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Never thought a cop would be asking me questions during ‘Viewfinder’ assignment

Bobs Column - The B SideEvery other week, I perform one of my many responsibilities for the Reporter. I head out, camera and notebook in hand, to complete “The Viewfinder,” a man-on-the-street question that we pose to five regular folks. We print the answers to the question along with the photo, name and hometown of the people who are nice enough to participate in both the Reporter and Regional News.
It’s not always easy. There are times when one person after another refuses to participate. Heck, some just walk past me without breaking stride, saying something or another about not being interested or having enough time.
That’s OK. I’d rather they take part, but I can’t make them. I just move on to the next person. Other folks are happy to answer. In some cases, they subscribe to the Reporter or the Regional. They stop, listen to the question, come up with good answer and pose for a photo. They ask when their photo will appear and seem genuinely pleased that they were selected.
Still other folks are willing until they see my camera, and that’s when they decide not to be part of our weekly feature. It’s frustrating, I’ll admit, to have someone volunteer a great answer only to become camera shy. Again, though, I can’t force them to participate.
That’s where Mary from Evergreen Park comes in.
I encountered Mary last week at Lake Katherine Nature Center in Palos Heights—my favorite place to do “Viewfinder” since the weather has warmed. Mary had a great answer to the question: “What are your favorite summer activities?” She said she enjoyed coming to Lake Katherine and talked about what a gem it had become since it was turned into a nature preserve.
But when I pointed my camera at Mary, she turned her head away. I snapped a photo, but it would have been unusable. I asked her to pose a second time, but she refused. Then she got a little skittish, asking for my name and identification. I did not have my press card, but I told her to call my office if she had any concerns. She said she didn’t and again asked for my name before walking away.
But Mary’s concerns must not have subsided because she called the Palos Heights Police. Several moments after speaking with her, I drove out of the parking lot and was stopped by a police officer who approached in his SUV and asked if I was taking pictures of people.
I explained who I was and what I was doing.
He asked for my driver’s license, called it in and apologized for the stress. We talked for a moment, and I recommended that he call my office to confirm who I was—a simple step Mary from Evergreen Park chose not to take. The police did call the office and the issue was settled.
I wondered for much of the day, what makes people like Mary tick?
If she was uncomfortable with participating, say so and walk away. If she was camera shy, say so, and walk away.
Instead, she allowed me to take a picture of the side of her head, walked away and called the police. What did she expect would happen? “The Viewfiner” is a ruse and in reality I’m some creep who prowls Lake Katherine with a camera? She could have called my office, but there’s no drama in that. Far better to call the police and make something out of nothing.
I get that these can be troubling times. I cover crime in six towns and see weird police news every week. Just read our police blotter and you’ll know what I mean.
But when did some people become so suspicious, so paranoid, so distrustful that everyone they encounter is a con man or villain?
Lake Katherine is a great place for walking or stopping for lunch and ideal for interviewing folks because there’s a steady stream of people there, most who are happy to chat. I’ve met some interesting people there.
Bill Moore, also from Evergreen Park, answered my question and we chatted about how he was told 10 years ago that he had only months to live. A decade later, Bill’s still around and loves to hike at Lake Katherine, the Little Red School House and Starved Rock. He thanks Jesus Christ for saving his life. I enjoyed my time with him.
My painter friend is often stationed at the picnic table near the entrance of Lake Katherine. He’s always working on another scenic oil painting that captures the beauty and essence of the scenery and wildlife. We’ve talked about this and that and he’s a regular reader of this column, which is always appreciated.
Two weeks ago I met some older men who hail from Ireland. They explained to me that Claire is the best county in Ireland. I defended Mayo, where much of my family comes from. We had some laughs and both participated in “The Viewfinder” Thanks, fellas.
Unfortunately, I did not have the same luck with Mary from Evergreen Park. But I won’t forget her. I’ve been doing this kind of work for more than 25 years and no one has ever found the need to call the police.

