The Edsel had flopped.  Albert Anastasia was dead for 32 days.  The Dodgers were moving to Los Angeles.

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A church-state case we don’t need

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This fall the Supreme Court of the United States will hear the case of Greece v. Galloway.  See article in Slate.com   It is a case we do not need.

At issue is whether it is Constitutional for legislative bodies to open sessions with prayer.  Since 1999, the town of Greece, New York has been opening its council meetings with prayer.  Almost everyone giving the invocation has been Christian.

This case is dangerous.  The decision of the Supreme Court could upset the balance between church and state in our society.  Not only the bottom line decision of the Court, but the language in the Court’s majority, concurring and dissenting opinions could be used in other cases to make law in the lower courts.

There are plenty of breaches in the wall of separation of church and state.

The military has chaplains who are officers.  State and Federal prisons and hospitals have chaplains, some of whom are on government salary. Colleges and universities have chaplains, who at the very least use school facilities which are supported by government funds.  

In Philadelphia, City offices close for Good Friday to accommodate a largely Christian workforce.  The public schools close for the Jewish High Holidays, because it is easier to close than find a host of substitute teachers.   

Such breaches of the wall of separation of church and state are of minimal harm.

I support separation of church and state.  I can live with Christmas trees in front of City Hall and prayers at public events.  Rather than expunge religion from public life, I want more accommodation to an individual’s religious practices.

I want to be respected at work so I can observe the Jewish holidays and the Sabbath.  

I was once ordered into Court on the Day of Atonement for a violation of probation hearing.  As I walked through the Criminal Justice Center I felt like a criminal, embarrassed to be working that day.  The judge simply didn’t get it.

I was present when a lawyer asked that his trial be adjourned an hour early on Friday, so he could get home in time for the Sabbath, which starts a few minutes before sundown.  The judge refused, telling him that under Jewish law it would be sufficient if he were on the train going home when the Sabbath began.  When did the judge become a rabbi?

I heard about a lawyer who asked that his case be recessed so he could observe the Jewish New Year.  The judge refused, claiming that his request was not made early enough.

I heard of a Judge who ordered a lawyer to begin trial on the second day of the Jewish New Year because it was not a government holiday.

I attended a bar association meeting where we discussed the case of a Muslim firefighter who insisted on keeping his beard.  The City claimed that his beard would have interfered with the effectiveness of his breathing equipment.  A person attending the meeting suggested that the Police Commissioner (who was Muslim) could be the referee.  The chief of police should not be adjudicating religious issues.

Finally, there was the case of a lawyer whose mother died during a long and heated civil trial.  He wanted a few days off so he could sit shiva.  The Judge refused.  A call from his rabbi did not help.  The lawyer was excused for the day of the funeral–only.

I hope the Supreme Court issues a narrow decision in Greece v. Galloway.  Better yet, I hope the Supreme Court dismisses the case saying it is a political decision that should be left to a legislative body, or sends it back to the lower courts for more evidence.

I don’t want a decision which could weaken anyone’s ability to observe their religion.

“Few large cities have such a disreputable record of mis-government as Philadelphia.”

Four decades before film noir was born, the sociologist W.E.B. DuBois wrote about the horrors of politics in one of America’s greatest cities.   His account reads like a chapter in a noir novel or a scene in a film noir.

In 1896, the University of Pennsylvania employed DuBois to study the Black community in what was then the Seventh Ward of Philadelphia–the neighborhood around Sixth and Lombard Streets.  DuBois and his staff went door-to-door, cataloging all facets of Black life–housing, religion, occupations, marital status, education, beneficial and secret societies, crime and politics.  During one December, DuBois dispatched observers to the taverns (mostly integrated) on Saturday nights between 8 and 10 p.m. to count the patrons–by race and gender, whether they left the taverns carrying liquor, and how they behaved and dressed.

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W.E.B. DuBois

In 1899 DuBois published his study as The Philadelphia Negro.  Digital copies may be found at www.webdubois.org.   I am quoting from the 1967 Schocken edition found at http://archive.org/stream/philadelphianegr001901mbp/philadelphianegr001901mbp_djvu.txt.

[Page 372]  Few large cities have such a disreputable record for mis-government as Philadelphia. In the period before the [Civil] war the city was ruled by the Democratic party, which retained its power by the manipulation of a mass of  ignorant and turbulent foreign voters, chiefly Irish. Riots, disorder, and crime were the rule in the city proper and  especially in the surrounding districts. About the time of the breaking out of the war, the city was consolidated and made coterminous with the county.

The social upheaval after the Civil War gave the political power to the  Republicans and a new era of misrule commenced. Open disorder and crime were repressed, but in its place came the rule of the boss, with its quiet manipulation and calculated embezzlement of public funds. To-day the government of both city and State is unparalleled in the history of republican government for brazen dishonesty and bare-faced defiance of public opinion.

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Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in the heart of the Old Seventh Ward

 [Page 373] Manifestly such a political atmosphere was the worst possible for the new untutored voter. Starting himself without political ideals, he was put under the tutelage of unscrupulous and dishonest men whose ideal of government was to prostitute it to their own private ends. As the Irishman had been the tool of the Democrats, so the Negro became the tool of the Republicans. It was natural that the freedman should vote for the party that emancipated him, and perhaps, too, it was natural that a party with so sure a following, should use it unscrupulously.

[Page 376]  It is estimated that the Republican City Committee realized nearly if not all of $100,000 from the ¼ per cent assessment levied upon municipal  officeholders for this campaign. Of this sum $40,000 has been paid for the eighty thousand tax receipts [probably referring to a poll tax] to qualify Republican voters. This leaves $60,000 at the disposal of David Martin, the Combine leader.  

How is this corruption fund used? Without doubt a large part of it is spent in the purchase of votes. It is of course difficult to estimate the directly purchasable vote among the whites or among the Negroes. 

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St. Peter Claver Church in the neighborhood studied by DuBois

Once in a while when “thieves fall out” some idea of the bribery may be obtained; for instance in a hearing relative to a Third  Ward election:  

William Reed, of Catharine street, below Thirteenth, was first on the  stand [to testify at a public hearing on election fraud]. He was watcher in the Fifteenth Division on election day. 

[Question]  Did you make up any election papers for voters?

[Answer]  I marked up about seventy or eighty ballots; I got $20 off of Roberts’  brother, and used $100 altogether, paying the rest out of my own pocket.  

[Question]  How did you spend the money?  

[Answer]  Oh, well, there were some few objectionable characters there to make trouble. We’d give ‘em a few dollars to go away and attend to their business… . You know how it works.  I’d give ’em a dollar to buy a cigar. And if they didn’t want to pay $1 for a cigar, why, they could put it in the contribution box at church. 

[Question]  Was this election conducted in the usual way? 

[Answer]  Oh, yes, the way they’re conducted in the Third Ward with vote buying, and all the rest of it.  

[Question]  Did the other side have any money to spend? 

[Answer]  Saunders had $16 to the division. 

[Question]  What did your side have?  

[Answer]  Oh, we had about $60; there was money to burn. But our money  went to three people. The other fellows saved theirs. I spent mine like a sucker.

DuBois was one of the leading intellectuals of the 20th century as an educator, editor, cutting-edge civil rights leader, and fearless political dissident.  He capped his career at age 93 by joining the Communist Party and moving to Ghana.  

Notwithstanding all of his sociological insight and passion for activism, I wish DuBois had gone to Hollywood.