Readers Write: Minneapolis and the environment, religious freedom

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

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The recent article on groundwater issues around Lake Nokomis is misleading (“The hole story in Nokomis,” April 20). The article implies that homes were built on peat dredged from Lake Nokomis. Not true. Park Superintendent Theodore Wirth may have been overaggressive in reshaping shorelines by today’s standards, but he did not create “100 acres of man-made buildable land.” What was dredged from the lake was used to fill surrounding wetlands that are now beach, bathhouse, parking lot and playing fields mostly west of the lake, not housing lots.

Neither did the dredging create Lake Nokomis; it defined a previously marshy shoreline and deepened the lake. If Wirth and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board are responsible for water problems, it is because by creating a more defined and, in their eyes, more attractive lake, they created an attraction for new homes to be built nearby. Those homes were built on soils the Park Board had not touched. The extensive historical summary in the cited white paper of Park Board actions in the area merely demonstrated that peat soils were known to be a problem.

Finally, the article should have noted a key finding from the white paper: Most homes in the study area with water problems sit 5 to 19 feet above the surface water levels of Lake Nokomis and Minnehaha Creek.

Let’s not blame the Park Board for excessive rainfall or where people built homes. In fact, the Park Board deserves praise for attempting over many decades to ameliorate some of the excesses of park planners in the less-informed past, at Lake Nokomis and elsewhere in the city.

David C. Smith, Minneapolis

The writer is the author of “City of Parks: The Story of Minneapolis Parks.”

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I much appreciated the recent article about the 30×30 initiative to protect wild ecosystems on 30% of the United States (“Minnesota behind on federal land conservation goal,” April 26). I would like to add a few points to your report.

This is not just an idea of the Biden administration but a goal put forth by a coalition of governments to protect the world’s biodiversity.

This is important because humans are changing the world far faster than evolution can keep pace with. Nonhuman species are having to contend with human-produced pesticides, poisons, plastics and climate change and the destruction of forests, grasslands and the oceans. And we are likely one of the species that will also be unable to keep up. The millions of species that make up the web of life (that also supports us) are failing to survive the human takeover of their environments. We have seen dramatic reduction of insect and bird populations in even a millennial’s lifetime. This destruction is accelerating, with catastrophic potential for human well-being. And how do you reweave that web, when the strands are missing? Humans cannot reverse the loss of biodiversity; it will take nature hundreds of thousands of years for that to happen.

I vehemently disagree with U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber’s characterization of the effort as “no more use of our lands.” This is not, and cannot be, an effort to keep humans off of 30% of the world. This is about humans using land and water wisely, with sustainable farming, logging and fishing (even mining!) practices, rather than destructive ones. There may be preserves, but these will always be a small percentage of “protected” lands and water.

Finally, this needs to encourage a mindset among all of us that humans and nonhumans all have an important place in the natural world, and that we are dependent on each other for our well-being and happiness. This applies to wherever we are, from our lakes, woods, farms and suburban yards to city parks.

David Brockway, Hopkins

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

When one makes a personal commitment or a promise to God, as has Joseph Kennedy, who else should be held to that promise? (“Justices hear coach prayer case,” April 26, and “High school coaches should not lead prayers,” Opinion Exchange, April 19.) When a public figure who is in any powerful position makes a public display of a personal faith, it creates an implied obligation for others to honor and participate in that ritual.

Public displays of thanking God for athletic performance are common but not always appreciated. Taking a knee after a touchdown and pointing to the sky has been the subject at times of an excessive celebration. I’m certain I’ve never seen such a gesture after a missed free throw. These gestures seem to me to be a “Look at me!” moment rather than personal and private devotion. Interruption of a mixed social gathering by wishing to pray aloud for the upcoming meal is a form of narcissism that both the Bible and the Qur’an find abhorrent.

If you feel that public prayer in which participation is requested — or, by dint of authority, coerced — is a freedom of religion issue, then you must accept the same from a Muslim or otherwise non-Christian coach.

Jerrol Noller, Anoka

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As long as the practice is voluntary and generic, the Supreme Court case is much ado about nothing. Same for the former Viking kicker’s opinions (“High school coaches should not lead prayers”). Too many liberal left-wing politicians, media and faithless citizenry continue their tacit drive towards universal atheism. Who knows, the next thing to go may be the Pledge of Allegiance.

This country’s faithful founding believers and generations thereafter held fast to “in God we trust.” It appears as we drift from that principle, the more uncivilized we become. Minnesota nice? Hardly to be found in Minneapolis, home of the Vikings, where day and night violence has become the new normal. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for more good old-fashioned religion and Protestant work ethic. Of course, that would require a conscience and discipline not readily attractive to many today.

But then, today’s playbooks are not working, so what have you got to lose by trying something different? For sure, it would take leadership of a different kind than those in charge today.

John D. Smith, Stillwater

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The Bill of Rights was enacted to secure in the Constitution the rights of the people against the dictates of government. That its very first clause prohibited any laws “respecting an establishment of religion” demonstrates how important it was to the founders to protect us from government dictating which religious tenets are “correct.”

A problem arises when public employees try to use their position to advocate their personal religious views. That is what Kennedy did when he was a football coach at a high school near Seattle. He began taking a knee at the 50-yard line to pray after games, and when any students joined him, he would pray loudly. He said that he did this to make his players better people. Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, currently before the Supreme Court, is a case where the establishment clause of the First Amendment conflicts with the free exercise of religion and free speech rights claimed by Kennedy.

At the very least, the establishment clause forbids government to coerce people to adopt religious practices that it prefers. Coercion includes more than the government’s ability to fine or arrest people. They might feel that they should comply with the government’s wishes to signal their patriotism or to please their peers by conforming with a group behavior. As former Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the decision of Lee v. Weisman, “government may no more use social pressure to enforce orthodoxy than it may use more direct means.”

Justice Kennedy noted that children are especially vulnerable to psychological pressure. This is why government must take particular care to avoid injecting religious persuasion into public school activities.

Former Coach Kennedy assented to restrictions on his right to religious expression when he accepted government employment in a public school. He is, however, also demanding the right to make himself the center of attention at the 50-yard line of a crowded stadium. The court must consider not only the rights he is claiming but also the right of the students that were in his charge to be free from religious coercion by government representatives.

George Francis Kane, St. Paul

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