Image Three items in the newspaper caught my eye recently. One was titled, "Court upholds ban on Bible distribution"; another was "School bans tag on playground"; the third was "Governor spares inmate's life". Collectively, they reflected various functions of "government", as currently practiced in modern America. There is food for thought here.

The item about the Bibles came out of St. Louis, Missouri, where a federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling prohibiting the distribution of Bibles to grade-school students in a southern Missouri school district. The decision affected a longstanding practice at South Iron Elementary School in Annapolis, MO - 120 miles southeast of St. Louis - where representatives of Gideons International came to fifth grade classrooms and gave away Bibles. (Gideons is the organization that puts Bibles in hotels rooms.) A three-judge panel of the 8th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the distribution should be stopped. The American Civil Liberties Union had filed the original suit in February 2006 on behalf of four sets of parents.

The playground-tag item came from Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the Discovery Canyon Campus elementary school banned tag - a schoolyard game first mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls - from the playground after some students complained of being "harassed or chased against their will". Running games are still allowed, as long as they do not involve students "chasing" each other.

In Texas, Governor Rick Perry spared the life of Kenneth Foster - the driver of a getaway car in the 1996 murder of Michael LaHood, Jr. Foster was scheduled for execution within hours of the governor's commutation of his sentence. Under Texas law, accomplices and actual "triggermen" are held equally liable for a crime. (Another condemned man was executed earlier this year under the same statute.) The murder occurred after Foster - driving a rental car - followed Mr. LaHood and his girlfriend to their home where Maurice Brown, a passenger in Foster's car, demanded Mr. LaHood's wallet and car keys. Brown shot the 25-year-old man when he did not produce them. Foster, Brown, and others had committed four other robberies before the killing occurred.

Someone said, "Mercy is greatest in the mighty." The phrase has a catchy ring, and we can all feel warm and fuzzy when the life of a young man is spared from the executioner's needle. Like most Americans, I have never killed another person and I certainly wouldn't want to participate in an execution. That is why executions are not ordered by individuals, but by the state, under laws duly passed and vetted by the People's representatives. No individual carries on his conscience the burden of ordering the death of another person. In our system, the People govern themselves under laws enacted by representatives they have selected. This is what republican democracy means. The governor is also a servant of the People of Texas. He does not govern under an alternative system of laws of his own making.

In this case, the governor spared a young man who participated in a senseless crime that took a man's life in front of his horrified girlfriend. He is dead. His life's purpose can never be fulfilled. Her life is scarred beyond comprehension by having witnessed his obscene murder. His parents and other loved ones will never be the same. There was no redeeming purpose in his death. He was entirely innocent. Under Texas law, his killers - including the driver who put them in a position to kill Mr. LaHood - deserved to lose their own lives as punishment for their crime.

Governor Perry averted his eyes from all that sordid reality and extended the mercy of the mighty to one of the killers. Is this why we elect governors and other representatives of the People? No mercy was available for the victim. He begged for mercy, but obtained none from the thugs who slew him. His blood cries out from the ground. His body lies in a coffin concealed from our sight, while his killer lives, breathes, reads in the prison library, files appeals, and hopes for his future freedom. Readers possessing a higher knowledge of such things will have to excuse me for not seeing the justice here. Mr. Perry did not further justice, but perverted it.

Well, if I'm upset about this case that involved "chasing" an innocent victim, shouldn't I be happy that a school has outlawed the practice of students chasing others around the schoolyard? Isn't tag a prototype for the very kind of activity that led to Michael LaHood's unfortunate death? (Can't we all just get along?) People who ought to know better - and who should have better things to do - are making such arguments about recess-games at schools. Is this why we have school principals and other educational officials?

As a boy I was regularly chased and harassed after church each week by three boys who were three years my senior. I was no match for them, physically - certainly not for all three at once. They would catch me, punch me, and rub my face in the dirt. One boy was the minister's son. His parents disbelieved my reports of the pursuits, or thought I must have provoked the "three innocent friends". Maybe I did, by not being cowed. My resistance seemed to outrage them.

Several years of unpleasantness passed. By age 13 I had grown bigger and stronger. I was not pugnacious by nature, but one evening all the rage from those years of harassment and injury boiled up and erupted in the church cloakroom. I turned on one of my tormentors, who lacked the protective company of his two fellows at that moment. I threw myself upon him in a frenzy of punching, scratching, head-butting and clothes-tearing. Bystanders tried to separate us, but I shrugged them off like flies. He was still bigger, but not enough stronger to prevent my inflicting some damage. I didn't really "beat" him, but when it was over he knew he had been in a fight. That incident marked the end of the chasing and the needling.

I was 10 and the bullies were 13. That "tag" was not innocent. Their purpose was injury - for no reason I could ever fathom. They just didn't like me. But the schoolyard tag I played as a boy was different. Certain rules were observed. We all knew how it was supposed to work. No one was hurt. That kind of tag did not lead to Michael LaHood's death. It was just a game - part of our growing up. The three bullies were part of my growing up, too. Perhaps it was best that no one intervened to stop them. In time, I dealt with them decisively on my own.

The Bible-banning incident is no longer in the man-bites-dog category, so common have such court actions become. We are well into the stamp-out-Christianity era with respect to our public life. Some people seem to think this will remove any rationale for Muslims to insinuate their religion into our public life and schools, but they might be deluded about that. Militant Muslims already know how to use the courts. Does anyone think a piddling ACLU suit would stop them from handing out the Koran to public school students, should they decide to do it?

Far more pertinent is the question of why it is thought so important to suppress the Bible's influence and message. To get at the answer one must understand that millions of Bible- and history-illiterate Americans now believe that Christianity is a hate-filled, destructive influence on society, and that we will all be just fine without it. This is the "noble savage" construct, applied to 21st century life - i.e., the idea that aboriginal savages were naturally peaceful and kind until European religion corrupted them. (Aztecs who tore the still-beating hearts from living victims were, after all, just practicing good, clean fun.)

However ludicrous the noble savage idea is shown to be, it is extremely tenacious and now influences governmental and judicial decision-making at high levels. The Judeo-Christian Scriptures - long accepted as the bedrock of American law and practice - are now regarded with suspicion and hostility by liberal elites across the spectrum of government and education. They are determined to drive it out of American life.

When the Bible is finally expunged from American public life, our law will be based solely on esoteric, individually held ideas of right and wrong - a slender reed that will snap at the least challenge. We shall become the savages that elites so much admire, and our society will be doomed. No society based on savagery has ever endured. As things stand, our government appears to be presiding over our own cultural and national suicide. Is this why we have government?