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Kendra Turner was brought up right. She’s the kind of kid who says “yes sir” and “no ma’am.”  She was “raised up right,” with good manners as they are prone to say around Dyersburg, Tennessee.

So it was not out of character for Kendra to say “bless you” after a fellow classmate sneezed. But that common courtesy landed the 18-year-old in hot water.

Kendra said she was rebuked by her teacher at Dyer County High School and thrown out of class for violating the teacher’s ban on the words “bless you.”

“She said that we’re not going to have godly speaking in her class and that’s when I said we have a constitutional right,” Turner told Memphis television station WMC.

Another student sent the television station a photo taken inside the teacher’s classroom showing a list of banned words. Among the censored words are “dump,” “stupid,” “my bad,” “hang out” and “bless you.”

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She wrote about her incredible story on Facebook -– and as they say these days – the story went viral.

“I stood up and said, ‘My pastor said I have a constitutional right – 1st amendment freedom of speech,’” Kendra wrote on Facebook. “She said, ‘Not in my class you don’t.”

Kendra says she was tossed out of the class and sent to the principal’s office where things apparently went from bad to worse.

“The assistant principal said if I didn’t want to respect my teacher’s rules then maybe my pastor should teach me because my freedom (of) speech and religion does not work at their school,” she wrote.

As you might imagine the school has a very different take on what happened inside that classroom.

“We can’t discuss discipline issues because of right to privacy of students,” assistant principal Lynn Garner told the Dyersburg Gazette. “But I can say there are two sides to every story. Sometimes people spin things and turn them to make them seem one way.”

The assistant principal said Kendra was sent to In School Suspension as a matter of protocol. She was allowed to leave at the end of the class period.

“In this case, this was not a religious issue at all, but more of an issue the teacher felt was a distraction in her class,” Garner told the newspaper.

To be clear – the school would have us believe that a child telling a classmate “bless you” after a sneeze somehow caused a classroom commotion so severe it warranted a punishment? It’s a good thing Kendra didn’t offer her classmate a tissue.

Kendra’s pastor is among those not buying the school’s explanation and he’s taking a public stand in defense of the young girl.

“I believe this young lady,” said Steven Winegardner, the pastor of the Dyersburg First Assembly of God. “Everything she said took place.”

Winegardner told me he’s hoping students will lead a petition drive to force the school to overturn the classroom ban on the words “bless you.”

“Christians have been told to be quiet, to shut up,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. Everybody has a right to their beliefs. I’m glad Kendra stood up.”

Winegardener’s wife told WMC that the teacher had issues with other students using the words “bless you.”

“There were several students that were talking about this particular faculty member there that was very demeaning to them in regard to their faith,” she told the television station.

Every now and then a story will land on my desk that seems too outrageous to be true. And to be certain there are two very different versions of what happened in that classroom.  But I’m prone to believe Kendra, too.

That’s because Tuesday, a school official tried to convince me this young lady was a trouble maker. They were clever with their words – but that was the impression I received.

That same school official told me there was no ban on the words “bless you.” But a classroom photograph proves otherwise.

They said she was not punished. But Kendra’s pastor saw the slip of paper that ordered her to In School Suspension.

For whatever reason, the school will not explain why the teacher has an issue with the words “bless you.”  This one is a head-scratcher, folks. But one thing is clear – religious intolerance is nothing to sneeze at.

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join hisFacebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is “God Less America.”

There is growing outrage among sailors and religious liberty advocates over adirective that calls for the removal of Bibles from lodges and hotels run on U.S. Navy bases. The directive comes after an atheist group filed a formal complaint earlier this year over the placement of Bibles in the rooms.

“The current direction is to remove all religious material from Navy Lodge guest rooms,” read an email to a Navy chaplain from The Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM). “For those Navy Lodges with religious materials currently in guest rooms, the Navy Lodge General Manager will contact the Installation Chaplain’s office who will provide guidance on the removal procedure disposition of these materials.”

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The American Family Association received an exclusive copy of a similar directive from NEXCOM, the organization that manages the lodges.

