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Opinion Readers critique The Post: Let’s get our constitutional history straight

Every week, The Post runs a collection of letters of readers’ grievances — pointing out grammatical mistakes, missing coverage and inconsistencies. These letters tell us what we did wrong and, occasionally, offer praise. Here, we present this week’s Free for All letters.

First right, first woman and our constitutional history

It’s confounding that Stephanie Barclay would assert that the Constitution does not require the separation of church and state [“Five Myths: The Constitution,” Outlook, Nov. 10] simply because Thomas Jefferson, an architect of American religious freedom, didn’t use those exact words until a few years after the First Amendment was ratified.

Since our country’s founding, keeping religion and government separate has been the linchpin of true religious freedom — the right to practice your faith, or no faith at all, as long as you don’t harm others.

Not only did Jefferson repeatedly make this clear, but so did the father of the First Amendment, James Madison, when he explained, “Strongly guarded . . . is the separation between Religion & Govt. in the Constitution of the United States.” The Supreme Court has also clarified that Jefferson’s description of church-state separation is the “authoritative declaration of the scope and effect” of the First Amendment.

Barclay was right that the current Supreme Court has failed to uphold the separation of church and state in recent opinions. All that proves is that the high court is turning its back on a foundational American principle, not that it doesn’t exist. And as Barclay noted, the Supreme Court is not the final arbiter of our country’s laws; the people are. We call on Americans to defend and protect church-state separation like their religious freedom depends on it — because it does.

Rachel Laser, Washington

The writer is president and chief executive of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

I enjoyed Stephanie Barclay’s Nov. 10 Outlook article on constitutional myths, and I think it is valuable for readers to have a better understanding of the Constitution.

In the section about the First Amendment, it was correct that the First Amendment was not the “first” but the third submitted for ratification. However, it was incorrect to say the first two were discarded. One of the two — the one on congressional pay — was ratified in 1992 as the 27th Amendment. It took some time, but it was ratified as drafted.

Also, and this is a little nitpicky, but the mention of Seraph Young as the first woman to legally vote in a federal jurisdiction, in the Utah Territory, in 1870 was a bit deceptive. The Wyoming Territory was the first jurisdiction to allow women to vote. The territorial legislature passed the law for women’s suffrage in December 1869. Significantly, on Dec. 10, Wyoming will celebrate the 150th anniversary of this legislation.

Robert K. Sutton, Bethesda

The writer, a former chief historian of the National Park Service, helped plan the bicentennial of the Constitution at Independence Park in Philadelphia.

Adding up all those 2 cents

Even after describing how easy it is to be fooled by big-dollar numbers, in her Nov. 13 op-ed, “Warren’s ‘two cents’ wealth tax would plunder the rich,” Megan McArdle herself made incorrect calculations to support her complaints about the tax plan put forth by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president. 

McArdle miscalculated the wealth tax on a taxpayer who has $10 billion by $40 million because she forgot that the 6 percent tax is applied only to the excess over $1 billion. Next, she described the tax as reducing this taxpayer’s wealth to just $1 billion over “decades.” Using her own tax rates, the taxpayer would still be worth $2.75 billion after 100 years of taxation, and no heir would ever be reduced to $1 billion.

Another error further in her analysis claimed a shrinking revenue source. Though those with wealth exceeding $1.8 billion would see annual wealth reductions, she failed to include the effect of the 2 percent wealth tax on the large number of taxpayers whose wealth is in the range from $50 million to $1 billion. Because they are taxed at a much lower rate, their wealth continues to grow significantly year by year, generating higher taxes.

I think I will stick with Michelle Singletary for my economic analyses.

Ray Van Ausdal, Charlottesville

'United' is the far better description

Theresa Vargas’s Nov. 10 Metro column, “Hispanic? Latino? Latinx? There’s no one-label-fits-all.,” highlighted interesting points. This terminology battle has been going on for years now. Creating a new word such as “Latinx” will add only more confusion and even controversy.

