Opportunity for Unity

An unpleasant little wind has been blowing over this sweet peninsula during the last days and weeks, one which I believe can become hurtful, left unanalyzed, but which could actually blow out some cobwebs that need disturbing if we just open up the corners and let the wind sweep through.

It has all been about religion and prayer and people's right to believe or to practice, or not to believe and not to practice. This in a little county that was very well acquainted in its early days about the need for freedom of religion.

Not just our early days! Look about us now. We are one of the wealthiest little areas of the world -- not just as measured by economic standards, but in the wealth of differences we have managed to acquire. Calvert County has attracted people of different persuasions for a very long time. It has managed somehow to assimilate -- that is a pretty good word -- very brainy people, who brought diverse professions with them and made themselves at home. Some of them had opinions and convictions and philosophies far different from the population they found on the land here, but somehow they accommodated each other -- both elements occasionally looking down their noses at the other ever so slightly, but no overt ill will. Oh, it's true that one of the most prominent men the county has ever given birth to was snubbed by some because his religion was one that did not even have a temple in this county. But those who snubbed him were looked down upon in turn by the many who used different standards by which to judge their neighbors.

And now we have such a wealth of residents, many of them who came to us because we needed their services so badly, and now many of them because this is just a nice place to live. But with them they have brought their cultures and their religions, thereby enriching us even more. Too often, residents of small rural areas like ours do not have the good fortune to be able to travel throughout the world and learn what a very big and diverse world it is. To learn that the God we honor on Sundays in our traditional little churches all over the county must have had a few other things in mind in creating the rest of the world, and how fortunate we are to be able to learn about the world without even having to take a Concorde.

It is a fact that America was established largely by Christians or by those who felt that Christianity was a base they were comfortable with -- some of them came here for economic advancement, and others looking for religious freedom. It is ironic that we are struggling now with the problem of just what religious freedom implies.

. . . Surely in this wonderful country there is room for all of us to observe the rituals and practices that give us comfort and sustenance, side by side, without being offended if the fellow beside us expresses beliefs in a different way from ours. And atheist? No one says an atheist has to agree with any of the religious practices that are important to our diverse population. Nor does their decision that for them there is no need for a religion mean that we must honor their conviction by denying ours. Freedom of religion can also mean freedom from religion, but it does not mean freedom to control everyone else in their beliefs and practices.

In this county, we have been seeing little evidences of ecumenical reaching out -- unthinkable even a couple of generations ago -- between faiths having the same roots but drastic differences in their history, which for a time made them literally enemies.

I think there is no question that religion is not a cause of friction between next-door neighbors, lawyers and doctors with clients or patients. Why should we not experiment with getting acquainted with our neighbors' religions and move over a little so they will have room to practice the faith that sustains them, at the same time leaving room for us to treasure the freedom so dearly bought by those who invented this country?

I would like to see a calendar for Calvert County that marked every day of religious significance and importance to any of the citizens who live here, along with a supplement giving a description of each of the religions represented. I think many of us might be truly surprised to learn how much in common our beliefs have in the matter of our much talked of "values."

The biggest stumbling block I see for such a happy accord is the sincere belief of practitioners of some religions that they are charged to try to convert others to their belief. I believe that a demonstration of the fact that one's religion is generous and compassionate and open and welcoming would perhaps be the best way to represent it to those not having an opportunity to be acquainted with it. That Book which provides guidance to so many of us has a lot to say about living in peace with our neighbors; like, for example, "If it be possible as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." Romans 12:18.

ANNE WHISMAN

Port Republic

Unhappy Here? Goodbye

I am an old Calvert County guy who goes back many generations. I attended public schools here when teachers had the right to punish by spanking, suspension or expulsion. This was enforced by some great teachers and principals that I have great respect for. At that time, I am sure, this troublemaker would not have gotten his diploma. At that time it was yes sir, no sir, etc. . . .

So far as expression of religion, I have yet to read where anyone was forced to participate, and I think these people from other counties should try to help their county and not bother ours.

I commend the county official, the police and the young lady that performed a remarkable job for this exercise.

If we have people that don't want to honor our flag, they should move out. I personally think Calvert to be a better place before we inherited these imports. We used to try to help the neighbor and live happy. . . .

If we have people that are unhappy with conditions, don't let the door hit you in the back on the way out.

WILLIAM L. BRADY

Huntingtown

Respecting Differences

As the discussion continues over events at the recent Northern High School graduation, Patuxent Friends (Quaker) Meeting would like to recognize some of the positive aspects of the evening.