“The Navy Lodge General Manager should advise the Installation Commanding Officer of our intention to work through the chaplain’s office to determine what installation policy is and the method to remove religious material currently in the guest rooms,” read a directive approved by Michael Bockelman, the vice president of NEXCOM and the director of the Navy Lodge Program.

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In other words, they’ve got to figure out a way to dispose of God’s Word.

I contacted NEXCOM spokesperson Kathleen Martin hoping to get the inside scoop. Yes or no — are Bibles being removed from Navy-run lodges? Martin dodged my question and to be quite frank, gave me the runaround. She refused, on numerous occasions, to explain the whereabouts of the lodge Bibles.

“Lodge managers are coordinating with base chaplains regarding the disposition of all religious material,” she said.

Martin said the directive will impact about 40 Navy lodges around the world.

“We looked at our policy — and realized there wasn’t a consistent policy regarding Navy Lodges,” she told me. “We decided we needed to have some consistency and be consistent with the Navy.”

I figured I would try one more time. Yes or no — will the Navy allow Bibles to be placed in Navy lodges? Martin refused to answer the question.

The order was hailed by the Freedom From Religious Foundation. The FFRF had filed a complaint with the military — claiming the presence of the Bible “amounts to a government endorsement of that religious text.”

“FFRF is pleased to learn that NEXCOM has taken seriously its constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion as a representative of our federal government,” FFRF Sam Grover told me. “By removing Bibles from Navy-run lodges, the Navy has taken a step to ensure that it is not sending the impermissible message that Christians are favored over guests with other religious beliefs or over those guests with no religion.”

The Bibles had been placed in the rooms, free of charge, by Gideons International.

An active duty service member contacted me and alerted me the Bibles were being taken out of hotel rooms and a lodge housekeeper told American Family Association the same thing.

“They told us to put them in boxes where they would be taken to a donation center somewhere,” the housekeeper told AFA.

The Navy even has a plan in the event, heaven forbid, a guest leaves behind their Bible.

“All religious materials left by a Navy Lodge guest, in the future, will be dealt with following established procedures for lost and found property,” the directive states.

FFRF said they were alerted to the Bible controversy by “two concerned service members.”

“One complainant noted that he ‘never saw a Book of Mormon or Koran’ in any Navy-run lodge,” read an FFRF letter to the Navy.

Mikey Weinstein, the president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, told me he was delighted to hear of the Navy’s directive. His organization has been trying for more than seven years to cleanse military hotel rooms of the Good Book.

“We are happy to see the military doing that,” Weinstein said. “For years we’ve been telling them those Bibles are a violation of the Establishment Clause.”

Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, blasted the Navy for removing the Bibles.

“This is just one more assault by military leaders against anything Christian,” Crews told me. “It’s getting tiresome to see senior military leaders cave in to those who appear to be offended by Christians, by Christian symbols and now by the Bible itself.”

Crews said there’s nothing wrong with allowing the Gideons to place Bibles in Navy lodges — at no cost to the Navy.

“Our military service men and women have every right to look at literature in hotel rooms — including the Scriptures,” he said.

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join hisFacebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is “God Less America.”

Pastors and churches have been banned from helping the thousands of illegal immigrant children housed in border detention facilities run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, clergy in Texas and Arizona tell me.

“Border Patrol told us pastors and churches are not allowed to visit,” said Kyle Coffin, the pastor of CrossRoads Church in Tucson, Arizona. “It’s pretty heartbreaking that they don’t let anybody in there — even credentialed pastors.”

A public affairs officer for the Border Patrol confirmed that ministers and church groups have been banned from the Nogales Placement Center.

“Due to the unique operational and security challenges of the Nogales Placement Center, religious services provided by outside faith leaders are not possible at this time,” the Border Patrol told me in a statement. “However, CBP’s chaplaincy program is supporting the spiritual needs of the minors for the limited time they are at the center.”

Coffin and a group of pastors from the Tucson area were hoping to provide spiritual encouragement and friendship to the hundreds of illegal immigrant children housed in a detention center in Nogales.

“It’s pretty ugly down there,” he told me. “They’re packed in there like sardines.”

Coffin said he was having lunch with four other ministers when they started tossing out ideas – ways their churches might be able to be an encouragement to the children being held.