Inside the First Amendment — ‘Freedom of speech for me, but not the other guy’

  • Written by Gene Policinski

Campus collisions over commencement speakers. Over-the-top public reaction to celebrity shockers. And genuine fear of physical reprisals over controversial issues.
Clearly, we’re a nation vigorously exercising our lungs as well as our rights.
Vigorous give-and-take in the “marketplace of ideas” is part and parcel of the First Amendment. The amendment’s 45 words protect our right to speak out, but certainly don’t mandate politeness in public comment or shelter those in that marketplace from less than full-throttle debate in the hope of changing minds or winning elections.
The U.S. Supreme Court over the years has reaffirmed our right to speak out even when it brings pain to others — at military funerals or by allowing Nazi-wannabes march through a predominately Jewish neighborhood near Chicago.
But we can go from “rights to wrong” — by preventing speakers from being heard simply because we oppose their views. By threatening harm rather than challenging ideas. And by trying to extinguish voices in place of speaking out ourselves.
William Bowen, former president of Princeton University, used his commencement speech at Haverford College just days ago to criticize a small group of students and professors who campaigned against the original speaker, Robert Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. The critics attacked Birgeneau for his 2011 decisions in an incident involving police and student demonstrators.
Vocal protests and the threat of more led former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to cancel her commencement speech at Rutgers University. International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde withdrew as speaker at Smith College’s graduation ceremonies. Brandeis University pulled back an invitation — along with the offer of honorary degree — after opposition arose to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Muslim women’s advocate who has made comments critical of Islam.
If nowhere else in our society, universities should be places where differences of opinion and opposing views are aired and discussed, not shunned or victim to political correctness and closed minds. But lest we think this rampant aversion to being offended by those whose views we oppose is limited to academia, let’s take a broader view.
Mozilla co-founder CEO Brendan Eich resigned some weeks ago after an orchestrated campaign by some staff and businesses to damage the company’s business. Criticism erupted earlier this year over a $1,000 personal donation Eich made in 2008 to an California petition effort opposing gay marriage.
One column writer, in the online publication The Daily Beast, advanced the theory that Eich invited such retaliation because he didn’t just express his views, but rather urged using the “power of the state” in support of them. I believe Madison and Jefferson and others called that the democratic process — advocating policies and laws based on one’s views, in a freely conducted political campaign in which all arguments may be heard.
The Dixie Chicks’ country music career hit a slump in 2003 after singer Natalie Maines slammed then-President George W. Bush during a concert in Great Britain. Critics stopped buying “Chicks” records and concert tickets — but others made death threats.
As Maines later asked in song: “How in the world/ can the words that I said/ Send somebody so over the edge/ That they’d write me a letter/ Saying that I better shut up and sing/ Or my life will be over.”
Threats of over-the-top retaliation have led to legal attempts — unsuccessful thus far — in California and Washington state to hide the names of those who signed petitions in support of referendums opposing laws legalizing gay marriage — advancing the theory that public debate will be diminished if one side fears violence or intimidation simply for participating.
In court filings, those advocates presented multiple accounts of vandalism, threats of being “gunned down,” ongoing public harassment at home or work, and even of people being fired from jobs though no political activity had taken place at work. In other words, mob over mind.
There’s no ready answer — or bright “don’t cross” line — in determining when sharp and pointed debate turns into what’s colloquially called a “heckler’s veto,” hushing a speaker by shouting them down.
But there is value in allowing an opponent’s views to be fully heard — if only to be better prepared to counter those ideas, and to ensure the right to be fully heard oneself.
Long-deferred national conversations over race, gay rights, religious diversity and more have been prompted remarks and proposals that have been uncomfortable to hear, at times even repugnant to many. Time and again, the key to countering such views — and advancing our nation — has been more speech, not less.
Freedom of speech means all can set up and “hawk their wares” in the marketplace of ideas. It does not empower someone to, figuratively or literally, burn down the opposition’s display.
Gene Policinski is chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute and senior vice president of the Institute’s First Amendment Center. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Graduation is worth yelling about, just don’t do it during ceremony