We commend Julie Schenk, the student who was willing to honor the concerns of another and call for silent prayer as a substitute for vocal ministry, in spite of her own strong religious convictions.

We appreciate the actions of the Northern High School principal and our elected school board. They did their best to uphold the first article of the Bill of Rights, the rulings of the Supreme Court with respect to separation of church and state, and the right of individual conscience, while still maintaining a spiritual grounding for this public school celebration.

We thank the majority of the Northern High School students and their guests, who respected the intent of the graduation ceremony.

We respect the courage of the young man who stood up for his convictions and objected to prayer as part of the graduation ceremony of his public high school, even though it was not a popular position to take. Whether he knew it or not, he spoke for more than only himself, including the Muslims, Jews, Universalists, Bahais and people of other beliefs who were no doubt more quietly in attendance.

We acknowledge the sincerity of the Christians present, who prayed vocally as an expression of their faith, even if many of us wish they had chosen another forum for their statement. The graduation ceremony offered a wonderful opportunity for our community to come together to celebrate the accomplishments of our treasured young people. The principle focus of the evening should have been the celebrations of the graduates' achievements.

We are all concerned about our rights. It is more difficult, however, to be concerned about the rights of others. There are no freedoms of speech or religion unless we defend them in the name of the least popular minorities.

In public gatherings, with a diverse audience, it may not be feasible for all to speak their faith. Silent prayer or reflection is a practical alternative. Silence allows people the opportunity to pray or not to pray. It encourages all of us to participate together in our own way, in our own prayerful language, and in the context of our own culture and beliefs. One person's prayer is just as important, as beautiful and as worthy as another's. . . .

We think it important for all of us to be sensitive to the diversity of religions and beliefs that exist in our community and our country. Patuxent Friends (Quaker) Meeting looks forward to joining with our extended community in seeking the grace to listen better to each other's hearts.

RICHARD "DUSTY" RHOADES

Clerk, Patuxent Friends

Sunderland

Protect Right to Pray

I was elated when I read about the recitation of the Lord's Prayer at Northern High School's graduation in Calvert County. It was refreshing to learn that there is still a little backbone left in some of our citizens.

When I was a child, we were taught, in school, that our country was founded by people seeking religious freedom. This was guaranteed by our Constitution. The Supreme Court is now denying us that right. Our Constitution has been twisted and manipulated in an effort to pacify anyone who chooses to make an issue of anything with which they do not agree. No person at Northern High School was forced to participate in that prayer! Why should the constitutional right to prayer be denied to those who wish to participate? Just suppose that the American Civil Liberties Union decides it is unconstitutional for the president or any government official to attend church or be involved with religion in any way. Why not? Separation of church and state. I am sure that there are those who do not want the presidency to be influenced by religion. Is it not feasible?

I salute those Americans who stood up for their rights and hope that they continue on that path throughout their lives. Anyone who finds fault in a prayer that expresses goodness and decency is either a "sick puppy" or an enemy of this country attempting to destroy it from within. . . . Wake up people! There is something very wrong. When reciting the Lord's Prayer becomes a "lawless act," we should realize that we are in trouble!

The prayer issue is just one of many, many rights that are slowly being taken away from us. The very foundation upon which this once great country was built is crumbling away. There seems to be a movement in this country to turn its citizens into a race of mindless puppets. And the sad thing is, it seems to be working. The reality is that the government is becoming that dreaded "Big Brother" that was once thought to be a fantasy. We need to recapture and maintain the ideals that guided our forefathers . . .

If memory serves me, the preamble to the Constitution reads: "We the People" not "We the politicians."

KAREN A. RIGGS

Waldorf

Respect Rights of All

I feel compelled to respond to those who feel that the majority had the right to interfere with others' moment of personal reflection at the Northern High graduation ceremony. One of the basic principles of American democracy -- a principle that is learned by all Maryland public school civics students -- is that the majority rules, but the rights of the minorities are protected.

ANITA SHEPHERD

St. Leonard

Keep Religion Private

Regarding the "spontaneous" recital of the "Our Father" prayer at the Northern High School graduation, I can't help but wonder: Would the people defending this intrusion into a nonsectarian ceremony still defend it if it had been a strong female voice reciting, say, the Charge of the Star Goddess? Would Baptists have been pleased if someone had begun the Hail Mary? Would any Christians have been pleased by an invocation to Krishna?

Keeping religious practices out of public events respects the free conscience of every person. There is no reason why public prayer needs to be included in a secular ceremony. Those who believe that prayer is effective are quite free to pray without making a public spectacle of it. The behavior at the May 26th graduation ceremony smacks more of someone's desire to pull a publicity stunt than of a genuine desire to be heard by their God.

