, Newburyport, MA

May 12, 2014

A look at what others are saying

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Excerpts from editorials in New England newspapers:

Reasonable people can disagree vehemently on the meaning of the First Amendment, as demonstrated by the 5-to-4 margin of last Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on prayer. The court ruled that the First Amendment permits even a Christian prayer at the start of a government board meeting, as long as there is no attempt to proselytize or pressure citizens to go along.

That seems a reasonable interpretation of what the First Amendment actually says. The amendment does not permit the federal government to prohibit the free exercise of religion by Americans, nor does it permit the government to establish a religion.

Does a voluntary prayer before a meeting — something with a long tradition in America — establish a state religion and force others to practice that religion? Only by the most extreme interpretation. In the real world, people are perfectly free to ignore the prayer, leave the room or petition their elected representatives to alter or drop the prayer. They may safely join any religious group they wish, or decline to believe altogether.

In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan cited George Washington’s famous 1790 letter to Newport’s Touro Synagogue, in which he embraced America’s support for religious liberty. Quoting the Bible’s Old Testament, Washington wrote: “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.” He added: “For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

It seems clear, though, that neither Washington nor the other Founders regarded public prayers as giving sanction to bigotry and assistance to persecution. In his role as president, Washington issued a proclamation calling for a national day of prayer and fasting in service to “that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” He stated: “it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” He did not believe that eradicating any public mention of God was the American way.

While America is markedly more diverse and secular than it was in Washington’s day, we should strive to emulate his support for religious liberty and to give no sanction to bigotry. Surely, as free people of good will, we can do that without eradicating the freedom to express religious ideas and without banishing prayer from public life.

— The Providence (R.I.) Journal

The Clinton Library has released a nine-page written document describing an April 18, 1998, meeting to discuss the regulation of “privately traded derivatives such as swap contracts.”

Several bigwigs on President Bill Clinton’s economic team were at the meeting: Robert Rubin, Clinton’s treasury secretary; Larry Summers, Rubin’s deputy; and Alan Greenspan, head of the Federal Reserve Board.

The lone woman at the meeting, Brooksley Born, the chairwoman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, warned her colleagues that these privately traded contracts needed to be regulated or disaster might occur.

Of course, the three free-market advocates disagreed and refused to endorse Born’s suggestion.

As history has shown — to the chagrin of us all — Born was right.

Clinton’s signing of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which exempted most over-the-counter derivatives from regulation, was one of the major mistakes that led to the bust of 2008.

Clinton later admitted that he should not have taken the advice of his economic team and signed the bill.

Those who have memorialized the Clinton presidency should rethink its economic results. The free-market thinking that pervaded Clinton’s team — which idealized Rubin because of his great Wall Street success — threw us into an economic maelstrom from which we are still attempting to recover. Be wary of these free-market, anti-regulation economists of either party.

Hopefully, Hillary Clinton will benefit from the mistakes of her husband if she makes what seems to be her inevitable decision to run for the presidency.

— The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, Conn.