A weekly newspaper in Richmond, Va., has come across what it calls a "blooming violation" of the clause requiring separation of church and state — a bed of azalea bushes in the shape of a cross on public property.

Style Weekly says the display in Bryan Park dates back more than half a century, but a local gadfly says the 12-by-20-foot show of spring color is long past its prime.

"You can understand in the sensibilities of the time 40 or 50 years ago," says Mike Sarahan, a former attorney with the city of Richmond. "But in the sensibilities of our time, in a multicultural and interfaith society, we should be more attuned" to the meaning such symbols evoke, he says.

Sanity Prevails

Officials in Washington State opted not to take a woman's vanity license plate away despite complaints from some nimrod that the letters on the plate constituted an illegal endorsement of religion by the government, according to the Tacoma News Tribune.

Jane Milhans has had a plate reading "John 3-16" for some 21 years without a complaint, but a woman recently called the state to say that the plate should be illegal.

"I was offended that I have to be 'prayed over' by a license plate. ... What happened to keeping church and state separate?" the woman wrote. After reviewing the issue, however, the Department of Licensing's review committee said the plate is fine.

The Kids Are All Right

The mother of a Florida high school student who posed for a photograph with his girlfriend holding a leash attached to his neck for a yearbook gag is demanding that all copies of the book be recalled because she finds the image offensive, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Robert Richards was voted the school's "Most Whipped by his Girlfriend" and appeared with Melissa Finley in the Boynton Beach High School 2005 yearbook to celebrate it. But Richards' mother, Jacqueline Nobles, has a problem with the image.

"I know it's supposed to be in fun, but there are people still having trouble with African-Americans' past and this will be offensive," said Nobles, who added that the picture reminded her of the poster for the 1970s miniseries "Roots," which featured a manacled slave. "This picture, to me, is very distasteful."

Richards himself, however, is clearly in the post-racial frame of mind about the whole incident. He believes his mother and those who might share her anxiety think differently about racism and slavery because of their age. He and his peers aren't as conscious of race, he said.

Flori-duh

Florida Today is reporting that the family of one graduating high school senior in that state wants its child's graduation moved from a local chapel to a more secular venue. The parents of a Palm Bay High School student, with the help of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, are threatening to sue unless the school district covers up all religious symbols at Calvary Chapel in West Melbourne for the ceremony.

Barring that, they say they want the ceremony moved.

"Nobody wants this graduation to be disrupted," said Alex Luchenitser, senior litigation counsel for AUSCS. "We just want this to take place in a way that all students feel comfortable, no matter what religion they believe in."

School officials say moving the ceremony would disrupt three more public school graduations scheduled at the church and have said they will not change their plans.

Insensitive Imagery

Arab-Americans in Detroit say a science center exhibit that includes a Taliban flag in a section about Sept. 11 and mentions Afghanistan's ties to the drug trade is insensitive in its use of Islamic imagery, reports the Detroit Free Press.

The groups want the exhibit, which features a white flag carrying the Arabic statement "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah," changed to ensure it does not offend Muslims.

Hassan Jaber, associate executive director of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, says the statement on the flag is fundamental to Islam as a whole and the flag's Taliban connection does not justify its presence in the exhibit.

Heroes of the Week

American Indians in Florida are suggesting that the NCAA and other groups trying to force Florida State University to change its team name, the Seminoles, should mind their own beeswax, the Palm Beach Post reports.

The real Seminoles gave the university permission to use the "Seminoles" nickname and tribal symbols in 1997, but activist groups such as the American Indian Movement and the NCAA are pressuring the university to stop using the "racist" imagery. Real Seminoles, however, say they are proud of the association and would be somewhat dismayed if out-of-state busybodies had their way.

"I have a problem with other native groups from around the country telling the Seminoles of Florida what is right or wrong for us," said Louise Gopher, education director for the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

For more doses of politically correct nuttiness, head on over to the TongueTied daily edition.

Mailbag:

Chris D. in Daytona Beach writes:

So I did a quick Internet search on the Center for Equal Opportunity. Why would you quote this sham group? It's clearly one of these now-legitimate lobby groups that started life as a white-rights group and that has somehow managed to get absorbed by the right wing of the GOP.

I agree with the substance of the article you've written regarding what should be an assumption of first-come, first-serve when registering for college courses, but in my mind, you weaken your coverage by quoting this group.

Did you even try calling a traditional civil rights organization for comment? You might have been surprised by an answer that supported your agenda (and it's clear you had one, simply by your choice of a group to call and quote) from the NAACP or ACLU. They're kooky, but they're also occasionally pretty fair in their pursuit of justice. They might not have liked this college's methodology, either.

You've pulled one over on most readers — who were meant to assume that your Center on Equal Rights was the status quo among civil rights organizations — but I think it's poor reporting.

Judith W. in Louisville, Ky., writes:

It seems that the people who "say the coveted classes are meant to offer a safe haven for minority students and give struggling students a chance to work more closely with professors" are saying minority students are less capable of passing a so-called standard class or that minority students are incapable of interacting with others who are not minorities.

I think that is very insulting toward minorities and highly discriminatory. These people owe an apology to all minorities for this insult.

Robert S. in Huntsville, Ala., writes:

I am glad to know that it is now against the law in San Francisco to speak out in support of legalizing gay marriage because that would be insensitive to my religion.

Jim in Kansas City writes:

I am puzzled why this is in "Tongue Tied." Are you saying there are places where insensitive comments about race, religion, color, ancestry, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, weight, height or place of birth are allowed?

I have worked for businesses and companies all my life, and I have never seen such a place. Such practices are bad for the work environment, bad for production and good for nothing. The (San Francisco) Board of Supervisors did exactly what they should have done. It isn't silly to have this policy, it would be silly not to.

Manuel C. in Omaha writes:

Just one question for the West Indian man suing the Lost Coast Brewery. If he is suing for $1 billion on behalf of the Hindu world, does he plan on writing as many $1 checks — 'cause if not, maybe the Gottis of the world should take a page out of this guy's book.

Mark R. writes:

The "Hate Beer" article regarding the use of the Hindu deity Ganesh holding some beers on a beer label was well-written and objective until it came to referring to the situation as "politically correct nuttiness."

What is nutty about a religious group not wanting its sacred images publicly defiled? What if a company issued "Jesus Beer" with a label depicting a drunk or stoned Jesus holding beers in hand?

John G. in Acworth, Ga., writes:

In your Quick Learners article of May 16, the parents are quoted as saying "it's not about the money. It's about respect." Too bad they don't teach that to their kids. If they had a little more respect for teachers, authority and each other, this article probably would have never surfaced.

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