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July 16, 2000

Toleration and Diversity

Dear Tolerators:

If there were ever a hot issue that I didn't want to take a position on, this is it. Well, this and who should replace Kathy Lee Gifford as Regis's co-host. But this — the Council bill that forces religious institutions that oppose contraception to fund contraception through their insurance plans -- is the burning topic in themail today, so I'll offend away, right and left.

We believe completely in toleration and diversity, and we shall not tolerate any diversity of opinion from ours. That was the position of the City Council last week. Those who tolerate only their own opinions, and happily trample over opinions with which they disagree, are not tolerant. Councilmember Jim Graham insists he isn't an anti-Catholic bigot; he simply talks like one. As Kurt Vondran points out below, in the Council debate Councilmember Graham repeatedly used anti-Catholic code words and phrases that date back in American politics to the Know-Nothings and their predecessors. Mr. Vondran extends Mr. Graham a very generous benefit of the doubt, suggesting that he may have used these code words unintentionally. I'll leave the judgment of whether Mr. Graham's language was accidental or unintentional to others. What is clear is that the Council, which originally had a majority in favor of a “conscience clause” that would not force religious institutions to violate the tenets of their churches, was bullied into abandoning that minimal degree of tolerance.

This issue was tied up in feminist politics, gay politics, and sexual politics. If the medical issue had been a different one, not related to contraception, the same passions would not have been aroused, and the issue of freedom of religious conscience could have been openly addressed. I don't believe the Council would pass a bill that would force Jehovah's Witness and Seventh Day Adventist doctors to perform blood transfusions, or require Christian Science practitioners to prescribe medicine. As it was, the Council felt free not only to disregard, but deliberately to offend, honestly and sincerely held religious beliefs. I don't give myself any particular credit as a defender of freedom of belief for defending my own beliefs, or beliefs that I agree with. When I defend the freedom of others to practice their beliefs — beliefs that I may think of as wrong, odd, or even a little bit dangerous — then I deserve some credit. I'm not giving the Council any credit for their behavior last week.

Gary Imhoff


Mark David Richards,

Dear Councilmembers: Thank you for speaking on behalf of D.C. citizens and supporting health insurance coverage of contraceptives. This law will not affect citizens who do not need or use contraceptives — it is a social good on behalf of the whole. When I hear members of Congress whom D.C. citizens did not elect suggest Catholic bigotry on the Council even as the official Catholic Church called gay and lesbian citizens unnatural, my blood boils. Bigotry is staring D.C. in the face: Congress has not allowed D.C. to implement its domestic partnership law for nearly a decade. I am reminded of Benjamin Franklin's statement in The Mother Country (1765): “We have an old Mother that peevish is grown, She snubs us like Children that scarce walk alone: She forgets we've grown up and have Sense of our own; Which nobody can deny, deny, Which nobody can deny.”


Catholic Contraception
Kurt Vorndran,

As President of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, DC's largest gay and lesbian political organization, the greatest single point of pride I have as to the inclusion of gays and lesbians in DC political life is the service of Jim Graham on the DC Council. Moreover, as a Catholic, I am continually embarrassed by my denomination's misguided stances on homosexuality and artificial contraception. I know for a fact that Councilmember Graham is not a bigot and is not anti-Catholic. I do think, however, in fighting for the just cause of comprehensive contraceptive coverage he unknowing and unintendedly used the words and actions of an outdated 19th century Know-Nothingism.

Most painful was the repeated use of the phrase “deferring to Rome.” In fact, no one from Rome contacted Mr. Graham or any other Councilmember. It might have been better said “deferring to Eastern Avenue” (the location of the Archbishop's office). This is not some fine point to those who understand American history on this matter. To many, the phrase raises the old canard of Catholicism as a “foreign” Church that has no place in American life. This was not the Councilmember's intent, but it is how others used the term.

