Georgia Says

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia, on expressions of faith:

On any given fall Friday night, you'd be hard-pressed to find a football field in the South without a bowed head or a bent knee.

But even before the season begins in a few weeks, the issue of prayer on public high school fields was put in the spotlight last week when a humanist group accused Chestatee High School of "unconstitutional infusion of religion into the high school football program."

In its letter to the school, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the legal arm of the American Humanist Association, wrote that coaches are leading and participating in prayers and that Bible verses are printed on workout sheets and cheerleading banners. All this amounts to government-endorsed religion, the group argued.

Yet the humanist center's effort to parachute in and dictate policy has, so far, backfired. The community outpouring of support for the coaches and players has mostly drowned out dissenters. Other schools have held prayer gatherings in support, and social media pages and links have been created to celebrate the cause.

We agree no school should force prayer or religious expression on anyone. By all accounts, no one at Chestatee has crossed that line. Yet we also agree individual students should be free to express their beliefs, whether they pray to Jesus, Allah, an ancestral god or none at all.

There is a difference between talking about faith after class with a student who has initiated that discussion and preaching the Gospel in front of 20-plus young people who aren't allowed to grab their bags and step out of the room.

Guidelines on what teachers can discuss on school grounds lean toward limiting their speech altogether to ensure a student never feels the school endorses certain beliefs. But teachers should not lose their own religious identities simply because they speak to impressionable young minds.

Everyone's beliefs should be respected. Discussion about religion, however, should not be discouraged. The only way for a Christian to understand a Muslim's beliefs, and vice versa, is to hear them firsthand and learn about them.

The Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle on Veterans act:

The $16-plus-billion emergency fix for the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs is designed to do a lot of things.

It is intended to help hire more doctors and nurses; build more VA facilities; and make it easier for veterans to get health care from non-VA providers.

What it won't do is start to reform a culture that rewards liars, punishes whistleblowers and shields itself from scrutiny with a bureaucratic brick wall.

That would require the ability to quickly and easily fire bad employees, which this recently approved bill doesn't do.

"Throwing money at the VA won't solve their problem," said U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. "A fundamental change in culture and real leadership from the president on down is the only way to provide the quality, timely care our veterans deserve."

The media have ballyhooed provisions enabling the VA secretary to immediately terminate senior executives - an authority new Secretary Bob McDonald should have anyway. But the measure signed recently by President Obama does nothing to streamline the termination process for the VA's rank-and-file civil service employees.

As many as 1,000 veterans may have died while languishing on secret waiting lists at VA facilities nationwide, including in Augusta. Considering the depth and breadth of the scandal, one would assume at least some mid- to low-level employees also should be held to account.

After all, the falsified and omitted records and cover-ups that led to the preventable veteran deaths - and $100 million in pay bonuses for VA administrators over a three-year period - clearly bear the fingerprints of federal employees at multiple pay grades.

Reforming the VA requires overhauling its employee culture, from the top down and the bottom up. If lawmakers are serious about reform, they should change the way government employees are evaluated, promoted and disciplined. And they should start at the VA, where decisions by government workers literally can be a matter of life and death.

Otherwise, the $16 billion VA bill is nothing but a reward for failure, and it's only a matter of time before the next scandal arises.



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