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Today's "separation of church and state" issue is made to sound as if there is a specific agenda for the church to take over the state. This charge builds into a needless hysteria.

The constitution of the United States guarantees a state church will not be established. Yet, at the same time it guarantees free exercise of religion.

It is apparent that the ultra-secularists mistakenly perceive that constitutionally-guaranteed religious influence is the same as establishing a state church. It is not.

Churches have enough of their own concerns. Why would they want to "take over" and mesh their duties with the state?

The fact is, they don't want to. But people of decency and faith, however, do want a higher sense of ethics and civility in the culture.

In over 40 years of closely following current events, I have never spoken to any person who wants to establish a state church. But I have encountered many who favor the positive influences of faith in the society.

To establish a state church one would need a doctrine, a hierarchy, holy books, hymnals, liturgies, baptisteries and auxiliary components. To date, I have not seen any legislators advocating such, nor even coming close it.

Symbols of decency uplift the culture. Things like prayer in school, the posting of the 10 Commandments and saying "under God" in the pledge point to an underlying core of order and stability.

Standards and boundaries are essential options to avoid social collapse. The censorial left should not be permitted to rinse the society of all religious symbols.

The misguided and ill-spirited opposition to spiritual influence is a shame. Yet, I offer a sense of gentleness to such blindness. I am reminded of the teacher who said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Perry Klopfenstein

Gridley

Festival of Trees a 'resounding' success

As the grateful recipient of this year's Festival of Trees outstanding success, The Baby Fold thanks all the community volunteers, sponsors and attendees who made the event a resounding success.

The 2005 Festival netted a solid $135,000, exceeding the goal by $10,000!

Each year, The Baby Fold faces a budget deficit due to an increased need for child and family services in our community and a lack of increased funding from the state.

There is a real need in Central Illinois for specialized education, residential treatment, early intervention, adoption and foster care that we all must fight to protect.

Thankfully, the generous support of this community helps to offset part of our annual deficit by their attendance, sponsorship and donations to the Festival of Trees.

This support means that hundreds of children and families in your own neighborhoods will continue to receive the services they require for building safe, loving and healthy lives.

Thank you, McLean County and beyond, for being a part of The Baby Fold family. May you enjoy a blessed Christmas and extended holiday season, knowing that you did make a difference again this year.

Dale S. Strassheim

Rural Hudson

The writer is chief executive officer, The Baby Fold, Normal.

Thanks to road crew

I live along Route 136 in the southeast corner of McLean County. The state road crew does a great job. Thanks so much to them.

Jeane Bright

Rural Bellflower

State Farm program a gift from the heart

Last night (Dec. 17) we attended "The Sounds of Christmas" program held in the State Farm atrium. The program was truly inspirational and moving.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved: the musical performers, the behind-the-scenes people and State Farm for donating the venue.

It was the combined effort of many people who have been richly blessed with talent and who have chosen to richly bless our community with the sharing of their gifts.

"The Sounds of Christmas" may more appropriately be entitled "The Spirit of Christmas," because in this frenetic time when folks can get so wrapped up in material gifts, this program was a gift upon which no price tag can be assigned; it is a gift from the heart that truly reminds us what the real spirit of this season is all about.

-;Beverly and Jerry Kauffman

Normal

Wilkersons deserve credit for dictionaries

I have just read the excellent article in the Dec. 19 Pantagraph about the Verizon Foundation's distribution of dictionaries to third-grade students in our area.

As a retired Verizon employee, I have been aware of Verizon's continuing interest in educational and literacy programs. The Walter G. Wright Telephone Pioneer Chapter, of which I am a member, was in charge of coordinating this dictionary program with the schools and handling the distribution.

While most of us Pioneer members stood on the sidelines and applauded the program, it was Ruth and Sherman Wilkerson who did virtually all of the work. Ruth is secretary-treasurer of the Pioneer Chapter and Sherman is the chapter president.

While this has been a labor of love for Ruth and Sherm, they deserve recognition and thanks for all their efforts.

Ben Pietrowiak

Bloomington

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