KARYN MILOS

Minneapolis

Editor's note: This letter is one of many received from around the nation by readers who saw the report on the Northern High School graduation on The Post's Web site -- washingtonpost.com -- or saw the incident being discussed in online chat groups and followed links to the Post site.

Other Events Have Prayer

A plethora of letters, pro and con, regarding the "spontaneous" prayer at the graduation exercises of Calvert County's Northern High School at the Show Place Arena on May 26 has reached a crescendo. It is time to point out a few truisms regarding varying points of view:

(1) To my knowledge, neither reporters, nor editors, of various newspapers which carried these "pro and con" stories and letters were in attendance on May 26.

(2) None of the officials, BOE, BOCC or state, who attended this graduation exercise were the initiators of the recitation of the Lord's Prayer.

(3) Various newspaper accounts of what really happened at that graduation, such as who started the prayer, how many people prayed, how loud or soft the praying was, are in absolute conflict, and if the reporters weren't there and the editors weren't there, then I suggest that everything that was reported in the newspapers is totally suspect!

May I suggest this fact to those persons who have been frothing at the mouth over this rather innocuous incident. No one forced anyone to pray!

If any of you have attended public meetings or legislative meetings, you undoubtedly would have been witness to an invocation, alas, a prayer, offered by a minister, a rabbi or a priest, or perhaps a member of another religion I have not mentioned. Did you go ballistic when this happened?

Did you phone the ACLU?

Had I been in attendance at that May 26 graduation and the Lord's Prayer was begun by a group of people, I would definitely have participated, quietly but firmly, in the recitation of the Lord's Prayer. It is no different for me than to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which by the way, many Jehovah's Witnesses do not honor because they refuse to put country before God. I have never known a Jehovah's Witness to petition the courts to disallow the Pledge of Allegiance, have you?

On May 27 I was in attendance at my grandson's graduation at Show Place Arena. The attendees were requested to refrain from any loud boisterous demonstrations at the graduation exercises. Over and over, as various graduates received their diplomas, the dignity of the occasion was marred when relatives and friends of a graduate hooted, hollered, whistled, stamped their feet and, in general, acted like they were at a hockey game, not at a dignified ceremony to honor the accomplishments of the young people who were reaching a milestone in their young lives -- commencement, or a new beginning.

By the way, no one was chastised or evicted for their boorish behavior on May 27. No one! Nothing appeared in any newspaper about this outrageous behavior of adults.

Personally, I wish I had been at the May 26 graduation exercises so that I could have joined in the reverent and dignified recitation of the Lord's Prayer. My Constitution guarantees me that right, and all who wish to remain silent are guaranteed that right, too!

It is time to stop the proselytizing of secularism on our society. Also, let's stop the constant attacks on Christians. I have not heard of any other monotheistic religion's sacred symbols being urinated upon in the name of "so called art." But I am aware of very swift police action against any desecration of other religion's symbols and houses.

All religions should be respected. Shalom!

ANITA L. JAZWINSKI

Dunkirk

Skateboarders Could Coexist

With regards to the "Skateboarders, Residents" article in the June 3 Southern Maryland Extra, I feel a need to respond as a resident of Sycamore Hollow in Wildewood. The skateboarders do need a place to skate. They need an open area with room to move. They need a skating rink or other facility as other cities have provided for their youth. I do not disagree with that.

However, they do not need to blame the residents of Sycamore Hollow for their woes and state that they are being kicked out of their neighborhood because we "fear them." If their behavior was acceptable, there would be no need for them to go elsewhere.

On the day The Post staff writer and photographer were asked to appear, the skating was a staged event. The kids congregated that day without music, cigarettes, and were missing several of their "key" members. For the very first time (and I witness the skating most days of each week), I saw safety cones being used and applause being given for well-performed jumps. They even called out to one another to move when cars were seen coming. This is not how they act any other day of the week. On a normal day, the residents are forced to go around them to get into their homes, to get their mail, and to let their smaller children play at the neighborhood park.

What the article fails to mention is the number of teenagers that congregate every day at 2:30 when the school bus lets them out. It does not speak to the loud music, the bad language, the piles of trash, the cigarette smoking, the vandalism to the post office boxes, or the waxing of curbs (very dangerous when it gets wet). It does not talk about the over two dozen shoes, rakes, broken skate boards and lacrosse sticks thrown in (and nailed to) the trees in the adjacent park when the skaters are bored with skating for the day.

