Thoughts on Milton, Mom, Kennedy and Alito

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I was absent from this space on the last time my Sunday turn came around. My excuse is that I was in Delaware for a death in the family. I won’t bore you with the details except to reveal that the deceased was a first cousin I had been especially close to and who was only three months older than I am. I marvel that I am somehow still running ahead of “time’s winged chariot."

I suppose there is nothing like a funeral to remind us not to waste however much time we’ve been allotted. So without further self-indulgent ado, on to this week’s thoughts that wander through Kitsap County and occasionally beyond.

Milton and Mom

File this column under the heading “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

After my mother died at age 56 in 1978, I found her high-school yearbook. She graduated in 1940, and under her senior photo I found this inscription: “Come and trip it as ye go / On the light fantastic toe.”

The lines come from “L’Allegro,” a school-exercise companion-piece poem by John Milton of “Paradise Lost” fame. It contrasts with Milton’s “Il Penseroso.” The first celebrates a carefree, joyful attitude toward life — the second a serious attention to responsibility and duty. Clearly, the yearbook editor had my mother pegged as a party animal — which she was and which she remained throughout her short thrice-married life.

The irony is that mother was not in the college-prep academic track but in the commercial one. Any mention of Milton or his poetry would have been met with a blank stare. A further irony is that long before I found that yearbook I had become enamored of Milton — the greatest Christian humanist in all of English literature. I studied him and his works seriously as an undergraduate and as a graduate student. I had even begun graduate school intending to write a dissertation on Milton, and I passed my PhD qualifying exams in Milton, Shakespeare, and didactic writers of the English Renaissance. I was lured away, however, by a newly emerging field, imaginative representations of the American war in Vietnam.

Would that my mother had lived long enough to learn of our mutual Milton connection. Her affinity was with “L’Allegro, of course, mine with “Il Penseroso.” I wish I could say ours was a happy, complementary relationship. It wasn’t.

Bremerton High revisited

I have to hand it to one of my far-flung readers. Cameron Scarlett of Madison, Wisconsin, has a son stationed at Bangor and regularly reads the Sun. In response to my recent column on football coach Joe Kennedy’s recent Supreme Court victory (“On public versus private prayer,” July 10, 2022), he suggests that Bremerton High should now be known as the “Home of the Phighting Pharisees.” That’s brilliant. I wish I had thought of it.

Kennedy and Alito

Kennedy certainly has a friend in Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. He believes our increasingly secular society and its new moral code pose a threat to religious liberty. The August 12 issue of The Week magazine reported on a speech Alito gave last month in Rome as the keynote address for Notre Dame Law School’s annual Religious Liberty Initiative summit. Alito didn’t expound upon the “new moral code” that concerns him. It is safe to assume, however, that it includes “women’s equality and reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and secular public education.”

Alito’s speech happens to be available on YouTube. Search "2022 Religious Liberty Summit: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito." The Coach Kennedy connection is evident. Alito finds it ironic that “Freedom of worship” means you’re free to worship in private — alone or with the like-minded — but step out in public and you better act like a “good secular citizen.”

Alito claims that polls show “a significant increase” in the number of people who reject religion or think it’s not important. Such people, he worries, don’t recognize the need to give religion “special protection.” Alito, of course, cites examples of how religious people have been persecuted throughout history, but he gives short shrift to the excesses and evils that have been perpetrated in the name of organized religion. He also makes a number of questionable claims. One I find curious is that people with “deep religious convictions may be less likely to succumb to dominating ideologies or trends.” How is it then that a great number of deeply religious people among the religious right succumbed to Trumpism?

Having listened to the speech myself, twice, I believe The Week magazine got it right: Alito and his cohorts “will not put up with a separation of church and state.” They intend to empower “fellow believers to govern the godless.” But I invite you to listen to the speech for yourself and to make up your own mind.

The column is ended. Go in peace!

Contact Ed Palm at

This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: Ed Palm: Thoughts on Milton, Mom, Kennedy and Alito