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For a nation whose founders were men with values rooted in religion, the United States is doing a superb job of trying to erase godly presence from things governmental. In an effort to rid every vestige of comment, writing and thought that might make people think in a different way or accept others for who they are, federal bureaucrats continue to remove religion from the public landscape. We stand especially appalled by an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's plan to ban any type of religious expression in the workplace.

The EEOC drafted so-called religious harassment guidelines (a provision in refining the 1964 Civil Rights Act) that smack of religious suppression. With broad and vague definitions, the guidelines hold the aim of freeing workplaces of conditions where religion is forced upon employees or used as a basis of discrimination. This noble intent notwithstanding, the guidelines lose their way by potentially stifling any manner of religious exhibition: a Bible on the desk, a prayer said over an office lunch, a bit of inspirational verse from the Gospels kept in open view.

Bureaucrats at the EEOC argue that such extreme scenarios divert attention from real problems with religious harassment in the workplace and would not be subject to the guidelines. But what is to keep that from happening? The commission supplies no precision to an arbiter who might have to rule on such cases. And once a single judge arrives at a decision that rosary beads kept in plain sight on an office desk violate EEOC guidelines, the die is cast for all future rulings. The inertia of federal guidelines, once put in motion, boggles the mind of any citizen believing common sense can prevail.

Consider this: The Southeast Missourian supports the annual Mayors Prayer Breakfast, buying several tables of tickets at the non-denominational event that continues to grow in size and stature. The tickets are offered to employees of the company; no one is forced to accept a ticket as a condition of employment, and no one is castigated for not stepping forward to volunteer to attend. The tickets are offered merely as a means of support for the breakfast and as a company benefit to interested employees. Yet, the EEOC guidelines could potentially find fault with this gesture, the case being made that this company estranges workers whose religion (or lack of religion) is offended by the distribution of these tickets.

The process of chipping away marches ever onward. Think of a local instance. Baccalaureates for graduating seniors were until recent years functions of the public high schools the students attended. These days, public schools do not run the risk of sponsoring such activities, instead depending on various community organizations to lend support. At Cape Girardeau Central High School last year, seniors risked discipline in their final school activity by standing to include a prayer in their commencement ceremony.

There are other more recent episodes on a national level that stimulate this debate. Late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court left intact a lower court ruling that forced Cobb County, Ga., officials to remove a copy of the Ten Commandments posted on a courthouse wall. County officials argued, "The judicial branch of our government has been allowed to coerce the American people into an amoral straitjacket ...." Well said. Sadly, a U.S. District judge last week ruled that First Amendment rights are violated when a fire department prohibits its employees from reading Playboy magazine at a firehouse, a public building. Playboy is OK, the Ten Commandments are not ... talk about an amoral straitjacket.

Proposals such as the one stewarded by the EEOC crop up in our government from time and time and get greeted with eye-rolling by most people with good sense. Gradually, however, these notions gain a foothold in the laws Americans live by and the regulations Americans must abide by in their workplaces. The trend deserves resistance. We appreciate those who made their voices heard on the issue, those who object to the government's measured disposal of religion from daily lives.