I support any effort to keep teenagers off the street and out of trouble. But while these skaters are awaiting county approval of a special skating park, they should be able to act with respect, maturity and responsibility in their own neighborhood. The skaters and the residents could coexist easily with one another. It does not need to turn into a constant battle.

BECK MEHRINGER

California

Group Members Not NIMBYs

The goal of the Potomac River Association is to promote responsible stewardship for our County.

Our membership list is confidential and the one time we surrendered it to someone other than folks in our own organization was when it was requested by [a] former county attorney as part of our suit concerning illegal lots in the county. We still believe it was unethical for [another former] county attorney to use that information for his "map."

Although we never ask for personal information from our members, I suspect that the majority of the members of PRA are middle-income. Using their addresses as criteria, they do not live on the water. They do not qualify as NIMBYs because most of the projects that we have expressed concern about are far from the boundaries of their property. However, they are concerned about the quality of life in our community and are concerned about the quality of life for future generations. They recognize that St. Mary's County is growing but believe that growth can be managed so that we do not lose the sense of community that has been an important part of our past.

It is unfortunate that many of the developers and the people who support them have such a short-range view for such a long-range problem. It would be nice if we could work together to make St. Mary's the community of pleasant living, not just the land of pleasant living.

DUDLEY LINDSLEY

Secretary,

Potomac River Association

People Can Be Compassionate

In our hectic lives, it seems we never have enough time for the extra things: a casual stroll, calling a friend, writing a card or letter, or simply "vegging out." But when tragedy strikes, we are able to cast aside those things that made our lives so chaotic to take care of the important matter at hand. Then we are able to see what is truly most important in our lives: our family, our friends, ourselves, and most of all, our faith.

On Jan. 25, a nightmare occurred in our lives when our daughter, Jennifer, suffered a brain hemorrhage. Despite the doctors' initial grim prognosis, Jennifer is recovering very well and is expected to come home soon.

When the word got out to our community and Westlake High School, where Jennifer is a junior, everyone rallied around our family to support us in a variety of ways. Whether it was a card, prayers, a phone call, a visit, food, or money, everyone found time to come to our aid. The Westlake students, as many know, organized two fund-raisers in Jennifer's behalf. We were amazed at how far and wide word was spread to pray for our daughter. We understand that folks even contacted their relatives and friends in other states!

There is no one word in the English language that can adequately express our gratitude to all who supported us during this time. We only hope that the lessons of this tragedy will not fade with time. One of the greatest lessons we have learned is: People do care. The media often portray cold-hearted, "none of my business" attitudes among some. But we have witnessed firsthand that there is love in the world, especially in Waldorf.

We wish we could thank everyone by name here but the list is too long. Many folks gave up time with their own families to run errands for us and to make sure our needs were met. We pray that no one would have to be placed in such tragic circumstances. But we pray that if the need arises, we will also offer the same loving support we received.

SALLIE BELL and FAMILY

Waldorf

Indian Head Wants More Media

Hello! Indian Head is still here! And the Town of Indian Head held its biennial election on May 4, 1999. And how did the Southern Maryland Extra cover this event? Very poorly in my opinion.

In your May 2 edition, the headline of the article reads "La Plata, Leonardtown Voters Head to the Poll." In the last three paragraphs of the article, on another page, a slight mention was made of the Indian Head election. Why didn't the headline of your article say "La Plata, Leonardtown and Indian Head Voters Head to Polls"?

In the Thursday, May 6, edition, on Page 3, there were two articles about the municipal elections held on May 4. One article was titled "La Plata Voters Oust Council Incumbent." The other article was titled "Leonardtown Mayor Wins Easy Reelection." Where was the news of the Indian Head election? Why, it was the last two lines of the article titled "La Plata Voters Oust Council Incumbent." Isn't that where all Indian Head readers would think to look for news of their election? Even though we had only three candidates for three seats on the Indian Head Town Council, the mayor is the candidate who receives the most votes. Therefore, the election was a "contested" election.

Why couldn't you have done a small separate article about the Indian Head election. After all, we are part of "Southern Maryland," which your section is supposed to cover.

JEAN ROBEY BOWIE

Indian Head

Editor's note: The writer notes that she is the wife of Indian Head Mayor Warren Bowie.

Teachers Lack Full Pay, Respect

Where should I start? According to Paula L. Martino (Extra, May 23), I may not even be capable of writing a coherent letter, as she refers to the teachers of Charles County as not among the "best and brightest" of professionals. She must not be a teacher. She must be better and brighter -- so much so that she can nail down all of the problems in our schools without even working in one of them.