The exemption in the bill was a tough issue for those of us who support access to family planning. Members of my own family (who were bitterly anti-Nazi German-Americans and yet suffered some of the same prejudice Japanese-Americans were subject to) went off willingly to fight Hitler and stop the Holocaust. At the same time, our Quaker neighbors were given a religious exemption from military service. My family did not agree with their religious objections to fighting fascism and the Holocaust, but respected their sincerity and accepted the religious exemption they had under law. Hopefully, we can all move on from this issue. We now know that while the Council was debating the inclusion of a small number of employees of Catholic agencies in contraceptive coverage they were asleep at the switch to the fact that a far greater number of workers received no protection under their legislation as written. Further, we have far too many DC residents with no health care coverage, substandard health care coverage, or substandard prescription drug coverage — and this includes the District government's own employees for whom the Council must be held accountable.

We in the gay community have our share of differences with the Archdiocese of Washington. However, on one key question we are united — the need for universal health care. On this issue, our government need not pick sides between these two communities. It should respond and respond now to our common plea. No child, no person with AIDS, no worker, no homemaker, no resident regardless of citizen status, should be without health care in this country.


DC Voting Rights and the First Amendment
Tom Matthes,

Every parent, at some point, has to ask an unruly child, asking for something unreasonable, "What part of 'no' don't you understand?" Memo to the DC City Council: the First Amendment of the Constitution says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Since Article I, Section 8, puts Congress in complete charge of legislation for the national capital district, it cannot delegate any powers to the DC Council the Constitution denies it. Therefore, when you vote to force the Catholic Church to pay for condoms and birth control pills for its employees, contrary to the church's moral teachings, you exceed your authority. "What part of 'no' don't you understand?" Memo to all advocates of DC statehood: Irritating millions of Catholic voters is a bad idea. Angering advocates of freedom of religion and the First Amendment is a nutty idea. Don't you think you ought to put your own Council in order before you ask the rest of the country to take your dreams of self government seriously?


Contraception and Conscience
E. James Lieberman,

Now that Congress is jumping in to stop DC from having a say in its health care provisions, let's consider: 1) The Catholic Church wants to stop abortion, and contraception is a bulwark against unwanted pregnancy. Evidently the Church prefers higher abortion rates to sex "artificially" dissociated from procreation. 2) Catholics use contraception at about the same rate as members of other faiths. 3) Should Jehovah's Witnesses be given a conscience exclusion for paying for blood transfusions, which are contrary to their religious principles? 4) Why don't American Catholics take a stronger stand (with the Pope) against capital punishment?


Boo to Jim Graham
Thomas Redding,

For the Ward One councilman's crude, reckless anti-Catholic remarks during the D.C. City Council's debate on compelling religious organizations to pay for contraceptives with health care plans. I'm disappointed that the usually rational Larry Seftor is countenancing this bow-tied bigotry. The Archdiocese of Washington has every right to lobby against misguided legislation that would compel church institutions to violate Church teachings. If you and others are in fact “highly offended” by this exercise of First Amendment rights, then I would suggest you heed the immortal words of our ex-Mayor-for-Life and “get over it.” If this was an issue, secular or religious, that was of particular interest to a black church, we wouldn't even be talking about this; the council would be tripping all over itself to accommodate that church's concerns. So Bravo, Bishop Lori.

As for Mr. Graham, how ironic to see a “mean-spirited” liberal Democrat spouting hateful rhetoric against people of good conscience who hold views different from his. Who does he think he is, John Rocker? Instead of diversity/sensitivity training, I would suggest a good old-fashioned recall election to rid Ward One of this religious prejudice. Finally, after speaking with aides to Reps. Davis and Istook, I take great satisfaction in knowing that if Mayor Williams is foolish enough to sign this bill, Congress will take it and, figuratively speaking, use it to perform some creative amateur proctology. As well it should.


It’s Unconscionable
Ed T. Barron,

Why is Congress debating the decision by the D.C. Council to exclude a “Conscience” clause from the ruling that would force employers in the District to have their health care plans provide contraceptives to those women who have prescriptions for them? The “Conscience” clause would provide a huge loophole that most companies would take to save the cost of that benefit. I thought that the Control Board was established by Congress to provide oversight of the District's decisions, budgets, etc.

