Readers Write: Mike Pence, racial covenants, native rituals in school, United Nations


Opinion editor’s note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes letters from readers online and in print each day. To contribute, click here.


While I am not a fan of his politics, former Vice President Mike Pence should be acknowledged as a great American hero (“Trump, Eastman knew election ploy was bogus,” front page, June 17). I cannot imagine the courage it took for him to stand up to the pressure exerted upon him.

Dennis J. Sutliff, Minneapolis


According to Wikipedia, “The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award bestowed by the president of the United States to recognize people who have made ‘an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.'”

After Thursday’s Jan. 6 committee hearing, President Joe Biden should award Pence the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His rejection of former President Donald Trump’s efforts to stage his illegal coup plan clearly demonstrated his courage and loyalty to the Constitution.

Keith Bogut, Lake Elmo


Thanks to the Star Tribune for the article related to racial covenants in Ramsey County (“Racial covenants span St. Paul,” Jan. 16). The article, however, omitted a key piece of information. The reason why most Ramsey County deeds containing racial covenants “appear to have been registered in the 1920s and 1940s” was because racial segregation became the official policy of the federal government during that time period. As part of the New Deal, the Federal Housing Administration refused to insure any mortgage in or near racially integrated neighborhoods and required that there be a racial covenant in order to qualify for a federal guarantee. Thus, housing developers would have found it difficult, if not impossible, in the midst of the Great Depression to build homes without racial covenants or for individuals to obtain a loan without a racial covenant. In 1944, after World War II, the Veterans Administration adopted these same racist policies in the administration of its home loan program for returning veterans.

It is important to recognize that the racial covenants described in the article were not simply the decision of private citizens. These racial covenants and the segregation of American cities was a direct result of government policy. These policies also denied people of color access to credit and other wealth-building tools, including thousands of veterans who fought for this country abroad and were denied benefits given to white veterans. For more information, read “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” by Richard Rothstein and “Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America” by Beryl Satter.

Mark Ireland, St. Paul

The writer is a district court judge.


So, the Mapping Prejudice project has uncovered racially restrictive covenants in old real estate documents — that have been legally unenforceable in Minnesota for almost 70 years. A question for the “6,000 volunteers scouring deeds” to allow progressive homeowners to proudly declare their disgust with the dusty documents in their home’s title history: Wouldn’t their volunteer time be better spent addressing the appalling current racial inequities in Minneapolis and St. Paul, rather than chasing ghosts from our distant past? Maybe tutoring children from disadvantaged backgrounds or supporting efforts to finance businesses owned by Black entrepreneurs, for example.

Jerry Anderson, Eagan


It has been reported (“Schools consider Native ritual,” June 15) that St. Paul Public Schools is eyeing a new policy allowing and encouraging the Native American practice of smudging — the burning of sage or other sacred herbs for healing — at schools and events across the state’s second-largest district. The reports indicate that smudging is cultural, not religious in nature. That is belied by the statement that it is sacred herbs that are burned. That indicates a religious nature.

It is admirable that people learn about native culture and beliefs, and Native American children do need to feel that they belong, but I see allowing, even encouraging, the practice of smudging, a native religious practice, as opening the door to the allowance of any and all religious practices in the public schools — a bad idea and unconstitutional according to the U.S. Constitution.

Carolyn Landry, Hudson, Wis.


So good that St. Paul Public Schools is considering allowing Native American smudging rituals, the burning of sage and other sacred herbs for healing positive energy replacing negative thoughts. There may be some resistance to this by separation-of-church-and-state advocates, but why not expand this to every faith belief system? Christians could have daily communion prayer services, Muslims their daily prayer times, Jewish worship, Bible studies, intellectual studies, etc. … something for meeting everyone’s needs.

Thirty minutes of free time could be added to each school day offering something for everyone, including study or group discussion time for any nonparticipants. Special holy days could be recognized for all faiths. Students could be invited to participate in every ritual as a unique opportunity of learning about all faith practices, and our community diversity understanding would be all the better for that privilege.

Michael Tillemans, Minneapolis


In considering allowing the native practice of smudging, I would caution school districts to consider some possible ramifications. While I have no objection to the practice or the passing on of cultural rituals, this could be construed by some as a religious practice. This opens the door to other groups seeking acceptance of their rituals. Personally, I have no issue with students expressing their beliefs or opinions, which is a constitutional right, but the consideration in this instance is, what practices and activities will the school district decide are allowed or not? What would the schools decide in the case of a Wiccan practice being promoted as cultural as opposed to a religious practice? How does the practice of students holding prayer meetings on campus fit into this discussion? Disclaimer: I was part of a group that held Bible Studies on campus, during lunch periods or before school as a high school student in the 1970s.

Again, I just caution school districts to be cautious of determining what is a cultural as opposed to religious practice — and what is cultural that some might construe as religious.

Jay Lawton, Willmar, Minn.


Is there a better question than “United Nations — irrelevant?” (Star Tribune Opinion online, June 7.)

How about: What is the United Nations?

A metaphor might help. It would be an image we can visualize aside from the U.N.’s uniquely shaped building with flags outside and a great council chamber inside.

The metaphor can be a campfire. Around that campfire people of the world are having conversations about “looking for ways to strengthen all citizens’ desire for peace and justice,” in the words of Stu Ackman of the United Nations Association of Minnesota (our local U.N. campfire).

Many thousands of years ago, around campfires, we learned from each others’ daily discoveries to look for what was out there, what was safe, what wasn’t, which path led to a future, which didn’t.

Staring into the glow of prehistoric embers, we discovered our single most important tool: conversation. We learned if we beat around the bush then what’s in the bush will likely eat us.

We learned not having a conversation is more threatening than the conversation.

Today we still fall prey to what’s out there but far less than if we had no campfire-type places for conversation. We know instinctively a campfire is a good place to have a conversation. We tend to listen to each other around a campfire, even more, perhaps, in the darkness.

In the glow of the United Nations’ campfire, we can keep alive hope that we are finding ways to strengthen all citizens’ desire for peace and justice.

Wever Weed, Long Lake


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