Also: A question from China about religion in America. And music by folk artist Pete Seeger.
Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I'm Doug Johnson. This week:
We go to a birthday party for folk singer Pete Seeger, who turned 90 this month ...
And we will answer a question about religion and government in America ...
But first, a report on a "green" project for a very famous building in New York City.
Empire State Building Goes Green
The tallest building in New York City is "going green." No…the Empire State Building is not being painted. But it is getting an environmental make-over. Faith Lapidus tells about the planned changes.
The Empire State Building opened in 1931. It stands just over 443 meters tall. For many years it was the tallest building in the world.
Soon, it will be one of the world's greenest. The owners of the historic building say a planned make-over will reduce energy use in the building by 38%. They say it will save more than 4 million dollars a year in energy costs.
The Empire State Building has 6,500 windows. New, special, thick glass will replace the glass currently in the windows. This insulated glass will make the inside of the building cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
Paul Rode is a leader of the renovation project. He says the windows will insulate almost as well as the walls they are connected to. Workers will also add energy efficient lights and improved building control systems. These will include more modern air cooling and heating systems. The effort will help reduce carbon dioxide releases from the Empire State Building by more than 100,000 tons a year. Carbon dioxide is one of the gases that causes the warming of Earth's atmosphere.
Building owners say such make-overs are very important to reduce levels of greenhouse gases in New York. They say 80% of these gases come from city buildings.
The project is to be completed in four years. The first improvements will cost 20 million dollars. But Paul Rode says it is a sensible financial investment.
Religion and Government in America
Our listener question this week comes from China. Candice wants to know if there is a state religion in the United States. The answer is no and the reason why goes back to the early days of America's history.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, many Europeans moved to colonial America in part to escape religious oppression. Thomas Jefferson and other early American leaders purposely designed a national government that had no established religion. They wanted to build a country that included many religions, where citizens were free to follow their own beliefs.
The First Amendment of the Constitution supports religious freedom and places religion outside the reach of the government. It states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
This idea is often described as "the separation of church and state." President Jefferson himself used this expression. In 1802, he sent a letter to a religious group in the state of Connecticut. He said that the First Amendment works by "building a wall of separation between church and state."
How the First Amendment applies to life in America has often been disputed. There is deep opposition between people who support nonreligious government policies and those who want religious values to be considered. The Supreme Court has heard many cases that test the meaning of the First Amendment.
For example, the Supreme Court ruled in 1948 that religious classes could not be taught in public schools. In 1962 the Court decided that public schools could not require students to say prayers.
The church and state debate is still going on today. For some people, policies about stem-cell research, same-sex marriage and abortion rights threaten religious beliefs. Other people believe it is wrong to ban these practices because of religious beliefs.
Even though there is no state religion in America, there is a large, beautiful religious center in the nation's capital called the Washington National Cathedral. The official name of this Episcopal church is the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. But an official says the church calls itself the Washington National Cathedral because many services of national interest have been held there. These include the funerals of three American presidents and national prayer services. This church receives no federal money and operates entirely on private donations.
Pete Seeger's 90th Birthday Party
You may not know Pete Seeger by name but you probably have heard his music. He has been writing songs and playing banjo for seventy years. Pete Seeger was born on May 3d, 1919 in New York City. That is where he celebrated his 19th birthday. Mario Ritter has our report on Pete Seeger and his party.
Thousands of people gathered at Madison Square Garden for a concert to honor Pete Seeger and his music. Artists of all ages joined Seeger on stage to sing the folk and protest songs that he made popular, like this one, "If I Had a Hammer."
PETE SEEGER: "If I didn't think music could help save the human race, I wouldn't be making music."
Pete Seeger first became famous in the nineteen forties as a member of the Almanac Singers. He then helped form the Weavers. In 1950 they had a huge hit with "Goodnight Irene," a song by blues musician Leadbelly.
Pete Seeger left the Weavers for an independent career. And he continued to be successful. But Seeger says he never planned on becoming a musician. He saw music as a way to bring about political change. He sought world peace, social justice, civil rights and workers' rights.
More recently, environmental conservation has become a chief issue for the musician. In fact, the profits from Seeger's big birthday concert went to Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. Pete Seeger established the non-profit group in 1969. Its goal is to care for and protect the Hudson River and waters linked to it.
That is Emmylou Harris performing "The Water is Wide" at the concert. Other musical guests included Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, Ani DiFranco, Richie Havens and Taj Mahal.
Of course the birthday celebrant himself sang and played banjo as well. We leave you now with Pete Seeger performing his version of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land."
I'm Doug Johnson.
This program was written by Dana Demange and Caty Weaver, who also was the producer. For transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs, go to voaspecialenglish.com.
Send your questions about American life to email@example.com. Please include your full name and where you live.
Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.