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Pre-Game Prayers in Hawaii: some questions and answers.

I read Gary Christenot's Viewpoint in the October 2006 Church & State ("Why I'm Against Pre-Game Prayers: An Evangelical Christian's Story").

Did you know that the essay is inaccurate about the name of the high school in Wahiawa? (The school name is Leilehua High, not Wahiawa High.) Did you know that the population of Wahiawa is mostly Japanese and Filipino, not Japanese and Chinese? Actually there are more Koreans than Chinese residents, and most of the Koreans came over to Hawaii as Christians, mostly Methodists. (Almost 75 percent of the population in Wheeler Air Force Base is White, non-Hispanic, and Black.)

Did you know that the predominant religion in Hawaii is Roman Catholic--mostly from the missionaries who historically came from the Northeastern United States? Filipinos are also strongly Roman Catholic. Although we have many Asians, not all of them are followers of either Shinto or Buddhist religion.

Did you know that Wahiawa is a military town? Wheeler Air Force Base and Schofield Barracks are adjacent to Wahiawa, therefore the outlook and people cater more to the military.

I don't know what Christenot is seeing that could be defined as "a Shinto or Buddhist shrine on every corner." I suspect that there are more houses of Christian worship than there are places that have a public Shinto or Buddhist shrine. Many Shinto or Buddhist shrines appear more in the private residences of their followers than as public places of worship.

Christenot's reactions and feelings are why we do feel strongly that expressions of religion should be held in private and not forced on public events. The piece is accurate in describing the emotion he felt in being a minority. But there are enough factual errors to question the authenticity of his reporting of the events.

Was a Buddhist priest offering pre-game prayers? Are only Shinto and Buddhist prayers offered during the pre-game ceremonies? I don't think Shinto and Buddhism are sufficiently powerful enough to force their way of belief down anyone's throat. Besides, both religions preach religious tolerance and inner religion instead of proselytizing, outer religion.

--Stewart Chun

Pearl City, Hawaii

Church & State welcomes letters to the editor. Although not all correspondence can be published, readers' opinions are appreciated. The editorial staff reserves the right to edit all letters for brevity and clarity.

Mr. Christenot's Response

The situation described occurred sometime in the fall of 1986 or 1987, so when writing earlier this year, I was relying on rather distant memory for certain elements. Some of these things are details you don't take particular notice of at the time and can certainly be clouded by the passage of time.

The name of the school is a good example. Upon reflection (and I heard this from one other person), the school was named Leilehua High School. Wahiawa is the name of the surrounding community, and in penning the account, I mistakenly attributed the town name to the school--an understandable error considering that I had no children enrolled and our association with the school was brief and infrequent.

As far as the local population, I certainly didn't take the time to do an indepth demographic review before writing the piece. Yes, a sizeable proportion of the community was also Filipino-American. But as far as overall population, my recollection was that the local populace was weighed somewhat more toward those of Far East Asian ancestry--which would include both Japanese-American and Chinese-American. I won't try to quantify the relative proportions beyond that.

Yes, there was a sizeable military presence in the area. However, primarily due to the local cost of living--particularly housing--much of military life was conducted on and confined to within the premises of the military bases. So the local residential populace of Wahiawa itself was still typified pretty much by inhabitants whose families originated in the Pacific Rim.

My remark about a Shinto or Buddhist shrine on every corner was a bit of hyperbole for the sake of illustration. Even when we say "there's a church on every corner," we obviously don't mean it literally. All I meant to say was that the signs and symbols of these worship traditions were very prominent.

I'm fairly certain that the priest who prayed at the football game that night was Buddhist, based on questions I asked of some of my local friends in the days that followed. As far as whether other faith traditions were included, I can only repeat what was told to me, and that was that Christian clergy weren't included. I don't state that as undeniable fact, and I never bothered to research it any further for myself.

Just to finish off, I hope any potential discrepancies on some of these items don't detract from the meaning or credibility of my essay. When I wrote it, I didn't approach it from the standpoint of a piece of journalism, with appropriate fact-checking and background. As I told one blogger, I literally dashed that thing off at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, while still in my bathrobe, and before my first cup of caffeine. I had just read the story about the New Jersey football coach who was leading his team in prayer, had this immediate visceral reaction that brought this story back to my mind, and so I sat at the computer and pounded it out.

Church & State welcomes letters to the editor. Although not all correspondence can be published, readers' opinions are appreciated. The editorial staff reserves the right to edit all letters for brevity and clarity.
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Title Annotation:LETTERS
Author:Chun, Stewart
Publication:Church & State
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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