Next olive branch to Cuba may come via Fort Benning

Col. Keith W. Anthony, commandant of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, has another 18 months to go in that assignment. One of the things he'd like to see in that time is the inclusion of Cuban students.

Geographically speaking, there's no obstacle: Cuba is certainly in the Western Hemisphere, and with reference to WHINSEC's predecessor, the U.S. Army School of the Americas, it fits there, too.

The obstacles, of course, are political and diplomatic. Cuba has been alienated from most of the rest of the hemisphere, and the world, for more than half a century because of its own leadership, namely the communist rule of Fidel Castro and his brother Raul. Diplomatic and economic ties between Cuba and the United States were cut off in 1961.

But with President Obama's 2014 announcement that the U.S. would be reestablishing diplomatic relations with the island nation just 90 miles off the tip of Florida, the prospects might be changing.

At a 15th anniversary celebration of the Institute on Thursday, Frank Mora, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Center in Miami and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense, said students from Cuba might soon be training at Fort Benning, though that remains "off the table" for now.

Institute commandant Anthony said the process might be incremental: "Lean forward as much as you can without getting ahead of foreign policy It's slow baby steps, but I'm hopeful that within the 18 months I'm in command and have left, we will have our first Cuban student."

He added, "We want to put their flag up just for them to be included in the community of the Americas."

Such a moment would be far beyond symbolic.

Dubious at best

More religious "freedom" legislation is before the Georgia General Assembly, but this time not from Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus.

Two new bills are the work of Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville. The first, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, would "give business owners the right to refuse to sell their goods or services if they feel that doing so would offend their religious beliefs."

Surely Tanner's bill is drawn in lines finer than that. The idea of a business, licensed by local and state authorities, being able to turn away customers on some broadly defined standard of "offendedness" is not just constitutionally dubious but, well offensive.

The second would "protect" members of the clergy from having to preside over any marriage ceremony that violates their religious convictions.

No law anywhere requires this, and the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution expressly prohibits it. But maybe it's the thought that counts.