letters to the editor
Religion can be misused

A passage within the cherished prayerbook used at my place of worship is, “May religion spread its blessings among us and exalt our nation in righteousness.” Regrettably, though, many fail to recognize that in our great country, we enjoy not only freedom of religion, but freedom FROM religion, a tenet which becomes particularly important in a highly pluralistic society such as this, one which includes individuals of all faiths and those of no faith.

Allegheny County Council recently engaged in shameful overreach with an offensive, time-wasting “initiative” to erect a new religious symbol at the County Courthouse. I voted for two of the religion-pushers, Councilwomen Sue Means, who sponsored the bill, and at-large member, attorney Heather Heidelbaugh. I would pose the following questions to them as I endure voter’s remorse:

Do you believe that you were elected to promote religion and that this bill was a priority for those who reside within the county?

If you see this measure as a legitimate function of government, why did you not pledge within your campaigns to use your position to pass it?

With thanks due largely to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who urged members to vote against the bill, threatening a veto, it narrowly failed, the vote being 8-6.

I do not advocate removing historic symbols from government buildings or erasing “In God We Trust” from our currency, but to use government to force new religious symbols at this point in our history is inappropriate.

It is interesting to note that although both members of Council have communicated me when I have praised them, their response when I expressed my displeasure over the legislation was to ignore me. I would advise them that I have a long memory and I vote. In contrast, Fitzgerald has engaged me even when we have disagreed. A couple of years ago, in response to my email correspondence, he invited me to telephone him at his home, this at the ungodly hour of 5:15 a. m., a time that I am usually at my computer keyboard. I took him upon the offer and we had a nice chat from which I came away with enormous respect for him. Imagine a member of the Upper St. Clair school board extending such an offer!

One of the dangerous arguments put forth by those who supported erecting “In God We Trust” is that it is desired by a majority of citizens. Even if that were the case, it is not a legitimate means of governance for actions such as this. If “majority rule” were implemented, many states would have continued to eschew civil rights and the credo of the late George Wallace would long have persisted, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Another demonstration of appalling religious fanaticism was seen on the streets of the South Hills on major artery Washington Road in recent days. Contemptible anti-abortion extremists who are blinded by their dogma shove in the faces of motorists and their passengers huge photographs of what they purport to be aborted fetuses. They demonstrate no concern about traumatizing impressionable children who are vehicle passengers at the corners at which they are perched.

Pornography is defined as the following: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction. What the anti-abortion instigators are engaged in fits the definition perfectly.

Religion is a wonderful thing which has been shown to enhance and lengthen the lives of those who practice it. It has engaged in acts of philanthropy that have helped countless needy individuals throughout history. It can also be misused and adopted for the perpetration of evil.

Oren Spiegler

Upper St. Clair

Banned Books Week celebrates freedom to read

The week of Sept. 21-27 is Banned Books Week. An initiative sponsored by the American Library Association, National Council of Teachers of English, the Freedom to Read Foundation and the Association of American Publishers, among others, Banned Books Week, at its very core, celebrates the freedom to read. It began in 1982 as a response to the sudden increase in challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries.

According to the American Library Association, more than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. Among the most challenged titles in 2013 are “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Upper St. Clair native Steven Chbosky and “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. Note that all three have been adapted into movies, and while “Fifty Shades of Grey” isn’t slated to hit theatres until Valentine’s Day, it is highly anticipated, and “The Hunger Games” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” were box office hits.

Imagine if all of those who see these movies read the book first. According to Reading is Fundamental, 33 percent of fourth-grade students in public schools are at or below the “basic” level on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress reading tests. Fifty-three percent of fourth-graders read for fun almost every day, and only 20 percent of eighth-graders reported doing the same.

Why deny a child – or anyone for that matter – the chance to read something if they are interested? We aren’t suggesting that English teachers adopt “Fifty Shades of Grey” into their curriculum, but we would never think of advocating it to be pulled from bookshelves.

Some American classics that were banned from different schools and libraries include “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and even “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak.

Our challenge to you – check out the list of banned books on bannedbooksweek.org, select a title, and ... read.