I am a Venezuelan-born U.S citizen. When I first came to this country, I was shocked when people asked me when I had come to America. As far I was concerned, I had been living in America since the day I was born. After all, Venezuela is part of a massive continent called America. I was quickly corrected and told that I was from another continent named South America inhabited by Latin Americans or Hispanic Americans. I was also told that my native language was “español” and not “castellano” (Castilian). All the years before coming to the United States, I had been under the impression that I was an American and that I spoke Castilian. At least that was what I was told in school, and those two terms were the ones people used back then in Venezuela.

As for being Latino or Hispano, I am neither. I am not from Latium (the area around Rome where the Latin language originated) or Hispano (from Hispania, today Spain). The term “Latin America” was adopted during the reign of Napoleon III of France to foment ties between the former Portuguese and Spanish colonies in the New World and “Latin Europe,” meaning those countries that spoke a language that derived from Latin, such as France.

I think inventing new terms to describe certain ethnic groups can only lead to more divisiveness and misunderstanding. We are all Americans. God bless this great country, the United States of America.

Simón Rafael Contreras-Velásquez, Arlington

Go-go gold

I was surprised the Nov. 17 Washington Post Magazine article “If go-go becomes D.C.’s official music, what should the official song be?” did not mention a 1988 song and video by the Go Go Posse called “D.C. Don’t Stand for Dodge City.” 

It was an anti-violence song created to quell the carnage when the District was regarded as a murder capital. It seemed to work for a while. Maybe it is time for it to be re-released for a new generation. 

Joe Friedl, Vienna

When two pieces clash

On the same day — on the same page, no less — as Margaret Sullivan’s thought-provoking column saying journalists need to do vigilant (and not lazy/conventional wisdom) reporting regarding the impeachment hearings [“Take note, journalists covering hearings,” Style, Nov. 11], along comes Robin Givhan with a politically tone-deaf Critic’s Notebook on Roger Stone’s wardrobe and ensemble [“Roger Stone has turned his court appearances into a fashion show”]. Stone is a “magnificent peacock” in his “spit-shined” clothing. He has “flair” and “panache.” His attire is “pointedly superior.” You’d never know he was on trial for lying to Congress, obstruction of justice, witness tampering . . . and for being Roger Stone. Next thing you know, Givhan and The Post will be spending an entire column writing about former secretary of state and former first lady Hillary Clinton’s cleavage. Oh wait, they already did that. In 2007.

Ken Rudin, North Potomac

A heart-to-heart may be in order

As a retired newsman, I was appalled to read the following in the Nov. 19 news article “White House avoids queries about Trump’s health”: “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) faced criticism this year after his campaign took several days to report that he had suffered a heart attack, initially describing his condition as a ‘myocardial infarction.’ ”

The story carried a double byline, so at least three people — the writers and an editor — saw it before it was published. I’d expect this of television but not of serious journalism. If reporters are ignorant of commonly used medical terms, can’t they at least look them up in a dictionary?

Gene Gibbons, Alexandria

The Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions was dismayed by the Nov. 17 Politics & the Nation headline “Stents no better than drugs in many stable heart disease cases, trial finds,” which discounted the ISCHEMIA trial’s important finding that stents and bypass surgery significantly reduce chest pain and discomfort even in patients with modest levels of ischemia as compared with medical therapy alone. We certainly believe the demonstrated improvement in quality of life constitutes the effectiveness of stents and bypass surgery.

Ehtisham Mahmud, Washington

The writer is president of the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions.

When fashion frames love

I’m not a fashion coverage reader, but Robin Givhan’s Nov. 17 Arts & Style article, “A precious gift from a fashion collector ahead of her time,” contained a lovely paragraph: “They’d known each other since they were 13. He helped her live her fantasy. She unraveled the mysterious nature of beauty. To talk about him makes her cry. To not talk about him is impossible, because he is much of the impetus for her gift to the Met.”

Thanks to Givhan for her talent and efforts.