One of the other ministers placed a telephone call to Border Patrol and was turned away. So Coffin decided to make a telephone call, too – and what he was told was startling.

“They flat-out said no,” he said.

What about just a pastoral visit to encourage the children?

“They said no,” he said.

What about allowing pastors to pray with the children?

“There was an immediate no,” he replied.

The message was clear – men and women of the cloth were not welcome at the border.

“That frustrates me to no end, to be honest with you,” Coffin told me. “It drives me absolutely nuts that our government would turn us away.”

He said churches are not even allowed bring soccer balls or play ping pong with the illegal immigrant children.

Pastor Coffin even asked if they could provide the children with toys, blankets and food. But the federal government’s response was the same – no donations allowed.

“We just wanted to go down there and have a presence because we care about people,” he said. “That’s all we wanted to do. For the church to be available sends a message that the church cares.”

Religious folks in San Antonio had a similar experience. One professional counselor at a camp run by BCFS, an organization previously known as Baptist Child and Family Services, said there were no clergy at all.

“The clergy needed to be involved with the children,” my source told me. “The children were very spiritual and their spiritual needs were not being cared for.”

My source said a group of counselors urged BCFS to consider bringing in a priest or minister.
“We were turned down,” my source said.

“We had suggested they bring in a priest on Sunday,” the counselor said. “Instead, they had a girl playing a cassette tape of Christian songs. They denied those kids the opportunity to be with a minister.”

The counselor said during her entire tenure working at the Lackland Air Force Base camp, she never saw a single minister.

“It was heartbreaking,” the counselor said. “The church needs to become involved. The spiritual needs of these children need to be tended to.”

BCFS tells me they now provide religious services for the children at Lackland. They also said boys and girls are provided a Spanish-language Bible should they desire one.

Back in Tucson, Pastor Coffin said churches have a responsibility to help the children.

“We have a heart to treat immigrants, whether legal or not, with respect,” he said. “It’s not our job to judge whether they came here for legitimate reasons.”

Coffin describes CrossRoads Church as a conservative congregation that has a “huge heart for the poor in our community.”

“I don’t politicize,” he said. “I just teach the Bible.”

That being said, Pastor Coffin believes the government has overstepped its constitutional authority – and is trying to do the work of the church.

“Back in the day, if you were in trouble and poor, the first thing you thought of was going to the church,” he said. “Whether it was for food, clothing, shelter or helping pay bills – the church was the front line. Now, it’s the government who is the front line.”

Pastor Coffin believes it’s time for the church to take back what the government took away.

“We’re not anti-government at all,” he said. “We think the government is equipped to do what they were constitutionally created to do – and not do the church’s job.”

But I’m afraid under this administration, the government believes they are church and President Obama is the deity. Heaven help us all.

 

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is “God Less America”.

 

 

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe the words “under God” should remain in the Pledge of a Allegiance, according to a from LifeWay Research.

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Their survey found that 85 percent of Americans want to keep “under God” in the pledge.

The survey results show little support for changing the pledge, says Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research.

“Most Americans have recited the pledge hundreds of times and are not inclined to memorize a different pledge,” said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research. “Changing it may just feel wrong. Most Americans say they believe in God or a higher being and feel comfortable having ‘under God’ in the pledge.”

Earlier this week, the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit against a New Jersey school district claiming the words “under God” violated the state constitution.

The group says the phrase, added in 1954, “marginalizes atheist and humanist kids as something less than ideal patriots.”

“Public schools should not engage in an exercise that tells students that patriotism is tied to a belief in God,” said David Niose, attorney for the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Such a daily exercise portrays atheist and humanist children as second-class citizens, and certainly contributes to anti-atheist prejudices.”

LifeWay researchers did find one in four Americans (25 percent) believe forcing students to say “under God” violates their rights. But less than one in 10 (eight percent) Americans want to remove “under God” from the pledge.

The study by LifeWay Research also found younger Americans are more likely to support removal of “under God” from the pledge. Fourteen percent of those ages 18-29 want to remove the phrase, compared to five percent of those over 64.

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I was in the mood for a ham sandwich the other day so I walked around the corner to my neighborhood market to pick up some provisions.

