This puritanical busybodying is the besettingrnAmerican sin. Our own famihesrnare plagued by divorce and child abuse,rnbut we think we have the right to settlerncustodv cases for the Cubans. Our streetsrnare nightmares of ethnic violence, but wernare willing to bomb European cities inrnorder to prevent wars between Christiansrnand Muslims. And then we wonder whyrnthe world hates us.rn~ Thomas FlemingrnTHE U.S. SUPREME COURT, laternin Januan,’, dodged a bullet by refusing torndecide whether Maryland’s decision tornclose its public schools on Good Fridayrnviolated the First Amendment’s EstablishmentrnClause. State and local GoodrnFriday closing laws have been with us forrnman)’ generations, but recently they havernbeen challenged in the federal courts. Itrnwas only early in this century that thernSupreme Court declared that the FirstrnAmendment’s restrictions on religion applyrnto die states; after all, the text of thernFirst Amendment only prohibits actionrnb- Congress, and there were three establishedrnchurches and religious restrichonsrnon the franchise and holding public officernin 11 of the 15 original states at therntime the First Amendment was adopted.rnFor most of our histor)-, it was not uncommonrneven for federal judges (includingrnthose on the Supreme Court) to staternthat the United States was a “Christianrnnation.” Madison, writing in the Federalist,rnimplied that Americans’ shared possessionrnof Christianit}’ was one of the factorsrnworking in favor of sound republicanrngovernment, and Tocqueville, trying tornexplain why democracy worked in America,rnpointed to Christianity as one answer,rnhideed, the Founders believed thatrnthere could be no order without law, nornlaw without morality, and rro moralityrnwithout religion. They had no difficult)’rnwith the official promotion of Christianit)’,rnthough they believed that the federalrngovernment should not embrace any particularrnsect.rnThe worn,’ among many civil libertiesrnorganizations, however, is that any overtrnendorsement of Christianity by governmentrnwill lead to political or perhaps psychologicalrndamage. Thus, in the Mar)’-rnland Good Friday closing case, thernJewish teacher who challenged the holida)’rnargued that the state’s practice “sendsrna message of inclusion to Christianrnschoolchildren and a message of exclusionrnto their Jewish, Muslim, and nonbelievingrnclassmates.” Talmudic distinctionsrnare called for here, as the actions ofrnthe American Jewish Congress seem tornsuggest. With commendable chutzpah,rnthe AJC supports closing schools on YomrnKippur and Rosh Hashanah, on the theoryrnthat the absence of many pupils andrnteachers on those days could make conductirrgrnclass difficult or expensive. But itrnopposes Good Friday closings or Easterrnvacations because of its belief that “Thernestablishment clause ensures that ours isrnnot a Christian nation; rather, it is a pluralisticrnone, comprised of peoples of myriadrnfaiths, beliefs and views.”rnIt is apparently the labeling of thernspring holidays as “Good Friday” orrn”Faster” vacations, without invoking evidencernof a secular justification, that bothersrnthe AJC. Picking up the cue, Mar)-rnland, Indiana, and other jurisdictionsrnthat have successfidly defended GoodrnFriday closings have begun to argue thatrnthe holidays have a secular purpose:rnavoiding costs of absenteeism, or providingrna spring holiday during the longrnstretch bounded by Martin Luther King,rnJr., Day and Presidents Day on one endrnand summer vacation on the other.rnThe federal courts of appeals appear tornbe buying that argument, applying thernaptly named “Lemon test,” mentioned inrnmy Cultural Revolutions last month.rnThis test is maddeningly difficult to apply.rnFor instance, it forbids official displaysrnof freestanding creches or menorahs,rnbut permits these seasonal symbolsrnif they are combined with non-religiousrnitems such as Santa, his elves, and reindeer.rn(This is known in the trade as thern”three plastic animals” rule.)rnIn lettirrg the federal appeals court decisionrnin the Maryland Good Friday closingrncase stand, the Supreme Court mayrnhave decided that, in an age when a Presidentrncan seek to avoid the commissionrnof perjury by ruminating on what thernmeaning of the word “is” is, it is permissiblernto allow religious holidays when thernfig leaf of a secular purpose can be modestlyrnplaced upon them. If the Court decidesrnnot to rule on the issue, this will becomernthe accepted practice. This doesn’trnexactly encourage respect for the rule ofrnlaw, but it might help avoid excessive entangleirrentrnof the federal courts with thernexercise of popular sovereignU’ by staternand local governments. The SupremernCourt has, at this writing, not yet indicatedrnwhether it will take on the Indianarn”Good Friday” closing case, which is alsornbefore it, but m’ bet is that it will not.rnThis spring, the Court is already obligatedrnto determine whether the federalrn”Violence Against Women Act” is constitutionalrn(it should not be, but the Courtrnwill ignite a firestorm if it so decides); itrnwill likely pronounce on the constitutionalit)’rnof school vouchers (too close torncall); it will ride on the permissibilit)’ ofrncompulsor)’ student fees to finance partisanrnpolitical activities (should be a nono);rnand it may even overturn the requirementrnof the Miranda warningrn(don’t bet on it). This will be one of thernmost important Supreme Court terms inrnyears, and it should set the stage for a battlernbetween the presidential candidatesrnover the Court’s role in national life. Atrnthis point, the Supremes don’t need thernGood Friday dispute, and they would dornbest to avoid it.rn—Stephen B. FresserrnT H E RUSSIAN A R M Y began its bigrnpush to take the Chechen capital,rnGrozny, on the day after Christmas, directingrnartillery and air power at concentrationsrnof Chechen fighters near therncenter of “Dzhokhar.” (The rebels havernrenamed the city in honor of the firstrnpresident of independent “Ichkeriya,”rnDzhokhar Dudayev.) Thousands of civiliansrnremain, cowering in the dank cellarsrnof Dzhokhar/Grozny, either frightenedrnby reports that the Russians are strafingrnrefugee columns along the “secure corridor”rnleading south or intimidated by thernIslamist warlords, who may calculate, asrnthe Great Teacher of the Peoples himselfrndid during the horrific siege of Stalingrad,rnthat the troops will defend a live cit’rnbetter than a dead one.rnBy mid-January, however, Moscowcouldrnno longer pretend that all was goingrnaccording to plan (assuming there isrnone). Army General Mikhail Malofeyev,rndeput)’ commander of the Russian forcesrnin northern Grozny, was shot throughrnthe head by a Chechen sniper, his forwardrnHQ contingent all but wiped outrnby Chechen rocket-propelled grenadesrnduring a firefight in his sector. FollowingrnMalofeyev’s embarrassing death,rnMoscow began a shake-up of the militar)’rncommand structure, and official sources,rnafter claiming fantastically low casualt)’rnrates for months, admitted losses ofrnaround 1,200 men in the North Caucasusrnsince last fall. (Those figures arernprobably still low.) Moscow now appearsrnto be planning to declare victory (assumingrnGrozny eventually falls) and get out.rnAPRIL 2000/7rnrnrn