Why is this week different from all other weeks? Because this week hundreds of thousands of Jewish and Christian soldiers - -liberators, not conquerors - are celebrating Passover and Easter in the Middle East. The Jews rejoice in the liberation of Iraq, as they recall their ancient liberation from the Pharaoh. Christians attest to the renewal of a hideously abused nation, renewal in the spirit of their belief in the Resurrection.
Jewish soldiers received cans of matzo ball soup and gefilte fish. Greek Orthodox Christians will enjoy red-dyed eggs. Military regulations prohibit alcohol but permit sacramental wines for the Passover Seder and the Catholic masses.
Judeo-Christian values are hyphenated and indelibly linked in mutual respect among Americans. It was not always so and we can all exult in the celebration of our common values today. Although American soldiers are among Muslims who do not usually understand religious freedom, they celebrate their religious observances. "I know of no religious restrictions on our military personnel," says Captain Stewart Upton, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar. More than 300 military chaplains representing many different faiths, tend the souls of American soldiers in Kuwait and Iraq. They testify to the enduring rights of all Americans as set forth "by their Creator."
So glorious is our concept of separation of church and state, rooted in religious tolerance for all that it sometimes suffers from distortion and even willful misconception. The most recent example is in reaction to remarks made by Rod Paige, secretary of education. "All things being equal," Mr. Paige told the Baptist Press, "I would prefer to have a child in a school where there's a strong appreciation for values, the kind of values that I think are associated with the Christian communities, so that this child can be brought up in an environment that teaches them to have strong faith."
Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Henny-Penny who often sees the wall between church and state as falling, asked the secretary to repudiate his remarks or resign. Sen. Edward Kennedy, always looking for an exhibitionist way to show that his Catholicism never interferes with his politics, asked him to repudiate the divisive comments and reaffirm a commitment to students of all religions. Sandra Feldman, head of the American Federation of Teachers, joined the choir.
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