Bobs Column - The B SideGraduation ceremonies are meaningful.
They represent a combination of closure and celebration for students who have worked diligently during three years of middle school or four years of high school to achieve a goal.
The “Pomp and Circumstance March” plays, students proceed into the gymnasium and proud family and friends position themselves to capture the moment on camera.
A few meaningful speeches are delivered, the chorus sings and then it’s time for diplomas to be distributed. But at some point before students proceed across the stage, the assembled are asked to hold cheering and applause until the presentation of diplomas ends.
Waste of words. Waste of time.
I’ve attended three graduation ceremonies at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School as well as last week’s ceremony at Oak Lawn Community High School and in each case; the request falls on deaf ears for far too many families.
When the name of their loved one is called, they stand up and scream his or her name or simply shout as though they’re at a Blackhawks game.
“Way to go, Jessie!” “Whoo-hoo!”
I sat near a group of girls at last week’s Oak Lawn Community High School ceremony who stood up, shouted and waved glow red glow sticks when the name of their friend or family member was announced.
Really?
I’d be embarrassed to do something like that, but it’s become commonplace. And the thing is, there’s nothing school administrators can do to stop it. I’d love to see a principal or superintendent stop a ceremony, step to the microphone and says, “Knock it off.”
I often wonder what’s goes through the minds of these folks when the request is made to hold applause until the end. I’m guessing they figure it’s an instruction meant for others. No one tells them what to do. I’m also convinced that the hooting and hollering is more about them than the graduate.
It’s especially amusing to look at these folks immediately after they make fools of themselves. They’re so proud, looking around to see who noticed their silly performance. I get the sense the screaming and shouting is more about them than a salute to the graduate.
Don’t misunderstand. You have every right to be proud of your son, daughter, brother, sister when they walk across the stage to receive their diploma. They worked hard for their sheepskin and are ready to take the next step in their young lives. It’s an achievement to be sure.
For some, the graduate may be the first in the family to finish high school. There’s good reason to be excited. But again, you’re not at a pep rally. Go out to dinner, have a party, raise the roof. There’s plenty of time for revelry and partying. But not during the ceremony. It’s inappropriate.
The Class of 2014 is graduating. It’s their moment, not yours. Don’t embarrass yourself.

Props to Mike Riordan

Mike Riordan, principal and superintendent of Oak Lawn Community High School, told me that each year he praises graduates for their community service during his commencement speech. This year, that remark was greeted with a hearty round of applause.
There’s no doubt in my mind that most people think Riordan did the right thing when he stood by school policy and prevented more than 40 students from participating in the ceremonies because they never performed the voluntary hours and submitted falsified documents indicating that they had.
He sent the message that the school takes its community service requirement seriously and actions have consequences even if means telling a young man or woman that they will not don a cap and gown and graduate with their peers.
Riordan has taken some heat and criticism for his action, but he understands the importance of integrity and teaching it to students even if a hard lesson is needed to do it.

On a personal note…
I saw my son in his cap and gown last week and could not have been more proud. He’s not college bound, but has a made a career choice and is making strides to flourish in the field. He connected with several teachers and counselors at Oak Lawn Community High School that helped point the way, though he probably didn’t know it at the time.
My thanks to them.

How many details are too many details regarding teacher’s murder?

 

I can rest easy now that I know the grim details surrounding the death ofBobs Column - The B Side Brother Rice teacher Al Filan. I feel better now that I’m aware of the sensational specifics that apparently led to his January death at the hands of a prostitute.
Alisha Walker, a 21-year-old prostitute from Ohio, is being charged in Filan’s death. She’s being held without bail in the Cook County Jail and is next expected in court May 28.
I now know, for example, that investigators found multiple ads from an online female escort service on the desk in Filan’s home. Also, the veteran teacher was found under a bay window on his kitchen floor wearing a gray sweatshirt, jeans and brown socks, according to an autopsy report that was reported by other media outlets.
But there’s more.
Filan was found lying face-up with his head resting against the base molding at the bottom of a wall and tilted toward the left shoulder. His hands were resting on his mid-section, his right leg was extended and his left leg was bent at the knee with his foot resting against a chair that had fallen over, the report said.
Not enough?
Well, the report goes on to describe the location of 14 knife wounds and the condition of the body after it was discovered during a Jan. 21 well-being check at Filan’s Orland Park home.
I get it. Reporting the details of an autopsy report is part of an ongoing story when someone allegedly is murdered or dies as a result of suspicious circumstances. It’s part of our job as reporters. And you, as readers, have the right to know what happened.
For instance, the information about the stab wounds Filan incurred are important because Walker contends she acted in self-defense after she and Filan fought over money. The number and location of wounds may support or disapprove her claim in court.
Unfortunately, some enjoy reading these titillating tidbits, which have all the makings of a cable TV movie.
But what about Filan’s family and friends? Do they have no right to privacy? Or must they endure unending media reports about his gruesome death—each and every excruciating detail.
For example, more than one newspaper report led with the information about escort service ads found on Filan’s desk.
Let’s be honest, that’s not the most important detail in the autopsy and police reports, but it’s the most salacious item, so the media plays it up because it implies that Filan regularly sought the services of call girls. Maybe he did, and it clearly is not appropriate conduct for a man teaching at a Catholic high school.
Filan had a weakness, and he paid dearly for it in the end. When the incident occurred, he took a beating on Facebook from a slew of judgmental folks who apparently would be fine with a thorough inspection and public reveal of their private lives.
As a newspaper reporter, I routinely advocate for our rights to inform the public with as much information as possible. We are not public relations or marketing people hired to put a positive spin on story. But we have an obligation to be sensitive and think about the impact our writing will have on others. That responsibility is routinely overlooked.
Maybe I’m too close to the Filan story. I attended Brother Rice High School, where he taught for 40 years. He was my teacher on one occasion, but I did not know him well—had no real affinity for the man. I just think that a man who committed himself to young people both in the classroom and on the athletic field deserves a modicum of respect.
I found one sentence in a Sun-Times story about the autopsy report especially interesting. “Though Filan taught at Brother Rice for nearly 40 years, it was a representative of a nearby hotel in Orland Park where he also apparently worked that contacted police and asked for a well-being check after Filan failed to show up for a Jan. 20 shift, according to the report,” the story said.
Read that sentence carefully and appears to be saying that Brother Rice did not care enough about one of their own to check on their well-being check.
Of course, Jan. 20 was Martin Luther King Day and school was not in session. I’m sure Brother Rice appreciates the subtle insinuation that they did not care enough about Filan to pick up the phone.

