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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/19/11

Get a Life!

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Believe it or not, there are more than 250 congressional caucuses -- semi-formal panels with which members may or may not wish to affiliate.  Formally known as "Congressional Member Organizations" (CMOs), these groups, broadly speaking, meet to pursue common legislative objectives.  They range from such well-known, self-explanatory panels as The Congressional "Black," "Hispanic," "Women's Issues" and "National Public Broadcasting" Caucuses, and those which support a particular region or product, like the "Appalachian Caucus," "Democratic Israel Working Group," and "House Beef Caucus," to the truly bizarre, such as the "House Bicycle Caucus" (made up of those members who bike to the Capitol), the "Congressional Bourbon Caucus" (your guess is as good as mine!) and the "Minor League Baseball Caucus."

   Indeed, when it comes to caucuses, Congress provides something for everyone.  There is even a 68-member "Congressional Prayer Caucus" (CPC).  Founded in 2005 by Virginia Republican Randy Forbes,  CPC members -- of whom 64 are Republican and 4 Democrat, 67 Christian and 1 Jewish -- believe that "There is a concerted effort to expunge every vestige of God from government and the influence that the Christian faith had on establishing the principles upon which our liberties are secured."  In turn, the CPC is supported by the "Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation," whose stated mission is to do whatever they can to help ". . . formally acknowledge the important role that faith in God and prayer plays in American life and history and to stand as a sentinel to guard the right of individuals in America to publicly pray and express faith in God." 

   One might think that the members of the CPC would be concerned with such classic religious issues as "Feeding the poor, clothing the naked, freeing the captive, and caring for the homeless, the widow and the orphan."

   One might think. 

   Instead, the CPC seems far more interested in such issues as H.Res397, better known as "America's Spiritual Heritage Resolution," which "Affirms the rich spiritual and diverse religious history of our national's founding," and H.Con.Res131, which "Directs the Architect of the Capitol to engrave our national motto , 'In God We Trust.' and the Pledge of Allegiance in a permanent and prominent location in the Capitol Visitor Center."

   Whatever happened to feeding the hungry or tending to the needs of the sick, the homeless or the orphaned? 

   Earlier this month, CPC Founder Randy Forbes (R-VA) sent Barack Obama a heart-felt letter -- signed by 41 of members of his group --  taking the president to task for a speech he had given at the University of Indonesia, in which he stated, "But I believe that the history of both America and Indonesia should give us hope.  It is a story written into our national mottoes.  In the United States our motto is E Pluribus Unum . . . out of many, one . . . our nations show that hundreds of millions who hold different beliefs can be united in freedom under one flag."

   Seems pretty unexceptional no?  So what precisely were Forbes and his colleagues so worked up about as to send a rather lengthy missive of misgiving to President Obama?  Why the fact that "E Pluribus Unum is not our national motto," but rather "In God We Trust" which, Forbes pointed out, is not only our national motto, but "Is also referenced in our national anthem, and is engraved on our national coins and currency."  Moreover, Forbes noted, "During three separate events this Fall, when quoting from the Declaration of Independence, you mentioned that we have inalienable rights, but consistently failed to mention the source of those rights.  The Declaration Independence definitively recognizes God, our Creator, as the source of our rights.  Omitting the word 'Creator' once was a mistake; but twice establishes a pattern.

   Let me get this straight: we're engaged in two wars, are running a multi-trillion dollar deficit, have an unemployment rate hovering around 10%, have just given a $800 billion gift to the nation's wealthiest 2% and only got around to lending much-needed assistance to our heroic First Responders in the waning hours of Congress -- and you guys are all worked up over President Obama opting for E Pluribus Unum over  "In God We Trust" when speaking to a university group on the other side of the globe?

    Get a life!

   One might think that being so obviously God-intoxicated, the five dozen-plus members of the CPC would be at the forefront of those pushing to assist folks who are in need, or defenseless, or otherwise trodden upon -- in other words, the widow, the orphan, the stranger in our gates.

   One might think.

   In doing a little old-fashioned leg work, I discovered something utterly fascinating about the 43 CPC members who affixed their signature to the letter criticizing President Obama's message in Indonesia.  To wit:

  • Only one of them -- Republican Vern Ehlers of Michigan -- voted in favor of the Dream Act.  One, Georgia Republican Phil Gingrey, was absent.  The other 41 voted against act, thereby making the children of illegal immigrants just as guilty as their parents.  Anyone who knows their Bible will recognize that such callousness goes against that which we find in the book of Ezekiel: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die.  The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." (Ezek. 28:30)  
  • Only 2 of the Rep. Forbes' cosigners voted in favor of repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  Does this mean that the other 41 believe that only straights are "created in the image of God?"  
  • 40 of Forbes' 42 cosigners voted against passage of the Food Safety Act -- a measure designed to protect consumers from the dangers of eating tainted or contaminated food by beefing up federal inspection.  In voting against this measure -- which passed the House by a final vote of 215-144 -- Forbes' filthy forty were in violation of the Biblical dictum of "Not putting a stumbling block before the blind."
  •   Lastly, of those who even cared to stick around Washington, D.C. long enough to attend Congress' last day, CPC members represented nearly a quarter of the votes cast against the measure granting financial assistance to our heroic 9/11 first responders.  This bill passed 206-60, meaning that 170 members of the House had already gone home to begin celebrating Christmas.  (It should be noted that of 31 Jewish members of the House, 9 were absent, one -- Virginia's Eric Cantor -- voted against passage, and the remaining 21 voted in favor of tougher food inspection regulations.)  From time immemorial, it has been a moral imperative to assist in any way possible, those who have put their lives on the line in our behalf.  By voting against this measure, 60 members of the House -- at least 20 of whom are part of the CPC -- have traduced that imperative.

  I firmly believe that history will look upon the 111th Congress as one of the most productive, most singularly impressive in the history of the republic. That it was able to accomplish as much as it did in terms of health care, business regulation, food safety and the new START treaty, is really quite remarkable -- especially in light of Republican intransigence.  What will be in the 112th Congress is anyone's guess.  But know of a certainty that those who -- like the men and women of the Congressional Prayer Caucus -- who become exorcised when the president fails to mention God as often as they would like, should, in the words of only God knows who, "Get a life."

-2011 Kurt F. Stone

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Kurt Stone is a rabbi, writer, lecturer, political activist, professor, actor, and medical ethicist. A true "Hollywood brat" (born and raised in the film industry), Kurt was educated at the University of California, the Eagleton Institute of (more...)
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