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Charleroi Council made right decision

| Friday, March 26, 2004

Freedom of religion is one of the priceless gifts we received from our nation's founding fathers.

It's a gift that guarantees us the right to practice the religion of our choice without fear of governmental reprisal. It also, of course, gives us the right not to practice any religion. Simply put, it guarantees our right to choose.

Charleroi Borough Council correctly endorsed that concept earlier this month, when it rejected a request to ask borough merchants to close their stores on Good Friday from noon to 3 p.m. -- the time Christians believe Jesus was crucified.

While some members of council personally supported the concept, they were reluctant to put a governmental stamp of approval on something clearly more religious than secular.

Asked for his advice on the idea, borough Solicitor Dennis Paluso said he believes approving the request could be construed as a violation of separation of church and state.

The words "separation of church and state" are not found in the U.S. Constitution, but were first used by Thomas Jefferson in 1802, when he answered a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association asking why he would not proclaim national days of fasting and thanksgiving, as had been done by Washington and Adams before him.

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions," Jefferson wrote, "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State."

The nation's courts have since used the establishment clause of the First Amendment to rule that a separation of church and state must exist.

After borough council rejected the Good Friday proposal, Mayor Ed Paluso said it used to be a tradition that borough merchants close their doors between noon and 3 p.m. that day.

Some merchants still observe that tradition, Main Street Manager Donn Henderson said, adding, "I think it's totally up to the employer and their employees."

So do we.

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