 

Inside the First Amendment - Politics and perils of closing school for religious holidays

  • Written by Charles C. Haynes

As New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will soon discover, adding religious holidays to the school calendar is a slippery slope on the rocky terrain of public school politics.
  Earlier this year, the recently elected mayor announced plans to close schools on two Muslim holidays — Eid-Ul-Fitr (end of Ramadan) and Eid-Ul-Adha (end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca) — and the Lunar New Year, an important holiday for many Asian communities.
  Right out of the box, the Association of Indian Americans expressed great disappointment that Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains in India and other South Asian countries, didn’t make the list.
  Deciding who’s in and who’s out on school calendars is a complicated political and legal conundrum in a city (like many other American cities) exploding with religious and cultural diversity.
  Mayor de Blasio is drawing the line at three — the three he thinks most justified — but balks, for now, at adding others for the obvious reason that students don’t learn much if they are not in school.
  But wait. Doesn’t the First Amendment’s Establishment clause bar city officials from closing public schools on religious holidays? Yes, if the purpose is to accommodate religion. No, if the closing serves a legitimate secular or educational purpose.
  The best, and perhaps only, “secular purpose” for shutting schools on a religious holy day is when opening school doesn’t make financial or educational sense. New York City and some other school districts, for example, close on major Jewish holidays because large numbers of Jewish students and teachers will be absent.
  It’s worth noting that most Christians don’t need to push for this accommodation because Protestants baked Christian holy days into the school calendar when they founded public schools in the 19th century. Schools don’t meet on Sunday, Christmas is a national holiday, and many “spring breaks” still fall during Easter week.
  If numbers drive these decisions, where should public schools draw the line? As the population of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and others grows in many American cities, how can school officials afford to keep adding holy days — even when the numbers are compelling?
  Some school districts have decided the best solution is to say “no” to everyone. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, schools in Hillsborough County, Florida don’t close for any religious holidays (save Christmas, which is also a “secular” holiday).
  Other school districts choose to follow the numbers. In Dearborn, Michigan, for example, where almost half of the students are Muslim, schools close on Muslim holy days.
  It could be argued that Mayor de Blasio has defensible secular reasons for expanding the school calendar to include two Muslim holy days. Although it isn’t entirely clear how many Muslim students are in NYC public schools, most estimates put the number at about 10 percent. And with Asians comprising some 15 percent of city students, closing on the Lunar New Year could also make financial and educational sense.
  But here we start down the slippery slope. New York City is also home to many Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains — and they are lobbying hard for recognition. The Diwali Coalition, an interfaith group, recently wrote the mayor arguing that the numbers favor their cause. Asian Indians make up 2.4 percent of the city’s population — and that doesn’t count thousands more of other racial and ethnic groups that also celebrate Diwali.
  As religious diversity continues to expand in all parts of America, many school and city officials may be forced to decide that Hillsborough County has landed on the only viable solution.
  But whatever schools decide about the calendar issue, they should do two things to promote fairness and uphold religious freedom:
  First, every public school should have an absentee policy that allows students to miss school on a reasonable number of religious holidays without penalty. The policy should also ensure, to the extent possible, that significant school events aren’t scheduled on major religious holy days.
  And second, every public school should teach students about religions — including religious holidays — at various times of the year. Religious literacy is critical for sustaining a free society in which people of many faiths and no faith treat one other with civility and respect.
  Religious diversity brings messy new challenges to America. But here’s the good news: The greater the diversity, the more protection for religious freedom.
  As James Madison pointed out many years ago, “For where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest.”

Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20001. Web: religiousfreedomeducation.org Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.