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Dilemma at Lemko House


When the matter is God versus government, who really wants to side with the state?

Certainly not Sen. Barbara Mikulski; her opponent, Alan Keyes or Mayor Kurt Schmoke. Each is siding with senior citizens of Lemko House who are engaged in a dispute with federal bureaucrats over a chapel the seniors maintain at their federally-financed apartment building in Fells Point.

The federal housing agency has asked residents to take down religious icons in a makeshift chapel off the building's multi-purpose room. It has told the building's management for years that the room can function as a chapel only if icons are removed following a service or prayer. Federal law is clear that a denominational setting can't be established in a place built with public money.

The elderly in Lemko House counter that their chapel keeps them from having to brave the elements or street crime to worship elsewhere. Besides, no tenant in the building objects; the Rev. Ivan Dornic, who heads Lemko's board and is pastor of the congregation that sponsored the building, say he and others have asked and haven't found a single resident opposed to the chapel.

That's just the point. The reason for the separateness of church and state is so people are not put in the position of having to answer whether they are uncomfortable with someone else's faith.

Father Dornic says the only Jewish resident of Lemko House moved a few years ago and a Buddhist living there now is in fact leading the charge to preserve the chapel. But what if an objector moves in next week? Does the chapel come down then? Situations as these thrust people into having to reveal their deepest beliefs, or to appear as if they are opposing someone else's.

Motivated by a love of God, Father Dornic and the people at Lemko House have their hearts in the right place. As for Ms. Mikulski and Mr. Schmoke, elected to uphold the Constitution, and Mr. Keyes, who would like a chance to do so, you'd think they would know better. Then again, what politicians would box with God when they can pick on the bureaucracy instead?

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