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Published: Saturday, 6/29/2002

Gambling: Morality week in Columbus

COLUMBUS - Morality week kicked off last Tuesday with the soothing tones of Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

Harkening back to the days when average Joes would pledge to not even sniff a beer bottle cap, Mr. Blackwell was asking everyone to sign a pledge to oppose passage of any bill or ballot issue to expand gambling in Ohio.

The final sentence of that pledge says: “State-sponsored gambling is nothing more than a regressive, morally questionable form of taxation.”

Mr. Blackwell was asked - given that Gov. Bob Taft led the push to expand gambling by getting Ohio into a multi-state lottery - whether the governor had engaged in “morally questionable conduct.”

Mr. Blackwell said he was not going to be led into that “briar patch.”

Next question: Why not just come out and say that state-sponsored gambling is immoral?

State Sen. Jim Jordan (R., Urbana) pondered that for a few seconds and then acknowledged that perhaps immoral should have been used.

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The next day, a federal appeals court based in San Francisco released a 2-1 decision that said the phrase “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional.

A few years ago, I was in a kindergarten classroom as the children started the day reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

The teacher had tacked a few lines onto the end: “Let's be good and let's be safe.”

I'm sure there's a left-wing fanatic who would sue, arguing that children shouldn't be expected to talk about goodness when the evil United States won't reward Palestinian terrorism with a new state.

And I'm sure there's a right-wing nut who would sue, claiming that children shouldn't be asked to use the word “safe” because it might be some Clinton conspiracy to teach children about safe sex.

Everyone else would say: “What are we doing about the economy?”

But last week's decision - which applies to Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington and was put on hold pending delays - was too juicy for politicians to ignore.

It even brought us back to the 1988 presidential election, when the “L-word” emerged as a big issue, thanks to George W. Bush's dad.

“I am shocked, saddened, and exasperated by liberal efforts to eliminate any and all references to God in our country,” said U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, the Ohio Republican. “I fought this fight with liberal interest groups as governor of Ohio when our motto `With God All Things Are Possible' was challenged. We eventually prevailed when the motto was ruled constitutional by the 6th Circuit [Court of Appeals].”

Liberals? The lawsuit was filed by an atheist with a daughter in a California school.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court released a 5-4 decision that upheld Cleveland's school-voucher experiment, which taps taxpayers' dollars to enable children to attend private schools, including religious ones.

Over the past six years, the number of students in the Cleveland program has jumped from 1,994 to 4,457 and it's now open from K-8.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said parents exercised “genuine choice” between nonreligious and religious private schools.

As voucher supporters try to expand the program throughout Ohio and the nation, the real issue is this.

Parent X is poor, lives in a slum, and wants to get her child out of what she perceives as a failing public school. Parent X decides she wants to use her voucher money to send her child to a toney, private school in the burbs.

Will Parent X and her child be met at the front door with open arms by the wealthy private school administrators and the parents?

Doubt it.

So we may end up simply moving poor children from bad public schools to bad private schools.

Of course, that won't stop the Wall Street Journal editorial page from referring to last week's voucher ruling as “our Brown vs. Board of Education.”



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