Cheers & Jeers: Mill workers, measles and meetings

The first Cheers & Jeers of 2019 has a lot of ground to cover, so let’s dig right in.

CHEERS: Our first Cheers goes out to the laid-off Camas paper mill workers who may now see a little light at the end of a very long tunnel. Federal retraining benefits are now available to those workers displaced from the most recent round of Georgia-Pacific layoffs.

The federal trade adjustment assistance, which comes with tuition compensation and extended unemployment benefits, could be a godsend for many workers still looking for a job that matches the living wages they earned at the paper mill.

Considering that many of these paper mill employees spent the bulk of their lives working in situations that would send most of us running for the shelter of a cubicle — imagine working 12-hour days, on rotating shift work, inside a pulp mill, for 43 years like Denise Korhonen, the WorkSource peer counselor featured in our A1 story — the fact that they can now change their lives and, hopefully, find a career that pays well and excites them deserves the year’s first Cheers.

JEERS: The first Jeers of the new year isn’t aimed at any one person or group in particular, but in the idea that holding religious invocations as a scheduled part of a government meeting is something in the best interests of the community.

The issue is picking up steam again in Washougal, after two city council members voiced concerns about the practice. City Councilman Paul Greenlee, who voted in 2014 against holding invocations before each council meeting, says he is disturbed to see the same religious leaders come back time after time, and he questions if the invocations are a positive part of the Washougal City Council meetings.

According to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which promotes the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, one of the most frequent complaints the group receives is about religious invocations at public government meetings.

All public officials should be concerned about what message the invocations send to citizens who come from a variety of religious and non-religious backgrounds — many of whom must attend government meetings for things like permits, land-use issues and other distinctly non-religious matters.

The council members in Washougal have discussed wanting the invocations to reflect a diversity of religious beliefs, but they fail to recognize the U.S. now has almost as many people who identify as having no religion as those who identify as Catholics — today, nearly one in five Americans are not religious.

For these non-religious citizens, it doesn’t matter which religious leader gives the invocation because they won’t identify with the message. And they shouldn’t be forced to hear religious prayers during what is meant to be a strictly secular meeting.

We would urge the city council members in Washougal to remember Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s dissenting opinion in Greece v. Galloway, a 2014 case that addressed this very issue, as they revisit the topic of religious invocations before government meetings: “In this country, when citizens go before the government, they go not as Christians or Muslims, but just as Americans. That is what it means to be an equal citizen, irrespective of religion.”

CHEERS: Our second Cheers is for public health officials in Clark and Multnomah counties who have been working all month to help contain an outbreak of measles among mostly unvaccinated children in the Vancouver area. The highly contagious illness, which can cause severe complications like pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and permanent hearing loss, can linger in the air for two hours after an infected person has left the area.

That’s why public health officials have been working to identify every possible site where a known infected person has been during their contagious period. The constant media reporting on these sites is meant to be a preventative tactic, not something that triggers panic in parents of babies too young to be immunized. There is good news for parents worrying about their younger babies, by the way — mothers who have been vaccinated against measles, or who had the measles naturally, will pass these antibodies to their newborns during pregnancy and again while breastfeeding. According to England’s National Health Service (NHS), this passive immunity to measles, mumps and rubella “can last for up to a year, which is why the MMR vaccine is given just after your baby’s first birthday.”

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