I snagged a shopping cart with three workable wheels and maneuvered my way through the store humming along to a Muzak menagerie of Mr. Mister and Lionel Richie songs. I stopped for a brief moment in the produce aisle to admire a pair of hipsters as they harmonized to “Say You, Say Me.”

Anyway, after selecting a deli ham, I dropped by condiments aisle to get a jar of spicy mustard along with some bread & butter pickles.

I was about check out when I suddenly remembered that I needed some cheese.

So I made a beeline for the dairy aisle and that’s when I made a startling discovery. I brought my three-wheeled shopping cart to a screeching halt. I came face to face with a massive sign bearing giant letters.

It read: “HISPANIC CHEESE.”

I stared at the display for quite some time. I found myself drifting into an imaginary conversation with a store clerk…

“Do you need some help, sir?”

“Yes. Could you tell me where you keep the Caucasian cheese?”

“I’m sorry, sir but we don’t carry Caucasian cheese – although, we do have a rather nice selection of white cheddars.”

I was tempted to purchase some “Hispanic” cheese, but I feared retribution at the checkout counter. What if the clerk confronted me about trying to purchase a cheese that was contrary to my ethnicity?

“Sir, I’m afraid you’ve violated our tolerance and diversity regulations,” I imagined the clerk saying. “It’s apparent that Hispanic cheese is nacho cheese.”

So to be safe, I decided to purchase American cheese (which is allowed provided you have at least two forms of government identification).

I found the entire episode a bit disconcerting. When did they start segregating the dairy products?

Seeing how President Obama ushered the nation into a post-racial age, you’d think grocery stores would be a bit more sensitive to that kind of thing.

Why single out the Hispanic cheeses?

What about the Italians or the French?

What’s next? Will grocery stores separate American cabbage from Bok Choy? Will Basmati rice be allowed to share shelf space with Uncle Ben’s?

Oh, how my taste buds weep for the less fortunate cheese among us.

I recall that delightful song from church days gone by. “Jesus loves the little cheeses, all the cheeses of the world. Swiss and Cheddar, stinky, too. If He loved them, so should you. Jesus loves the little cheeses of the world.”

I hold this truth to be self evident – that all curds are created equal, that they are endowed by their cheese maker with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of a Ritz cracker.

I dream of a day when cheese is not judged by its country of origin but by the content of its butterfat – be it Gouda or Velveeta.

Intolerance is bad for business no matter how you bag it. And in my estimation the only thing worse than intolerance is lactose intolerance.

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is “God Less America”.

By Todd Starnes

One major conservative family group is calling on parents to pull their children out of California public schools after the governor signed a law allowing boys and girls access to the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice – regardless of their gender.

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown announced Monday that he had signed AB1266 – seen as a landmark decision for transgender Americans. The new law gives students the right “to participate in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities” based on their self-perception and regardless of their birth gender.

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The law had the support of gay rights groups and many Democrats who said it would help reduce bullying against transgender students. It comes as the families of transgender students have been waging local battles with school districts around the country over what restrooms and locker rooms their children can use.

Detractors like Randy Thomasson of SaveCalifornia.com said allowing students of one gender to use facilities intended for the other could invade the other students’ privacy.

“Jerry Brown and the Democrats have targeted every kid in public school with gender-bending brainwashing,” Thomasson said, warning the law would trample parents’ rights and invade the “personal comfort zone of millions of California children for a handful of sexually confused children who need professional counseling.”

Thomasson said parents should consider pulling their children out of California’s public schools.

“Fortunately, parents can protect their children from the insanity of biological boys in girls’ restrooms and girls’ showers and biological girls in boys’ restrooms and boys’ showers by exiting the dysfunctional, immoral public schools for homeschooling and solid church schools,” he said.

“We stand ready and willing to defend anyone who will be victimized as a result of this new law,” said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute. “That includes someone whose privacy rights are violated in the bathroom, in the locker room, in the showers, or someone who is prevented from playing on a sports team because someone from the opposite gender took their place.”

Karen England, executive director of the Capitol Resource Institute said the law forces “San Francisco values on all California schools.”

