Monday, December 31, 2001

McKinley student code
needs scrutiny

The issue: A high school is asked to remove
a reference to God in its student code.

COURTS have banned government-led prayers in public schools, but an exclusion of posted references to "God" in the classroom remains open for debate. Mitchell Kahle, an activist for separation of church and state, maintains that a reference to God in the McKinley High School Code of Honor is an unconstitutional promotion of religion, but that too is unclear.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that religious messages are allowed in public schools when they emanate from the students and not from the school administration. At McKinley, the code was a combined effort of two homeroom classes that tied for first place in a 1927 contest sponsored by a private company. However, the school's adoption of the code may conflict with today's legal interpretation of the First Amendment's establishment clause.

Gaile Sykes, a McKinley special-education teacher and volunteer school historian, sees the student code as "a historical document" and "a sign of the times of 1927." The code, posted in classrooms, says a student stands for numerous attributes, including "For Brotherhood of races all combined and Love for God and all Mankind." It also has been put to music and is sung by the school choir.

The Supreme Court in 1980 banned postings of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky classrooms because the document is "plainly religious in nature" and served no secular purpose.

Religious references are replete in government, from the president proclaiming a national day of prayer to Congress employing legislative chaplains and reserving a special prayer room in the Capitol for members. Federal court sessions begin with the announcement, "God save the United States and this honorable court."

"These government acknowledgements of religion serve, in the only ways reasonably possible in our culture, the legitimate secular purposes of solemnizing public occasions, expressing confidence in the future, and encouraging the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in a 1984 case. "For that reason, and because of their history and ubiquity, those practices are not understood as conveying government approval of particular religious beliefs."

Courts have ruled both ways on whether a religious posting or display on public property amounts to the government advancing religion, depending on its context. McKinley administrators are prudently reviewing the school's policy to determine whether -- or perhaps how -- to maintain the student-written code.

Harbors vulnerable
to terrorists

The issue: Security at seaports lag far
behind measures taken at the nation's airports.

THE nation's airports have been the points of concern since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but its harbors remain largely unsecured. With the U.S. Senate last week clearing legislation that for the first time would set nationwide standards for security at seaports, that situation may improve.

Hawaii imports 80 percent of its required goods, with 98 percent shipped over water, making the state particularly vulnerable to any disruption at its harbors. The state Legislature at its emergency session earlier this year allocated $36 million in special transportation funds to strengthen security at airports, highways and harbors. However, securing the harbors would be an enormously difficult and costly undertaking.

The Senate bill would provide about $4.5 billion in grants and loans to pay for needed equipment. Hawaii's congressional delegation should support similar legislation in the House.

Only 2 percent of cargo arriving in U.S. ports is thoroughly searched, primarily because of lack of personnel and the demands of carriers and their customers. Indeed, errors and shortcomings at the ports has been detailed for years in government reports and congressional testimony and reflected in the failed, decades-long efforts to stop drug-smuggling through the ports.

Before Sept. 11, terrorists attacks were not considered probable at harbors, according to a 2000 government report, which stated that the FBI considered the threat of terrorists to be minimal. Immediately after the September events, however, harbor security was heightened with armed Coast Guard cutters patrolling the waters surrounding the islands and boarding commercial vessels for inspections before they were allowed to enter Honolulu Harbor.

Adm. James M. Loy, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, has proposed a far-reaching plan that would require international cooperation. It would involve background checks on crews of major cargo vessels and a system of identifying what is being shipped.

Customs agents and inspectors perform perfunctory checks of containers only when they suspect something may be amiss. There just aren't enough of them to check every shipment, which leads to gaping holes in security. For example, a New Jersey man last year pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to smuggling a 60-ton armored riot-control vehicle through a West Coast port.

The Senate bill would fund an additional 1,500 officials, but that still may not be enough. When asked if American ports and harbors are safe, Admiral Loy said, "I am afraid my answer to the question is no."

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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