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Opinion: Columnists

You're a good man, Charlie Brown, but some people hate you

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Opinion,Gregory Kane,Columnists

Many years ago, some teacher at Harlem Park Junior High School in Baltimore forced my classmates and me to memorize the Gettysburg Address.

I can't recall if we had to learn President Lincoln's immortal speech for an English class, a social studies class or a U.S. history class. But learn it we did.

Quite the pity our grandchildren won't, not in today's America. If there are some people -- yes, think atheists that have a permanent bee in their bonnet about anything that even smacks of religion -- that can't abide "A Charlie Brown Christmas," what would they think of the last sentence of the Gettysburg Address?

"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us; that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

That "under God" line wouldn't go over well with some of the intolerant people of un-faith who've been pushing the nation's separation of church and state doctrine in the direction of radical secularism for some 50 years now. Had they been around in 1860, Lincoln might have sent members of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers clean over the edge. They're the ones who have a problem with "A Charlie Brown Christmas," one of modern America's cultural treasures.

This bizarre tale goes like this. Students at Terry Elementary School in Little Rock, Ark., were given letters to take home to their parents informing them that "A Charlie Brown Christmas" would be performed at a local church.

A bus would be available to take students to the church for the viewing. The bus would also bring them back to the school. Children interested in seeing "A Charlie Brown Christmas" would have to pony up $2 in bus fare.

No student would be coerced into attending the church to see "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Parents had the option to send their children to see it, or not send them, as they saw fit.

The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers is having none of it. According to news reports, here's how Anne Orsi, an attorney for the group and its vice president, summed up their objections: "We're not saying anything bad about Charlie Brown. The problem is that it's got religious content and it's being performed in a religious venue and that doesn't just blur the line between church and state, it oversteps it entirely."

Technically speaking, the Gettysburg Address has "religious content." Perhaps Ms. Orsi would prefer that Arkansas schools not teach it.

Lincoln's second inaugural address has even more religious content than the Gettysburg Address, and a darned sight lot more than "A Charlie Brown Christmas." In case Ms. Orsi doubts my word -- and, quite frankly, to torment her a little more with some references to God -- she need only read some passages.

"Both [the North and the South] ... pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes."

If Ms. Orsi and her organization are to be consistent, they have to oppose the teaching of the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's second inaugural address SEmD with all that religious content SEmD in Arkansas schools.

It's a blessing to American history that Ms. Orsi wasn't around in the 1860s.

Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.

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