“This is a very radical idea,” she said. “You’re going to have first-grade boys going to the restroom next to first-grade girls without any supervision.”

England said the law would allow students of any gender to access public school bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. It would also students to participate in sports activities based on “that student’s assertion that he or she identifies as having a different private sense of their own gender regardless of their biological gender at birth.”

San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano said the law simply clarifies existing non-discrimination provisions in the education code. He said districts must offer transgender students equal access to programs and facilities based on their gender identity.

“No student can learn if they feel they have to hide who they are in school,” he said in a statement.

He identified gender identity as a “person’s internal, deeply-rooted identification as male or female.”

England said parents or students who feel uncomfortable with their daughters showering next to boys – are being accused of being bigots.

“And now if a girl doesn’t want to shower with a boy, there’s something wrong with you,” She said.

The assemblyman’s office provided a statement acknowledging that some parents and students may be uncomfortable with the law.

“Discomfort is not an excuse for discrimination,” he said in a statement.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told SF Weekly that California is “blazing the trail for transgender young people and their families.”

“This a watershed moment not only for California, but for the entire nation,” she told the newspaper.”The public’s understanding and acceptance of transgender youth have grown exponentially in the past few years, and today’s law is a huge step forward in ensuring that these young people are truly welcomed and included in our state’s public schools.”

State Republican Sen. Jim Nielsen opposed the law. He said it would violate the privacy of students who don’t want to share restrooms with members of the opposite sex.

“Think of all of the parents and all of the students that would be uncomfortable in this situation, and that a student has no burden but to declare that ‘I want to be in the boys shower or the girls shower’ that day,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

With reporting from Associated Press

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By Todd Starnes

An Army chaplain’s assistant said she was accused of creating a “hostile and antagonistic” environment after she posted a message on her personal Facebook page calling homosexuality a sin.

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The soldier, who is an evangelical Christian, said she returned home from church on Sunday and was watching a documentary about a minister who endorsed homosexuality.

“I was frustrated with what I saw so I posted a Facebook message about it,” she said.

Her Facebook message read:

“A lot ticked off, now to all my gay friends you know I care about you so don’t think otherwise. I’m watching this documentary and this gay guy went to a church and the Pastor was telling him that he needs to embrace his way and know that it is not a sin. Ok umm wow, dude it is. I’m sick of people making Gods word what it’s not. Yes God loves you as a person but He hates the sin. Tired of hearing about Pastors being ok with homosexuality.”

The 26-year-old chaplain’s assistant said she believes individuals within her unit reported her. On Monday she was ordered to the commander’s office where she was told to either remove the most or face a reduction in rank and pay.

“He said I was creating hostile and antagonistic environment in the unit by posting that on Facebook,” she told Fox News. “He said I needed to either take it down or face a UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice).”

So she reached out to Todd Hudnall, her pastor at Radiant Church in Colorado Springs.

“I read what she posted and there was absolutely no trace of animus, disrespect or hostility,” Hudnall told Fox News. “Instead, she expressed love for her gay friends but insisted that biblical values should not be compromised. Her issue wasn’t with anyone who is gay but with pastors who refuse to acknowledge scriptural teaching about homosexual behavior.”

The pastor said she was reprimanded for “holding to orthodox biblical instruction.”

“I was struck by the fact that the military was denying her right to privately exercise her freedom of expression and freedom of religion,” Hudnall said.

The pastor said it’s not the first time he’s heard of Christian soldiers facing threats and intimidation over their personal beliefs.

“It sounds more like totalitarianism than keeping with our heritage of liberty,” he said. “I’m becoming quite concerned that we are losing the freedom of speech and religion in the name of tolerance and over shifting norms of morality and behavior.”

Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, shares Hudnall’s concerns.

“Just because a person wears a uniform does not mean they give up their religious liberties and their ability to speak about matters of faith,” Crews told Fox News.

Crews said the Chaplain Alliance has been in contact with the assistant and said they play on being fully supportive.

But Pastor Hudnall worries about other military men and women who are facing threats for not “lining up with the current accepted ideology.”

“I’m also hearing that many are deciding to back down rather than stand up for their constitutional rights,” Hudnall told Fox News. “A few have told me they are actually thinking about getting out of the military because of it.”

