Reaching for a higher power; Religious freedom: Efforts to inject faith into petty disputes detract rather than elevate.


RELIGIOUS clashes seem to be popping up in the strangest places these days. In fact, they are seeping more and more often into disputes that have little or nothing at all to do with differences of faith.

Frederick County resident Joanne Caldwell has decorated rocks in her Lake Linganore yard with religious symbols and expressions. The community association wrote her up for violating neighborhood covenants against "noxious and offensive things."

Ms. Caldwell says this rule impinges on her religious freedom. But this isn't about religious expression at all; it's about appropriate suburban decoration and one community's rules or standards.

Rather than elevate this issue to a titanic struggle over constitutional rights, Ms. Caldwell would be on much more solid ground arguing that absent a specific prohibition against writing on rocks in the Lake Linganore community rules, she is free to write whatever she wants.

Religion also plays a minor role at best in a dispute over the Hagerstown Suns' "church bulletin" discount, though some folks involved seem to think religion is the major sticking point.

In one of its more off-the-wall promotions, the minor-league baseball team offered Easter Sunday discounts to fans who brought church bulletins to the ballpark. The team treated the bulletin as a coupon.

Even fans without bulletins were provided with a bulletin and discounted tickets. But an agnostic refused the offer of a bulletin, paid full price and filed a complaint.

Administrative Law Judge Georgia Brady ruled last week that as long as the team offers discounts to all denominations as well as agnostics and atheists, the club did not violate Maryland's public accommodation laws.

She got it right: This had nothing to do with religion.

In Kosovo and Bosnia, thousands have been killed for their religious beliefs. In China, people are persecuted for worshiping Jesus. In that context, does it make any sense to inject religion into petty disputes over rocks and ticket discounts?

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