Now that Congress has stepped into this murky mess, then the District should play its hole card, our pseudo Congressperson, Ms. Norton. It's time to cut a deal. Hey, that's what Congress does, cut deals. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours while the taxpayers foot the bills. Here's the deal. In exchange for the D.C. Council's allowing the Conscience clause to be included in the health care plan regulations, Ms. Norton proposes that the District gets the right to tax those who work in the District but pay no taxes here. Now that's a deal.


New DC Law: Pass Two Joints for Any Reason, Get 10+ Years in Jail
Jim McLeod,

Some may have read in the July 12 Washington Post (Allan Lengel, “District Toughens Marijuana Penalties,” B1, about the City Council making marijuana distribution a felony. The article ends with a quote from one of the many who spoke out against the bill, “I just wish the council members were more interested in doing the bidding of the voters of [DC], rather than the U.S. Attorney's office.” On this note, at the July 11 reading, Councilmember Orange spoke against an amendment which would prevent those who are simply sharing a joint without a profit motive from being prosecuted as felons. Orange said the US Attorney wouldn't attempt to prosecute persons for distributing a joint and that even if she did, no jury would convict on that amount. He added, that in his experience representing criminal defendants in Superior Court, he never knew the government to prosecute a defendant for a felony if it only involved a joint. (The audience could not comment at this reading of the bill, but I would have reminded him that the DC Code is what has prevented the government from doing so up until passage of this bill.) Councilmember Chavous said he did not want to send a message that we were getting softer on those distributing marijuana (which the bill he voted on actually does for a first time distribution of less than a half a pound -- reducing the penalty from 1 year and $5000 fine to the non-jury demanable 180 days and $1000 fine).

Mr. Orange seems to say it all. Let's trust the US Attorney, because even if she attempts to prosecute on a joint, a jury of DC citizens can be trusted not to follow properly given jury instructions based on the law the Council passed. Orange and Chavous were 2 of 4 members of the 5-member Judiciary Committee who did not attend the committee's publicly announced May 10 hearing on the bill. So now, if you are convicted of distribution of a joint by a judge, who for the first time I know of in Superior Court will be the finder of facts on the merits in drug distribution cases, your second sharing of a joint with someone, even with a cancer or AIDS suffer, can mean five years, plus another five if the US Attorney prosecutes it as a repeat offense. Judiciary Chair Brazil seems convinced that these tougher penalties will deal with the problem. But the testimony at the hearing strongly indicated — and I'd submit decades of experience teach us — that the demand will not be significantly reduced by harsher penalties for traffickers. I think arresting users and offering them treatment would have more impact on reducing demand. Time may tell, but I wonder if our elected officials are truly interested in listening or just assume someone else -- like the prosecutor or a jury — will figure it out.

The Post didn't report how members voted: Phil Mendelson (At Large) and Sandy Allen (Ward 8) were recorded as voting against the bill, #13-240. Mr. Mendelson asked for a roll call on his amendment, which Jim Graham (Ward 1) and David Catania (At Large), in addition to Mendelson and Allen, voted for. The other 9 members, Linda Cropp (Chairperson), Harold Brazil (At Large), Carol Schwartz (At Large), Jack Evans (Ward 2), Kathleen Patterson (Ward 3), Charlene Jarvis (Ward 4), Vincent Orange (Ward 5), Sharon Ambrose (Ward 6), Kevin P. Chavous (Ward 7), voted against the amendment.


Arlene Ackerman
Leila Afzal,

We just received a letter from Arlene Ackerman admonishing all parents to make sure their children come to school on time and to remember school starts September 5. She goes on to lecture us about the importance of attendance and how our school will lose money if our child does not arrive in a timely manner. Not once does she mention what “on time” is. Considering all the news reports and discussion about changing school hours, it would have been helpful to know when we are supposed to get our kids to school. This is typical of the half-baked way she went about things.

And to Paul Vance, I say that an immediate way to improve schools is to lower the student/teacher ratios. In the five years that we have been in the public school system, the ratio has gone from 22 to 1 to 28 to 1. This is an untenable situation.


Reorganizing the D.C. Government
Ed T. Barron,

Mike Bindner, in his posting last Thursday, calls for a reorganization of the District Government. Hey, that should have been Tony Williams's first priority the first year after he was elected. You cannot focus on the little stuff until you take care of the really big stuff. It's like saying you can't take the time to learn how to type because you're too busy writing. It's quite late in the game but unless, and until, Mayor Williams does flatten that bloated inept and immovable bureaucracy we will be in a reactive mode, replacing one Department head after another with no real improvement in District services at lower costs to the taxpayers.

