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Jewish World Review /May 11, 1998 / 15 Iyar, 5758

Don Feder

Don Feder To honor her would not be honorable

WHEN AMANDA LEMON GRADUATES from the Xenia, Ohio, high school on June 3, the program will not contain a symbol next to her name signifying membership in the National Honor Society. The mean-spirited, myself included, approve.

Amanda was excluded from her high-school NHS chapter (one of 14,000 nationwide) because she had a child out of wedlock. There are four criteria for membership in the society: scholarship, leadership, service and character.

It's left to the faculty committee at each school to interpret these standards. In Xenia, the committee determined that premarital intercourse (a necessary precondition to bearing an illegitimate child) was prima facie evidence of a deficiency of character.

The arbiters of cultural fashion are visibly agitated over this modest assault on modernism. There were, of course, the obligatory appearances by Amanda on the Today show, CBS' This Morning and other such forums, where she was hugged and petted.

In a news story in The Columbus Dispatch, Kay Barton, a National Honor Society adviser at another Ohio school, fumed, "These girls (unwed moms) don't need someone else throwing rocks at them."

In The Louisville Courier-Journal, a writer raged (one could almost see the flecks of saliva at the corners of her mouth) that in another age, Xenia's morality police would have dragged little Amanda to the town square, "where they could laugh and poke the local harlot in the ribs, or stone the tramp."

In the Age of Lewinsky, to suggest disapproval of someone's conduct (by refusing to honor them) is causeless hatred, a metaphysical stoning, the social equivalent of burning at the stake.

We get what we ask for. In "The Abolition of Man," C.S. Lewis wrote, "We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst."

Lovely word, honor. It is, after all, membership in the National Honor Society that's at issue here.

Dare we ask: Is Amanda Lemon honorable? Does she deserve to be honored? Such questions are studiously avoided. Words like "honor" scare us -- implying, as they do, rules to be followed, standards to be maintained, self-control to be exercised, sacrifices to be made.

We have crossed the Jordan in the wrong direction. Values-free, non-judgmental America, is our promised land.

Webster's defines honor as: "1) high regard or great respect given, received or enjoyed. 2) a keen sense of right and wrong; adherence to action or principles considered right; integrity (to conduct oneself with honor) and 3) chastity or purity." We used to speak of young women keeping their honor and young men doing the honorable thing.

The question then becomes: Is fornication honorable, especially in light of the all too common consequences (the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, illegitimacy and social trauma)?

Is it proper to bring a child into existence who will never know her real father, who will likely be raised in a fatherless family?

Is it fair to society, in terms of augmenting crime, drug abuse and welfare statistics, all of which increase exponentially for a child from a single-parent family?

Yes, it could have been worse. We are terribly grateful that Lemon chose not to destroy her child in the fetal stage. But are we to honor one who merely refrains from doing evil?

Ours is an era of continually declining expections. A generation ago, it was: Well, at least she married the father. Today, it's: Well, at least she didn't have an abortion. Tomorrow, it may be: Well, at least she didn't strangle her newborn and toss it in a dumpster.

The Founding Fathers pledged their "lives, fortunes and sacred honor" to the defense of American independence. They assigned the same value to honor as to all of their possessions and their very lives.

Honor. The concept evokes images more than words -- soldiers going to war (choosing duty before physical safety) or a child caring for an elderly parent. Unibomber Ted Kaczynski's brother, who put justice above family loyalty by blowing the whistle on the mad bomber, did the honorable thing, hard as it was.

Probably very few of the approximately 140,000 students inducted into the National Honor Society each year exemplify honor to anywhere near this degree. But to honor an individual who has clearly and visibly shown a lack of character makes a mockery of the concept.

Amanda Lemon deserves help and understanding. Someday, she may merit honor. Today, she does not.


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©1998, Boston Herald; distributed by Creators Syndicate, Inc.