With regards to a few of the points Ms. Martino made in her letter: 1. Prospective teachers are not repelled by the fact that schools are a monopoly (which is a joke -- parents have more control than any I could imagine; the sad fact is most do not want to be bothered). 2. Prospective teachers are not discouraged by unions. We in the state of Maryland cannot even be a part of a union. What we have is an association and there is a HUGE difference. We cannot strike. We can go to the mall and have a "grade-in." I know many teachers who do not belong to the Education Association of Charles County and suffer no recourse. The last thing on a person's mind as they choose a major in college is "gee, I wonder if they'll make me join a union? I had better be a computer programmer just to be safe. The $20,000 difference in starting pay means absolutely nothing!" 3. Dumbed-down curriculums are not what causes students to lash out in school. A lack of parental attention and guidance is what plays the largest role in what makes a student violent. I have never had a student who threw a fit or pulled out a gun because the work was too easy.

What repels prospective teachers are attitudes like Ms. Martino's, attitudes that blame public schools for the ills of society yet want to do nothing to help remedy the problems. It is the lack of respect for the teaching profession, exactly like Ms. Martino conveys, that continues to keep teacher pay low, and we all know that salary is how we judge the significance of a profession. It is salary, therefore, that is the most significant factor when choosing a career. The lack of money and respect are what repels prospective teachers. Teachers are the most hard-working people I know. I invite anyone to walk in our shoes for part of a school year and then begin to help solve some of our problems.

LAUREN BALL

Teacher, Charles County

Public Schools

Mechanicsville

Can't Afford to Keep Property

In the Sunday, May 30, edition of Southern Maryland Extra there was a letter from Martha E. Petzhold Robinson of Waldorf under the heading "Can't Afford to Sell Property." In this letter Ms. Robinson says "my present complaint is with Charles County" and goes on to describe what she would have to do in order to divide her property into three-acre lots in order to sell it as well as to give her grandson a three-acre lot on which to build a home.

I also have a complaint with Charles County but it is in a way that is just the opposite of Ms. Robinson's -- I can hardly afford to keep my property.

I own a farm on which I have lived 69 of my 70 years of this life and I love this place very much. I have turned down several tempting offers for it from developers. I love it so much in fact that I decided I would like to be interred here when I pass on. Upon checking into what had to be done in order to do this, I found out that a burial plot of a minimum size of two acres had to be established. The establishment of this area required surveying, a separate deed registered in the land records for it, and some kind of a water level check of the area be done by the Health Department.

The complaint I have against Charles County is real estate taxes. In the recent tax rate increase proceedings the County Commissioners stated that there had been no tax increase but according to my old tax receipts I paid several hundred more dollars in taxes over this period of time. I feel that the recent tax increase has taxed me (and all other property owners) twice, once with the real estate tax rate increase and again with the increased "piggyback" income tax increase. Why would not just an increase in the "piggyback" tax perhaps even the 10 percent maximum, have been enough to produce the desired additional revenue? It surely would have been enough . . . .

When I retired from farming I seeded all my tillable land in grass so that there would be no more erosion of the soil. I would mow this grass several times a year to keep it looking nice. About three years ago I received a notice from the tax assessor's office that their records showed that I no longer farmed and that my real estate tax status could be subject to change. (I was being taxed under the agricultural rate which is less than the residential rate -- only my home and one acre of land was being taxed at the residential rate.)

I went to the tax assessor's office to get more details and I was informed that unless my land was going to continue to be used agriculturally, I would have to pay real estate taxes at the residential rate. When I asked them what the difference would be in the total taxes for the two classifications I was shocked when the amount I was told would be at the residential rate was actually about 3 1/2 times what I was then paying. This meant that my real estate tax would be approaching the five-digit figure (rounded to dollars)!

Further discussion with them revealed that I had two choices to retain the agricultural tax rate -- either do some kind of agricultural production myself or lease my land to someone who would. Since then I have leased my land out and am back fighting erosion again!

I understand that the county has every right to change the tax status of my property according to the existing laws -- but at the same time I cannot see how my property can be taxed as residential when it is still a farm and no new homes can be built on it as the land will not pass perc tests. (Perc tests were done four years ago when my son wanted to build a home here.)

In my opinion there should be some kinds of changes made in the tax laws to accommodate situations such as mine as that when a person becomes a senior citizen and retires, his real estate taxes would not suddenly increase three-fold or more. Additionally, I feel that the county has more or less taken my property from me inasmuch as by having to lease it out I no longer have complete control over it.

ROBERT A. ADAMS

La Plata