I called for Mayor Williams to address the bloated bureaucracy several times right after he was elected. Even sent him a long letter describing how to form teams that would result in a very flat organizational structure that would be both efficient and effective. Perhaps we will get lucky in Williams's second term, and he will begin to treat the disease instead of band-aiding the symptoms.


Hug This
Gregory Diaz,

Ah, the DC “tree people.” Last year we awoke one morning to find a giant limb drooping over our house from a tree across the street. Visual inspection revealed a huge and growing crack in a limb that was the size of your average tree. Calls to the tree people emergency line (after searching through a disconnected number and several voice mails) revealed they would “get to it” in about three months. Well, I posted warning signs and called the cops, who came, looked, muttered and left. Three days later, the limb cracked and fell. It pancaked a car parked in defiance of my neighborly warning, took out part of our railing, and blocked the street for hours. Hoo-hah! This past weekend, I noticed a similar droop in the same tree, different limb, threatening two houses across the street. I warned the neighbors, but look forward to more tree drama. Trees . . . you gotta hug 'em or cut 'em!


Trees in DC
Mark Schaefer,

Martha Saccocio's comments about trees in the District prompts me to share a story of my own. About two years ago, an elm tree mysteriously started growing out of one of the potted plants on the balcony of my apartment. After tending the tree as best I could, it was becoming too much work to keep the poor thing alive — I was having to water it four times a day, and the roots had reached their limit in this, its third and largest pot. Across the street from my apartment are a number of tree boxes that have been left untended and unweeded. So, on July 1, I decided to contribute to the city's beautification by transplanting my tree into one of the tree boxes. But that's not all.

Around the tree I planted red, white, and blue/violet flowers, and in front of the tree I planted a placard which reads: “This tree is dedicated to the more than half million veterans, taxpayers, and citizens of the District of Columbia who despite fighting in foreign wars, paying their full measure of taxes, and faithfully serving their country, continue to have no voting representation in the Congress of the United States of America. 'Taxation without Representation is Tyranny.'” The tree is on the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and 21st Street, NW, and has been attracting all kinds of attention from residents and tourists alike. You can see photos of the tree online at Who says social consciousness raising can't be aesthetically pleasing and good for the environment, too?


Semper Fi
Oscar Abeyta,

In response to Ralph Blessing's idea to dedicate the Iwo Jima Memorial as the official WWII memorial, let me remind him that that statue has another, more official name: The Marine Corps Memorial. The men depicted are Marines, and the inscriptions around the base of the statue list every battle the Marine Corps fought in since its inception. Being the son of a former Marine — although he would be the first to say, “Once a Marine, always a Marine” — I can assure you that past and present members of the Corps would not look kindly upon Mr. Blessing's idea to usurp their memorial for the sake of architectural expediency.


More on the Statehood Party
Thomas Smith,

The D.C. STATEHOOD GREEN party does not accept any corporate money; soft, hard or in-between. We do not accept in-kind “gifts” of any sort, not cash, not checks, not money orders. In other words we are completely 100 percent clean! Now that leads to my next point: we are here to make a progressive change in this colony of ours, AKA Washington, DC, through the political process. All of us are 100 percent volunteers dedicated to democracy and the democratic process for people untainted by corporate interest or money, and we intend to win with the help of the people. We are asking the people to support this effort in any way that they can. Some can contribute money, some can contribute time and effort; some will be able to introduce us to people that don't have access to the Internet, but whatever you can do, please do it now.

