May 6, 2014
My colleague Rob Schwarzwalder's blog post on the important Supreme Court case of Town of Greece v. Galloway raises the central issue in this dispute. The town fathers went out of their way to welcome prayers by citizens of other religions than Christianity. They recognized their own obligation to cast their nets broadly. No one could reasonably say his religion was being disrespected. But that good faith effort, that exercise in civility, was not enough for Citizen Galloway. Instead, this person determined to take her complaint all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Forget civility. Forget good neighborliness. If I am offended, I have a constitutional right to shut down my fellow citizens' freedom of speech and free exercise. Or so this claimant thought. And whenever any atheizer is unhappy that his neighbor believes that this is one nation under God, there will be wealthy and powerful pressure groups racing in to court, ready to help extinguish the lamp of religious liberty.
Rob Schwarzwalder asks where is the civility, where is the maturity in that? He's right. Not every crank has a cause of action.
I've always been impressed by the baseball fans at Baltimore's Camden Yards. Whenever the Orioles play Toronto Blue Jays, the fans all stand for "The Star Spangled Banner." (And they shout out the "O's" in "O Say.") Those fans should be especially proud to belt out our National Anthem this season, since it's the Bicentennial of Francis Scott Key's powerful poem that has become our stirring song.
After our National Anthem, everyone stands respectfully for our Northern neighbor's National Anthem, the beautiful and evocative "O Canada."
No one petulantly refuses to honor the other country's anthem. That's a tribute to true civility. But we should not forget that two hundred years ago, Britain ruled Canada and used it as a base to make war on us. Those "rockets' red glare" and " bombs bursting in air" were British rockets and British bombs. And Canada remained loyal to the British in their attempt to destroy our young republic.
As for the Canadians, their anthem contains the verse "O Canada, we stand on guard for thee."
On guard against whom? It's not against the Moose or the Polar Bear. They stand on guard against the Yankees -- US!
Both National Anthems are written (in effect) against the other. And yet we are today the best of friends.
Different systems, different perspectives. Very different national goals and ethos, but we are more than civil, and more than good friends. Canada and the U.S. enjoy the longest undefended border in the world.
The key is to honor your neighbor and respect his traditions.
We can certainly learn a lesson in cordiality at Camden Yards. Instead of having to sue one another, maybe we should say "Take me out to the ball game!"