and unconstitutional. But none of that matters in the hinterlands of Mississippi and 23 other reactionary states that have Republican governors and GOP control of legislatures.
The McCollum ruling by the Supreme Court in 1948 struck down religious instruction in Champaign, Ill., as a violation “of personal conscience.” It declared that the “wall between church and state must be kept high and impregnable.”
But, really, why should states feel compelled to keep religion out of schools when U.S. Treasury coins and bills proclaim “In God we trust”?
That unconstitutional message was cemented in 1864 after the Rev. M.R. Watkinson of Ridleyville, Pa., wrote to Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, declaring the slogan essential to “relieve us of the ignominy of heathenism.”
Some Americans don’t believe in God. They support the Freedom from Religion Foundation suit demanding that the government drop the slogan.
If justice prevails, it will win. But justice often doesn’t prevail. In 2011 a retrograde Supreme Court rejected a similar plea.
Where’s the outrage?
President Obama is packing his second-term Cabinet with the likes of Jack Lew. Lew, new treasury secretary, got a $685,000 gift from New York University when he resigned as executive secretary in 2006 to take a job with Citigroup.
Lew resigned voluntarily. NYU was under no contract obligation to give him severance pay. Why should a tax-exempt, non-profit university give him an enormous exit bonus?
He was hired as executive VP in 2001. Some years he made $840,000. He also received mortgages of $1.5 million from the school as a perk, $440,000 of which it forgave.
NYU is a private university so it is free to dole out largesse. But even the rich donors cannot be pleased.
Am I the only one in America outraged? Certainly the editors of the august New York Times were not, burying the story on page 17.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa was unhappy about the giveaway. Grassley, former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said:
“The problem of colleges that find money for executive suites even as they raise tuition is not unique to New York University. NYU is among the most expensive, has a well-funded endowment and high student debt loads. It should explain how its generous treatment of Lew abets its educational mission.”
University officials say it is “not uncommon for large corporations to make payments to senior officials on their departure.” But one consultant countered that it was unusual to get “a ton of money” for voluntary departure.
It’s more than unusual. It’s an outrage.
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.