The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week — the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling.  I gave a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday.  But watching the debate over the course of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.

First of all, I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation.  I can only imagine what they’re going through, and it’s remarkable how they’ve handled it.

The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there’s going to be a lot of arguments about the legal issues in the case — I’ll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues.  The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner.  The prosecution and the defense made their arguments.  The juries were properly instructed that in a case such as this reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict.  And once the jury has spoken, that’s how our system works.  But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling.

 

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son.  Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.  And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store.  That includes me.  There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.  That happens to me — at least before I was a senator.  There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.  That happens often.

And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.  And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.  The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws.  And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence.  It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.  They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration.  And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

I think the African American community is also not naïve in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.  So folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys.  But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it and that context is being denied. And that all contributes I think to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.

Now, the question for me at least, and I think for a lot of folks, is where do we take this?  How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction?  I think it’s understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through, as long as it remains nonviolent.  If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family.  But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do.

I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here.  Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government, the criminal code.  And law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.

That doesn’t mean, though, that as a nation we can’t do some things that I think would be productive.  So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff, so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.

Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.

When I was in Illinois, I passed racial profiling legislation, and it actually did just two simple things.  One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped.  But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.

And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and, in turn, be more helpful in applying the law.  And obviously, law enforcement has got a very tough job.

So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear if state and local governments are receptive.  And I think a lot of them would be.  And let’s figure out are there ways for us to push out that kind of training.

Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it — if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.

I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the “stand your ground” laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case.  On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these “stand your ground” laws, I’d just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?  And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened?  And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.

Number three — and this is a long-term project — we need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys.  And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about.  There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement.  And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?

I’m not naïve about the prospects of some grand, new federal program.  I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as President, I’ve got some convening power, and there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front.  And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes, and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed — I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation.  And we’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.

And then, finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching.  There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race.  I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations.  They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.  On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can?  Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character?  That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better.  Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.  It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society.  It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated.  But when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I seem them interact, they’re better than we are — they’re better than we were — on these issues.  And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.

And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues.  And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions.  But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.

By Todd Starnes

A Michigan high school issued an apology to former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum after they canceled an upcoming speech because teachers were outraged over his support for traditional marriage.

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The principal at Grosse Pointe High School said students will need a permission slip from parents to attend the April 24th address.

“I’ve learned some things here. I wish we could wind back the clock a bit on this,” Principal Matt Outlaw told The Associated Press.

“I spoke to the senator. I apologized for the situation,” Outlaw said. “He’s very excited to come here. He mentioned that he’s been to the Grosse Pointe community many times. … We think we’ll have a very large crowd.”

The former Pennsylvania senator and former presidential candidate had been invited by the high school’s Young Americans for Freedom club.

 

Langston Bowens, 18, the president of the YAF chapter, told Fox News that he was not surprised by the campus outrage.

“They flooded my principal’s office and complained about how this bigoted, racist homophobic speaker was going to come to our school,” he said. “They were very offended. They threatened protests. They threatened not to show up to work – because he’s a conservative.”

Bowens said the young conservative student worked hard to raise the money to bring Santorum to campus and the school’s principal actually signed off on the address.

It was the superintendent, he said, that pulled the plug.

“Our school is liberal and not very conservative-friendly,” the teenager told Fox News. “We’re called bigoted, racist and stupid because we are conservatives.”

Although, Bowens said he can’t help but laugh when someone calls him a racist – that’s because he’s African-American.

“It’s really funny to hear that phrase – ‘bigoted and racist’—when you are a conservative black American,” he said.

Tragone said it’s sad that Gross Pointe teachers don’t want to expose their students to different opinions.

“Their job is to teach the students and cultivate minds – certainly to be the mediator of discussions,” he said. “It seems they don’t want to do that. They don’t want his opinions even articulated.”

Santorum posted a statement denouncing the school for initially canceling his speech.

It’s a sad day when liberal educators are allowed to influence young minds – extending free speech rights only to those who share their liberal views,” Santorum said in a statement posted on Patriot Voices. “This has nothing to do with the content of a speech, but rather the context of my convictions.”