Respect Our Diversity

I would like to commend you for your publication of the letters on the issue of school prayer.

Almost all of the letters that have been published about the Northern High School graduation have missed an important fact . . . . The out-loud praying by a small group was instead of prayer that was already happening.

The situation at graduation was not one of prayer being spoken where there was none. Rather, the out-loud praying by a small group was a case of one group's prayer overriding the countless silent prayers -- including mine -- that were already underway.

The issue is not whether there will be prayer or no prayer at our graduations. The real issue is whose prayer will occur -- whether each person will pray or reflect in their own way, or whether one person or group will control the prayer that occurs by speaking it out loud.

So that readers may see for themselves the beauty and spirituality of Julie Schenck's invitation to silent prayer or reflection, I have included it here. Julie said:

"We are here tonight to celebrate our graduation, but before we continue with the official commencement exercises, let us pause -- each of us in our own way -- for 30 seconds of silence.

"For many of us this 30 seconds of private, quiet time will be a spiritual time of prayer. Still others may see this as a time of reflection.

"Whatever your beliefs, we are blessed to live in a country that safeguards those beliefs. As we begin this time of silence, let us remember the teens of Kosovo -- many who are high school seniors like us -- who are living under very different circumstances -- circumstances many of us can't even begin to imagine.

"Let us also remember the families in Littleton, Colorado -- many of whom could not attend their loved one's graduation.

"We all have people -- parents, grandparents, teachers and mentors -- who are responsible for who we are today. Perhaps this is a time to remember how each of us has developed into the person we are today and who is responsible for our accomplishments.

"Before we begin this time of reflection, I would ask you, out of respect for each person in this arena, to please keep this a moment of silence. Let us pause . . . "

In Calvert County, our faith communities are among our children's best friends and the partners of schools and families in our ongoing commitment to raise responsible young people of high character and citizenship. Let us continue to work together, each in our own way, for the children we all cherish. Let us be respectful of the diversity among us, and find common ground for school prayer in silent prayer or reflection.

RUTH T. KEIMIG

Member, Board of Education

Solomons

Law Was Mocked, Defied

It was with disgust and then anger that I watched the events unfold at Northern High School's graduation ceremony. I was aware of the controversy both from the newspaper and from the senior I was there to watch graduate . . . . I had been pleased to learn that school officials, the young lady who was to speak and the young man who objected to the prayer had been able to reach a compromise that promised to satisfy all concerned. Imagine my disbelief when a group of supposed Christians decided that they were entitled to openly mock and defy the law and the Constitution by disrupting the graduation ceremony . . . .

There are only three individuals who emerged from this fiasco with any dignity: (1) Superintendent Hook, who stated it perfectly when he said that those people who prayed out loud showed complete lack of respect for the law, the Constitution, the ceremony, the young woman and the young man; (2) the young lady, who changed her speech from a prayer to a moment of reflection so as to reach a compromise which would honor her beliefs as well as her classmate's beliefs, even though those beliefs are so drastically different; and (3) the young man, who so strongly believed in his views and in the law that he chose to show it by walking out of his own graduation ceremony -- which was disrupted not by him or anyone else in the graduating class, but again by those adult Christians in the audience -- when he had worked so hard to get there and had done so very well. . . . What a shame that he, his parents, other family members and his friends were denied the privilege of seeing him receive his diploma. . . .

And what great county commissioners and public officials we have in Calvert County. When a public figure, who is responsible for setting policy and county law . . . declares . . . that "Washington and Annapolis can't tell us when and where to pray," it is tantamount to saying that the people of Calvert County are exempt from the laws written and passed in Washington and Annapolis. . . . How would those same commissioners like it if the people of Calvert County chose to not obey the laws and policies they set? . . . Maybe the Civil Liberties Union should open up an office here in the county -- I'm sure they would find plenty to keep them busy.

I would like to raise several additional points in an attempt to fairly portray the situation as I know it. The newspapers stated that the prayer was a spontaneous thing, which I strongly doubt -- it was much, much too well orchestrated. I really don't think there were "thousands" who joined in -- maybe a few hundred, but certainly not "thousands." I was seated on the opposite side of the arena from the instigators and, while there were some, there certainly were not "thousands" praying on that side. Also, if Julie [Schenck] made her request in September, why wasn't she advised at that time that it could not be allowed because it was against the law? Surely, school officials knew this, as I understand that this was not the first time this very same issue has come up in the Calvert County school system. . . .

So, to Mr. Hook, Julie and Nick Becker, and those who had enough respect to remain silent as requested and to uphold the law (like it or not), I say "Congratulations." To the supposed Christians, the county commissioners who were quoted in the media, those school officials who blatantly ignored the law and the Constitution while seated on the stage, the State Police and to a couple of hundred others in the audience who chose to make a mockery of what should have been a dignified, lawful graduation ceremony, I say, "Shame on you."

