CLEVELAND (TDB) -- Cuyahoga County is run by Democrats, and they appear to have strayed pretty close to saying the family that prays together stays together in a promotional handbill touting parents appreciation week next month. The flier is being distributed by the county's Family & Children's First Council and says: "Please take a moment during the week to observe and celebrate your religious practice as a family."
Not a bad sentiment. And definitely the kind of advice social conservatives and the evangelical right -- along with many others, perhaps a majority -- would not deem questionable. But what about those in the Cleveland area who don't go to church, temple or mosque, or who don't "observe and celebrate" any kind of religion, or happen to be atheists? Are they some kind of inferior or second class citizens who cannot participate fully in the county's "You Gotta Love Parents . . . Appreciation Week," which begins on September 21? Does a statement by a government funded agency urging parents to take part in religious ceremonies run afoul of the constitutional separation of church and state?
The one-page flier is well-intentioned and The Bellwether was able to obtain a copy (PDF) from the official Cuyahoga County government Website. A concerned tipster, however, felt that the statement runs directly counter to the idea that government should not promote religion. Mostly, the handbill is about events taking place during the appreciation week, including a walleye fishing tournament at Voinovich Bicentennial Park. The line about religion seems to have been added as a way to cite the spiritual side of life as one of "the many resources available to assist in the vital role of parenting."
Family and Children First Councils are created by state law and their members are appointed or hold office under auspice of the county commissioners. They are part of the human services complex. They don't pass out money for human services programs, but do help influence and decide how money should be spent. In Cleveland, the council backs a fatherhood initiative, and homework centers. They are just of many programs and initiatives. Some of what the Cuyahoga County council does is available here.
So far, there's been no publicity or questioning of the council's decision to urge religion as a way to strengthen Cleveland-area families. And the move may actually steal some thunder from the Republicans and the right. For years, the GOP and its Family First allies have banged on the Dems. Now, if a flap ensues, they may to rush to the defense of the elected commissioners who run Cuyahoga County -- three Democrats who are ultimately responsible for a handbill that says religion has a place in strong family life.