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September 19, 2000


Football Prayers: A Symbolic Revolt

Together with the national anthem, public recitations of the Lord's Prayer have been a standard part of Friday-night gridiron rituals in small-town America. Now the federal judiciary says that such organized expressions of faith don't belong in a publicly sponsored event. Why must the tradition die?

Had the high court justices perhaps read Jesus' words preceding the Lord's Prayer, admonishing Christians to offer their prayers in quiet and seclusion? Probably not. The football prayer controversy concerns neither sports nor freedom of religion, contrary to what you may have read. Advocates of public prayer are engaged in a symbolic crusade to preserve, protect, and assert cultural identity and traditional authority structures of the American heartland. Most revolts envision the future; this one calls for a return to the past.

America continues to change, particularly in terms of ethnic diversity. Americans of European ancestry, who now account for three quarters of the population, will make up only fifty percent in the next half century. Throughout our history, waves of immigrants have repeatedly challenged mainstream values before becoming assimilated. The Temperance movement that lead to prohibition can be seen as a symbolic rebuke by native Protestant culture to the alcohol-friendly Irish, Eastern and Southern European newcomers at the turn of the century. More recently, displays of the Confederate flag convey a related symbolic message to uppity segments of the population.

America is now becoming more diverse, as growing numbers of Asians and Hispanics make their presence felt in mainstream culture. Tolerance and secularism in the public arena appears to be the only way to keep peace among the multitude of competing beliefs. This religious pluralism, however, creates a serious challenge to the established authority structures anchored in the churches of America's heartland. Paul H. Ray, a noted demographer, reads it as an alarm signal to small-town middle-Americans who fear that control of the country is being usurped by foreigners and big-city folks who just don't fit into the nostalgic images of Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne movies that represent the ideal America to them.

The frantic, confrontational atmosphere of Friday-night football may not offer the best opportunity to commune with God, but it's a great place to bend the knees of outsiders, reminding them who's in charge. It also sends a symbolic message to Washington, New York, and Hollywood that their power stops at the stadium gates. Amen.

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Letters to the Editor

Editor’s note: The following letter, from City Council member from District 6, Bess Rich, to the Mayor of Mobile, Mike Dow, and with copies to media representatives, was received last week by The Harbinger.]

Dear Mayor Dow:

I received your letter regarding the Industrial Development Board on 9-8-2000. I asked that the Council delay for one week Ms. Thompson’s appointment in order to secure more information on the composition of this board. As you know, there are 13 IDB members that serve six-year terms and are appointed by the Mayor’s office. I was surprised to find there are presently five members whose term of office expired in 1998 and continue to serve as permitted by state law. In November of 2000, four additional IDB member terms expire.

The IDB serves the purpose of industrial recruitment for our community. To achieve this they issue incentives to prospective companies such as tax abatements. I believe it is essential that companies such as Alabama Power be represented on this board. On the other hand, our air quality and community health standards are becoming a very important factor in the type of companies we recruit. How many more "smokestack" companies can our community accept?

Is it true that a scrap metal company is coming to the homeport site? I would appreciate confirmation of this and any information you might have.

Your IDB appointments in the past have consisted of bankers, businessmen and women, public relations specialists, hospital administrators, and utility representatives. Since you have many expired terms on this board, I hope you give great consideration to naming an environmentalist, public health care specialists, a public education representative, and professional regional community planners.

I have always affirmed your appointments to the IDB in the past and intend to do so with Ms. Thompson on Tuesday. However, future appointments (hopefully, within the next month) should reflect the expertise to address the serious air and health issues that increased smokestack and chemical (to name a few) industries bring to our community.

Sincerely yours,
Bess Rich - Councilwoman District 6

cc: Mrs. Cheryl Thompson, Alabama Power Company
Mr. Jim Apple, Asst. Sec, IDB, Mobile Chamber of Commerce
Dr. Bernard Eichold, Mobile County Health Department
Dr. Dino Frangos, President, Mobile County Medical Society
Ms. Casi Callaway, Director, Mobile Bay Watch
Mr. Mike Marshall, Editor, Mobile Register
Mr. Mark Holan, Reporter, Mobile Register
Dr. Edmund Tsang, Editor, Harbinger
Dr. Harold Dodge, Superintendent, Mobile County Public School System
Mr. Ross Wimberly, Executive Dir., South Alabama Regional Planning Commission
Honorable members of the Mobile City Council

Dear Editor,

There is a serious parking problem at this University [of South Alabama]. Student enrollment is at an all-time high, far exceeding the University’s available parking spaces. Every lot is filled beyond capacity during peak hours, forcing too many students to park alongside curbs or even on the grass. But does the University attempt to resolve the problem? No! They penalize students for the University’s inability and/or unwillingness to meet student needs and exploit the opportunity to profiteer from parking tickets! Must students take cabs to school or skip class rather than be soaked by the University?

Every lot in the University has this problem, but most of my negative experiences occur in the lots near the University Center, the Humanities Building, as well as the lot adjacent to the ILB and Visual Art buildings. Every day is a big hassle attempting to find a parking spot or even just enter and exit the lots in a timely manner. You can see the problem for yourself everyday, so I am not telling you anything that you do not already know.

At 11:05 a.m. on Wednesday, September 13, I decided that I had had enough. I exited the ILB on my way to my vehicle when I noticed that there were vehicles all over the parking lot. Every space was filled. Perhaps as many as twenty automobiles were parked alongside the curbs due to the severe lack of available parking spaces. And every one of those vehicles was ticketed by USA police.

"This is nuts!" I thought out loud. What are we supposed to do? What CAN we do? All of these students parked here out of necessity! Incensed, I determined that I would appeal the parking ticket issued on my windshield that day. I drove immediately to the University Center planning to walk right into the Vice President of Student Affairs office in Room 270 to point out the injustice of what had happened both to me and many other students on that day. But wouldn’t you know, I circled around the University Center parking lot in a futile effort to find a parking space. I then drove around the Humanities building parking lot before I found one available parking space far beyond all the cars parked alongside the curbs and way over on the opposite end of the lot from the University Center.

Incidents like these are experienced repeatedly everyday by the overwhelming majority of the student body, so I know that you know precisely what I am talking about.

The University is negligent by not providing adequate parking spaces to accommodate the volume of students they so happily accept the tuition money from even as they circle about the parking lots ready to swoop down like vultures and pick every last cent off the student body. The University gets the students coming and going, and it is time that we stood up to them and forced them to resolve this problem of their own creation.

It certainly seems as though the administration has lost sight of what the function of a university is. The function of a university is to create an environment of learning about oneself, one’s relations with one’s fellow humanity, and one’s relation with the world in which one lives. It accomplishes this function by bringing people from diverse backgrounds and experiences together in order to facilitate open discussion and reflection upon ideas. Granted, we live in a market-oriented system in which people and institutions must remain profitable in order to survive, but making money by exploiting bad situations just because the opportunity exists is NOT the function of a university. The University should be profitable precisely because it performs its function and fulfills a human need, in this case the need for knowledge, discovery, and growth. If the University places this function foremost, then it would neither need nor desire to abuse the students in the manner that is currently doing. But of course, the administration prefers to spend money on non-academic goodies like the Mitchell Center rather than build the necessary parking lots for it to perform its obligation to the students who commute here everyday to learn. That way they can make more money from professional wrestling and issuing parking tickets. Real classy, Gordon!

Until the important and necessary needs of the mostly commuter student body are met, all the unnecessary frills are just Bread & Circuses. But why settle for crumbs when we can have a moratorium on parking tickets until the University gets its act together?

Kenneth Norris


The Harbinger