We D.C. residents are rapidly being excluded from the decision making apparatus by undemocratic forces intent on maintaining the colonial status of this city. The latest example? The profoundly anti-democratic, corporate-sponsored (Marriott Corporation + AOL = $60,000) referendum that basically gave up our right to vote for our own school board. This, superimposed on the background of the congressionally imposed control board, superimposed over Congressional control of our budget and our laws, superimposed over our absolute powerless impotent "non voting" representation in Congress! This is why I ask citizens to take this revolutionary stance and support the only real democratic and progressive party in this colony. Contact the DC Statehood Green Party at


“We Have Met the Enemy”
David Sobelsohn,

In the Wednesday, July 12 issue of themail Gary Imhoff referred to Walt Kelly's most famous “Pogo” cartoon. Here's what's actually in it: in the first panel, Pogo and Porkypine walk along a pristine shoreline in Okefenokee Swamp (which actually exists, straddling the Georgia-Florida border). Porkypine says “Ah, Pogo, the beauty of the forest primeval gets me in the heart.” Pogo replies, “It gets ME in the feet, Porkypine.” In the second panel, Pogo and Porkypine are seated on a tree looking at a dump, piled high with garbage. Porkypine: “It IS hard walking on this stuff. Pogo: “Yep, son, we have met the enemy and he is us.” The cartoon was published on Earth Day 1971.

[Actually, the reason that both “We has met the enemy” and “Friday the 13th” are famous phrases from Walt Kelly is that he used them frequently as catch phrases. I believe that the hunt for the enemy that I described was the first use of “We has met the enemy”; David's citation of the environmentalist adaptation was one of the last uses. At various times, Friday the 13th fell on any day of the week except for Friday, so any day of the week is correct in that quotation. — Gary Imhoff]



Rock Creek Gallery
Buck Downs,

Rock Creek Gallery kicks off its Summer 2000 schedule with an evening celebrating the publication of Winners: a Retrospective of the Washington Prize. This anthology features many of the Washington area's best-loved poets, and chronicles the growth of the Washington Prize from a modest local event to a national competition entered by poets from across the country and abroad. Rock Creek Gallery (formerly the Art Barn) is located on Tilden Street near Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park, approximately 1/2 mile off Connecticut. The celebration starts at 8 p.m., with readings by local poets whose work appears in Winners, and an open mike will follow.


Holt House Tour and the Legacy of Slavery
Eddie Becker,

You are very cordially invited to join a tour of the historic Holt House. Join the Kalorama Citizens Association's (KCA) Holt House Preservation Task Force for a one-hour walk around this historic landmark located on the grounds of the National Zoo overlooking Walter Pierce Park, and learn about its links to 19th-century industry along Rock Creek and to the history of slavery in the nation's capital, as well as about the current condition of this early 1800s house. Rain or shine, Wednesday, July 19, 6 pm. Meet at the west end of Walter Pierce Park, off the Calvert Street entrance behind Mama Ayesha's, by the picnic tables. It was the history of this house and surrounding sites that inspired the Chronology on the History of Slavery and Racism, Information: 232-6113.


Fundraiser for DCPL with Susan Kidd
Patricia Pasqual,

On Sunday, July 23, from 4:00 - 6:30 p.m.. the All Souls Episcopal Church in Woodley Park, 2300 Cathedral Avenue NW, will host a community-driven fundraising event to raise money and awareness about the D.C. Public Library. Susan Kidd, anchor of the NBC Channel 4 News at 5, will be hosting the event. The event's theme is, “Libraries Build Communities,” and it shows support for an institution that has always played a pivotal role in the development and preservation of community identity in Washington, DC. The Library's prized Washingtoniana collection — a vast assortment of DC-related cultural and historical artifacts, is unmatched even by the National Archives.

In addition to its role as a repository for the history and culture of the city, the Library also provides other important services and programs, such as children's reading programs, free computer training, and special resources covering music, arts, business, and Black Studies. For more information, please contact Dean Iacovelli at 547.0034 or at



Home for Girls
Jessica Lee,

Two great girls looking for a home: professional, quiet, responsible. Must be close to Metro — Dupont, Cleveland Park, Woodley area. Two bedrooms preferred, but may be able to work with one bedroom and large living space. Excellent references. Contact Jessica: 362-4688.



Tappan Gas Stove
Gary James,

I have a 1957 Tappan gas stove in very good condition I would like to get rid of . . . and since it is going to require some manpower to get it out of the basement and up the stairs and out of the building, I thought this forum would be a good place for DCians to consider purchase. E-mail or call 829-2198.


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