People who donated money to help refurbish a city park in Newburyport, Mass., in exchange for bricks inscribed with personal messages are now suing the city and the community group that launched the project because their bricks were removed, reports the Associated Press.

The city removed the bricks, which were used in a sidewalk near a children's playground, because the messages "Jesus Loves You" and "For All the Unborn Children" were deemed inappropriate and may violate the constitutional separation of church and state. The sponsors of the bricks claim the move violated their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religion.

Distorted? A TV Drama?

NBC last week apologized for an episode of the drama Law & Order that some deemed insensitive and distorted. "We sincerely apologize for offending members of the Latino community," the network said in a statement quoted by the AP. "We have agreed not to repeat the episode on NBC."

The network made the decision after meeting with Manuel Mirabal, head of the National Puerto Rican Coalition. Mirabal said the episode, about a parade-day rampage by Puerto Rican youths in which women are molested and one is killed, distorted a real but similar occurrence during last year's Puerto Rican Day parade in New York.

Dick Wolf, executive producer of the drama, was incensed.

"The bedrock of American democracy is free speech and lack of censorship," Wolf said. "The network has caved in to the demands of a special-interest group and I am extremely disappointed with this decision, about which I was not consulted, as I think it sets an extremely dangerous precedent."

Prayers Invoking Jesus Dubbed 'Insensitive'

A small but growing number of Colorado state legislators want their respective chambers to stop saying prayers at the beginning of their daily sessions because it may be insensitive, and may run counter to rules regarding the separation of church and state, reports the Denver Post.

House Minority Leader Dan Grossman, a Denver Democrat, lead the charge to halt the tradition in one of the first votes of the 2001 session, but he failed. But he did have 11 house members and at least one senator behind him.

The Post reports that Denver Democratic Sen. Ken Gordon "recoiled" when, on the Senate's opening day, the priest giving the prayer invoked the name of Jesus Christ. "It's kind of insensitive on their part," he said.

Battery Talk Lands Indiana Professor in Hot Water

An Indiana University professor has been warned to stop engaging in "inappropriate" classroom behavior that demeans or insults students, or face "appropriate sanctions," according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Daniel Cohen is accused of telling students in his elementary-education course that "if your English were as poor as your mathematical skills, you would not be able to function in society" and referring to a battery as having a "nipple end" and a "butt end."

A university affirmative action officer concluded that Cohen's actions did "not lawfully constitute discrimination or retaliation," but that the "comments and behavior in class were authoritarian, condescending, and demeaning to students."

ACLU: Pledges and Mottos Go Too Far

The American Civil Liberties Union is objecting to two proposed bills in Virginia, one that would require public-school students to learn and recite the Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms displaying the U.S. flag, and another than would require schools to display the phrase "In God We Trust" on campus.

The latter bill, says the ACLU, violates students' First Amendment rights and sends a message to non-Christians that they're "outsiders." And the ACLU objected to the former even though students with religious objections could get an exemption by providing a note from a minister, rabbi or priest.

'Firemaster' Term Offensive to Women

The Scottish Executive are considering a proposal to stop using the term "firemaster" or "firefighter" to refer to people who professionally fight fires because the former is offensive to women and the latter is "too aggressive."

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities supports the proposal, according to the Ayshire Post, but fire officers have branded the suggestion "political correctness gone mad."

Conservative Member of the Scottish Parliament Phil Gallie agreed with the latter.

"I think it is the Scottish Executive that need to find some aggression in weeding out those who come up with such ludicrous suggestions," he said. "And instead, spend more time on the issues which really affect the lives of the men and women alike who live in their constituencies."

Everyone but Christians OK

The Louisiana branch of the Christian Coalition is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of a Louisiana school district's policy permitting civic and recreational groups to hold meetings in its buildings after hours except for organizations with a religious message.

A U.S. district judge ruled in 1999 that the school board's policy on access to school facilities was unconstitutionally vague, saying there was no way to tell when allowable speech about religious material turned into religious instruction. The ruling was overturned last year by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Stuart Roth of the American Center for Law and Justice, which filed the appeal on behalf of the Coalition, said: "If school officials permit other community organizations to use its facilities, they cannot reject a request from an organization with a religious message."

Quotation of the Week:

"The overall thrust of the task force report is that we have to move beyond issues of tolerance, and even beyond just mere acceptance, to a condition of affirming, to actually affirm and celebrate the diversity that GBLT people bring to the university."
Philip Bereano, Chairman of the University of Washington task force on Gay, Bisexual, Lesbian and Transgender Issues, as quoted by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Mail From the Central Servers:

Daniel P. says:

The Tyranny of the Easily Offended is alive and well in 21st-century America. Let's all grow up and accept the fact that we live in a big ol' world with lots of things that we may not like. Deal With It!

S.T. writes:

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words ... words might hurt me deeply, causing great emotional, mental, and psychological damage leading to a lowered self-esteem and decreased work-related efficiency.

Ethan D. believes:

Whether "he would have wanted it" or not, the memorial of Roosevelt in a wheelchair is a very important image. Roosevelt tried to hide his disability most probably because the general populace would not have stood for a "cripple" in the Oval Office. Showing Roosevelt how he really was is far, far less of a crime than glossing over the historical reality.

But Brian C. says:

The piece you did on FDR's statue was great. Never mind that he did smoke. Never mind that his wife wore a fox stole. Let's change historical facts to match our agendas. Give me a break people get a life!

Cliff A. remembers:

I grew up during the height of the Cold War. I distinctly remember that one of the most prevalent criticisms of the Soviet Union was that the leaders deleted or rewrote history for their purposes. You may remember an old joke that had to do with a two-country athletic event that the U.S.A. won. In the Soviet news coverage, they came in second and the U.S.A. was next to last, with no mention of the number of teams participating.

Regardless of personal philosophy, everyone in this country ought to be scared to death of any attempt to change or delete any piece of our nation's history. Political correctness is killing straight talk, and to some extent, good humor in this country.

I fully understand the danger of ethnic stereotypes and abhor slurs of any kind, but we simply cannot, and should not alter in any way what has gone before. The freedom that truth brings is as important as any freedom set forth in our Constitution.

Justin P. wonders, apropos of the Confederate flag debate:

Why is it that in this country everyone's heritage is protected and celebrated except for conservative white Christian Southerners? We are the only group in America in which it is still politically correct to malign.

Etan V. says of Tongue Tied:

This is so lame. This is what your journalistic career has come to? Get out of the business.

Brian W. says:

I for one would like to say that I am a firm believer in the separation of Church and Steak. I wouldn't dream of eating steak in the sanctuary while church was going on. My separation is very simple: I go to church first and then I go eat steak afterwards. This makes it easy for me to remember which goes first. I think if more Americans would apply this rule of thumb, then they would not have such a problem with the separation of Church and Steak.