S. McCARROLL

Chesapeake Beach

More Tolerance, Less Strife

Well said, Anne Whisman, Anita Shepherd, Karyn Milos and Dusty Rhodes in your letters to the editor in the June 13 Extra. If your Christ-like attitudes on religious tolerance prevailed here on Earth, there would be less strife in Kosovo, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Israel, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Sri Lanka and Calvert County.

THOMAS G. ROLSTON

St. Leonard

Support Local Theater

This responds to several pieces written in recent months and weeks regarding the state of the arts in Southern Maryland. I manage a grass-roots theater company, the Hard Bargain Players, who perform at the Hard Bargain Amphitheater in Accokeek. There have been many incarnations of the group throughout the years, sponsored by the Alice Ferguson Foundation.

The greatest challenge to producing theater in Southern Maryland is attracting an audience. In the four summers that this group has existed, attendance has grown slowly, depending on the piece we offer. Nonetheless, we are devoted to producing challenging, contemporary theater. Play selection has been varied and, hopefully, exciting. We have produced theater as diverse as Caryl Churchill's "Vinegar Tom," Athol Fugard's "Master Harold . . . and the Boys" and Jean-Paul Sartre's "No Exit," and audiences have come in great numbers to see our interpretations of "Driving Miss Daisy," "Crimes of the Heart" and "The Rainmaker." [Last night we concluded our performance of] Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot." Audiences for this play, although small, have been enthusiastic, often suggesting that "Godot" was that play from high school they never understood. Our high-energy comedy reminds folks more of Abbott and Costello and the Three Stooges than high literature!

The Washington-Baltimore area is abundantly populated with wonderful and inexpensive theater. I encourage individuals who attend the theater regularly to visit our Amphitheater. Sunk deep in a wooded crevice, the theater's atmosphere is compelling and relaxing. We will continue to offer cutting-edge theater through October, including Beth Henley's "The Miss Firecracker Contest," John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," and Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Take advantage of quality, inexpensive and enjoyable theater . . . in the woods . . . only 10 minutes from home! . . .

Auditions for "Of Mice and Men" are July 10 and 11 at 2 p.m. at the Amphitheater. Call 301-292-5665 for more information.

See you in the aisle seats!

BOB BARTLETT

Bryans Road

Setting the Parrans Straight

A recent article contained an inaccurate statement. It said that Douglas A. Parran Jr., who is the director of General Services in Calvert County, is not related to [me,] County Commissioner John Douglas Parran. That is not correct.

You're not the first newspaper to incorrectly state that we are not related. Last year, The New Bay Times Weekly also made a similar statement. The fact is that the other Doug Parran and I are not closely related, but we are relatives. His grandfather and my grandfather were brothers. I believe that would make us second cousins.

Director Doug Parran was hired by the previous Board of Commissioners after the 1994 election. He has worked hard and served the county well since then. I was a candidate for County Commissioner that year but lost in the general election. When he was appointed, there was some initial confusion since some people thought that I had been appointed. Since I was elected last year, I sometimes introduce myself as "Commissioner Doug Parran" to try to avoid confusion when talking to people, especially on the telephone, and with other government people.

The new Board recently hired Wilson Parran as our director of Management Information Systems (MIS). I don't believe that Wilson is related to either Doug Parran, but that may have somehow added to the confusion as to who is related to whom.

I'm glad I had this opportunity to further complicate the matter.

JOHN DOUGLAS PARRAN

Calvert County Commissioner

St. Leonard

Make Courthouse More Inviting

This writer has lived in Charles County for 28 years. More specifically, I lived within 200 yards of the Charles County Courthouse. Through the years, the county has changed extensively with one exception. On the front of the courthouse at 200 Charles Street atop the entrance is the Charles County Seal and this is good. The grounds have also been well maintained and this is good. The recent addition to the courthouse, at an approximate cost of $600,000, could possibly be classified as good depending on which side of the debate you wanted to join. What has not changed and is not good, is the bulletin board in front of the courthouse next to the front door. This writer offers two suggestions to the County Commissioners:

1. Commission the Director of Public Works to displace the dilapidated bulletin board and replace with a new one. The new bulletin board should be friendly and attractive so that it welcomes individuals to the County Seat and to the County Courthouse.

2. Commission the Director of Public Works to remove the "Entrance Closed" metal sign and place a sign with a friendly greeting such as "All visitors please use the parking lot entrance."

If those suggestions were implemented, the Charles County Courthouse would be more viewer friendly.

JOHN GYORDA

La Plata

Welcoming Party Recognition

Finally, one of the two major political parties recognizes that we independents exist. The Maryland Republican Party is to be congratulated for a gutsy, contemporary approach to expand its influence and appeal by permitting independents to vote in the Republican primary in the year 2000. Many Maryland residents are concerned about the Democratic Party's drift toward policies and programs that exclude hard-working men and women. This decision smacks of inclusion. It will attract people like me because it shows growth and promise.

Independents like me make up the fastest-growing segment of the voting population. I will certainly take the Republican Party up on its offer to participate in the March 2000 primary. In fact, I will spend a lot more time looking at its platforms and candidates than the other party, unless the Maryland Democrats make a similar offer.

PHILIP KING

Kensington