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A Marriage of Church and State
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
My dearest friend put his arm around my shoulder after I had locked horns with a cheating priest in a Transylvania village. My friend told me to consider that the priest baptizes, gives communion, blesses weddings and plows, cows, homes and hearth and is called upon to give last rites to the dead. He baptizes, marries and buries everyone in the village. He, my friend said, is the most important person in the lives of these poor people, and no one fights him. I still hold a grudge, but the point was well taken.
So, I wonder if the same influences are in play here in Fort Wayne as Catholic Mayor Tom Henry, a graduate of St. Francis College, now the University of St. Francis, has introduced legislation to give USF $3 million from the Legacy Fund to pay for renovations to the Scottish Rite building and the adjacent former Chamber of Commerce building.
It seems a clear challenge to the Constitutional separation of church and state, but then what do I know…I am not a lawyer.
The project, on face value, is a wonderful idea, not unlike moving Mad Anthony or enhancing signage into downtown. USF will take two landmark buildings and fill them with bright, energetic, rosy checked kids. They will be a key ingredient in revitalizing the center of Fort Wayne. For those of us who remember Central High and Central Catholic, who remember the downtown campuses of IU and PU, not to mention Ball State, having bushy-tailed young people downtown will make a world of difference in the vitality of our central city. So, we should all applaud not only USF, but the remarkable strides of Indiana Tech and Dr. Art Snyder who has applied to his own Mircle Gro potion to the flowering of that campus. Three cheers, please.
Tech, however, is not linked directly to the Vatican. USF is a Roman Catholic institution. Giving public money to a religious institution, whether the Missouri Synod, the Islamic Temple or the Holy Rollers, challenges the Constitution, which is there to prevent the sort of religious favoritism this ‘grant’suggests.
Now, remember, we are not lawyers and they are paid to make silk purses out of sows’ ears, so one wonders whether Mayor Tom has chatted this through in great detail with a pack of jurists. Let us hope so, otherwise we may find another $3 million dolled out in legal fees to defend this obvious marriage of church and state.
The Nicest of People
I watched the blizzard from 40 degree Romania. Each day I would tune in Rachel Martin or Greg Shoup or some other familiar face who would warn me to bring the dog in, keep the water dripping, and look in on my neighbors. I watched the vignettes of hearty Fort Wayners pitching in selflessly to help each other. It reminded me of the wind storm a few years back and of the Flood of ’82 when everyone was out for the good of the community. At Council a few nights back Marty Bender, councilman and Fort Wayne Police Department Deputy Chief, commented on how much help the city received from we regular citizens, that Fort Wayne was again the “City that Saved Itself. “ It was all quite heartwarming. I flew back into Fort Wayne a few days after Snowmaggedon and was met at Baer Field by a nice older woman who offered me a cookie. While Fort Wayne may not have natural beauty to attract the outside world we have each other and we have a wonderfully welcoming community that pulls tightly together in the face of adversity or to charm arriving strangers.
Turn into Maniacs…
Which makes me wonder why Fort Wayners are such a collection of arrogant farts behind the wheel. I have had the joy of driving in more than a dozen other countries during my travels, Greece and Italy the latest additions to the list. In no other country do I see people trying like hell to beat the next driver to the not-so-distant red light. Nor, have I seen drivers in other countries try to punish me for some minor, imagined or real, traffic transgression. More often in those countries, even Italy, there is a sense of sharing the road, perhaps a focus on just getting there smoothly and alive, as opposed to imposing some personal standard of road etiquette on the next driver over. In Argentina traffic flowed seemingly without regard to line markings and signage, there was no fighting for lane position, in Romania two lanes would often become three as a driver passed between coming and going cars; in Germany it was a synchronized ballet to watch every driver adjust to lane changes. Here, people seem to need to prove a petty point. Here, young men seem to think they can emulate some half-wit NASCAR driver by cutting lanes, drafting or racing at 65 in a school zone. We may be exceedingly courteous when it comes to weather emergencies, but when Fort Wayners take to the wheel too many of us transform into demanding, arrogant, selfish maniacs.