Robert Navin, Vienna

From New York gangs to the Sunshine State

Although Tyler Anbinder’s Nov. 10 Outlook essay, “Trump is the most influential nativist in U.S. history,” was an extremely thorough and well-researched examination of immigration and the hatred aimed at it throughout our two and a half centuries as a nation, it occurred to me that there is an interesting comparative reference to a Hollywood motion picture that just simply can’t be ignored.

In “Gangs of New York,” Daniel Day-Lewis plays a character known as “Bill the Butcher,” certainly a “nativist” if you’ve ever seen one. With an open and widely known disdain for the Irish, Catholics, Jews, Chinese or any ethnic or religious group of people who were not “real Americans,” Bill mirrors the feelings, often kept hidden, that many white, Anglo-Saxon Americans still harbor. Not only that, Bill was revered by his followers who, likewise, adhered to his views and were extremely loyal and zealous, even fighting and dying for those beliefs.

Although such feelings and opinions are held by thousands (perhaps even millions) of Americans even today, it is painful to witness such views openly and consistently expressed by the leader of our country, a nation that has welcomed the “tired . . . poor . . . huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Perhaps the real reason President Trump left his home state of New York and opted to become a Floridian was to avoid having to see the Statue of Liberty so often and be reminded of its messages.

Fred C. Lash, Springfield

Cracking the 802 code

Perhaps The Post could provide a glossary to go along with some of its articles, most notably the Nov. 17 Travel article “You’re going where? Burlington.” I figured out that “802’ers” are people who live in Vermont’s 802 area code. But I have no idea what “gorp” might be, “CSA shares” (Confederate States of America?) or “CBD confections.” “Phish,” I thought, was something hackers try to do. What “quinoa” might be I also do not know, though it appears to be edible. Also, what are “tapas”? Probably also edible.

Gordon White, Deltaville, Va.

Leader, not 'boss'

Regarding the Nov. 15 news article about the pending North American trade deal, “Union boss warns of quick vote on trade deal”:

While I expect the use of the pejorative term “union boss” from the Chamber of Commerce or the Republican National Committee, it was startling to see it in the headline on an article in The Post. It referred to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, his actual title, which could have been used, as could “labor leader,” which appeared in the first line of the article. Please tell readers why it was necessary to use a term of denigration in describing a duly elected union leader who bosses no one but represents millions of workers.

Laurence J. Cohen, Bethesda

A serious blemish on 'Zits'

I’ve always enjoyed the comic strip “Zits,” but its treatment of vaping as a harmless pastime could lead to a fatal mistake. 

I hope future comic strips will be more carefully edited.

Judith L. White, Potomac

D.C.'s had a change of heart

Having published Thomas Boswell’s insightful Nov. 18 Sports column, “Unthinkable is undeniable: Team has lost Washington,” maybe The Post will refrain from dedicating massive front-page Sports section headlines and photographs and pages of coverage to the Washington professional football team. Instead, please focus more attention on all the other Washington-area sports teams and individuals who have earned the hearts and minds, support and loyalty of sports fans. The Post knows who they are.

Sandy Pugh, Vienna

All that's left is to double down

The Nov. 18 Capital Business article “Lawmakers join call to resolve F-35 power play” started with a nice hockey metaphor but then shifted to a jaunty nautical suggestion by Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) that “there should be a sea change in how military agencies work with weapons builders.” Lest we overlook the need for a physics reference, he went on to say, “Heretofore, the contractors have had the long end of the lever and the government has been on the short end of the lever. . . . That is going to change.” Garamendi then said, “The power is shifting . . . with the fulcrum moving closer to the government’s side.”

I don’t want to muddle the metaphors further, but wouldn’t that make for an even heavier lift for the government in trying to straighten out the F-35 morass? Perhaps officials should put their shoulder to the wheel and throw the fulcrum into the fire or hold it against the grindstone, but taxpayers definitely won’t like it if they move it to the government’s side. They should move it to the road less traveled.

Roger Kaufman, McLean

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