February 2009

You may have heard that the Obama administration is moving to repeal Bush regulations meant to protect the consciences of medical professionals. According to the Associated Press:

President Barack Obama plans to repeal a Bush administration rule that has become a flash point in the debate over a doctor’s right not to participate in abortions. The regulation, instituted in the last days of the Bush administration, strengthened job protections for doctors and nurses who refuse to provide a medical service because of moral qualms.

The opponents of the rule claimed that it was vague and overly broad. If that’s the case, they should be rewriting them, not repealing them. But some in the pro-death religious community are ecstatic that they finally have a White House that will push their agenda. The odious Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice offers this sample letter that its minions can send to applaud and support the move:

As a person of faith, I believe we must balance the needs of both healthcare providers who object to abortion and contraception and patients who need, want and have a legal right to these services. This sweeping regulation would deny many women access to reproductive health services and would limit their ability to make decisions according to their conscience and religious beliefs.

I appreciate that your administration has taken the initiative to restore respect for science, women’s healthcare, and differing views on abortion and contraception.

In order to understand this, you have to understand RCRC lingo:

•”Balance”  means, “your conscience has no rights compared to my right to kill my children.”

•”Deny many women access to reproductive health services” means, “how dare you make them go to someone else to get what they need to kill their children!”

•”Limit their ability to make decisions” means, “how dare you suggest that anything other than killing their children might be the right choice for them!”

•”[R]espect for…differing views on abortion and contraception” means, “you can think anything you want as long as you keep it to yourself and do what I demand.”

•”[R]estore respect for science” means, I suppose, that abortion is the only scientifically acceptable way to deal with an unexpected pregnancy, or something like that.

Conscience? We don’t need no stinkin’ conscience!

From the Presbyterian News Service comes word of a survey of teenagers guaranteed to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It seems that while 80% of teenagers believe they are “ethically prepared” tp face the future, almost 40% also believe that “breaking the rules” to succeed is acceptable behavior. Junior Achievement and Deloitte also found out the following about the membership of Future Criminals of America:

•80 percent of teens either somewhat or strongly agree that they are prepared to make ethical business decisions when they join the workforce, yet more than a third (38 percent) think that they have to break the rules at school to succeed.

•More than one in four teens (27 percent) think behaving violently is sometimes, often or always acceptable. Twenty percent of respondents said they had personally behaved violently toward another person in the past year, and 41 percent reported a friend had done so.

•Nearly half (49 percent) of those who say they are ethically prepared believe that lying to parents and guardians is acceptable, and 61 percent have done so in the past year.

•Teens feel more accountable to themselves (86 percent) than they do to their parents or guardians (52 percent), their friends (41 percent) or society (33 percent).

•Only about half (54 percent) cite their parents as role models. Most of those who don’t cite their parents as role models are turning to their friends or said they didn’t have a role model.

•Only 25 percent said they would be “very likely” to reveal knowledge of unethical behavior in the workplace.

There’s so much wrong here that it is hard to know where to start, or where the problem lies–with parents, religious institutions, schools, the entertainment industry, government; probably all of the above in one measure or another. I think it’s safe to say that the adult world is failing our children if such a large proportion of them think this way. I also think it’s safe to say that the solution has to begin with parents being willing to instruct their kids, model ethical behavior, and if need be provide a measure of shelter from an intellectual and moral climate that seems to exalt behaviors that are anti-social, inhumane, violent and extraordinarily self-centered.

Statutes that curtail [a woman’s] abortion choice are disturbingly suggestive of involuntary servitude, prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment, in that forced pregnancy requires a woman to provide continuous physical service to the fetus in order to further the state’s asserted interest.

–Indiana law professor Dawn Johnsen (who has been nominated to head the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel), in an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court on behalf of the National Abortion Rights Action League in the 1989 case Webster v. Reproductive Health Services

(Via National Review.)

I don’t agree that often with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, so I like to note those occasions when I think they are dead on. Such is the case with Sandhya Bathija’s column today, in which she notes the extraordinary practice engaged in by the White House in advance of presidential rallies. It involves vetting the prayers:

Earlier this week, Dan Gilgoff at U.S. News and World Report reported that President Barack Obama has started a new tradition at some of his presidential events.

On some occasions, at least, it seems Obama’s opening act will be a prayer vetted by the White House.

Gilgoff told the story of Ryan Culp of Elkhart, Ind., who turned down a request by Obama to deliver a prayer during the presidential campaign because he is a conservative Republican and, Culp said, “didn’t want to be perceived to be a supporter of a Democratic campaign.” Culp was asked again now that Obama is in office and this time obliged.

The day before Culp was to give the prayer, he was required to call an aide at the White House and recite the prayer for approval. The aide told him the prayer was “beautiful.”

For the Fort Myers, Fla., town hall meeting, the White House vetted a prayer by James Bing, pastor of the Friendship Baptist Church, and in Phoenix, an administrator for the Tohono O’odham Nation delivered a prayer before Obama took the stage.

Gilgoff adds these details:

During Obama’s recent visit to Fort Myers, Fla., to promote his economic stimulus plan, a black Baptist preacher delivered a prayer that carefully avoided mentioning Jesus, lest he offend anyone in the audience. And at Obama’s appearance last week near Phoenix to unveil his mortgage bailout plan, an administrator for the Tohono O’odham Nation delivered the prayer, taking the unusual step of writing it down so he could E-mail it to the White House for vetting. American Indian prayers are typically improvised.

Interviews with former White House aides and official presidential archivists going back to the Carter administration turn up no evidence of similar programs, though some of Ronald Reagan’s events featured invocations from clergy from a variety of religious traditions. The Reagan White House appears to have received copies of the invocations after they were delivered, as opposed to before, according to Ronald Reagan Presidential Library archivist Lisa Jones.

I don’t know that I agree with AU’s Barry Lynn that such prayers are themselves out-of-bounds, but there is no question whatsoever that having them vetted by the White House is completely inappropriate, and that no one who is asked to pray at White House should agree to such vetting. No agency of government has any business “approving” the content of any prayer, and that goes as much or more for a White House occupied by a popular incumbent.

Great Britain continues in its efforts to convince the world that it is self-destructing, this time through a government suggestion that parents refrain from teaching their children right from wrong when it comes to sexuality. According to LifeSite News:

A pamphlet set for distribution by the British government is advising parents to keep quiet on the morality of sex, and instead to ensure that their children are provided with contraception from an early age and are aware of their options, the Sunday Times revealed.

According to the Times, “Talking to Your Teenager About Sex and Relationships” will be distributed in pharmacies starting March 5th as part of an initiative by MP Beverley Hughes, the Children’s Minister, to instruct parents how to address their children’s sexuality.

The news of the government’s plan to release the pamphlet follows widespread news coverage of the case of a 13 year old U.K. boy, Alfie Patten, who recently became a father. Alfie’s story has been widely received as emblematic of the U.K.’s troubles with high rates of teenage pregnancy, and sparked a national discussion about the problem.

“Discussing your values with your teenagers will help them to form their own,” says the new pamphlet. “Remember, though, that trying to convince them of what’s right and wrong may discourage them from being open.” [Emphasis added.]

The document reportedly suggests that parents should start the “big talk” with children as young as possible.  Parents are also encouraged to ensure contraception availability for children as young as 13.

“Under the NHS, contraception and condoms are free and there are lots of safe and effective methods that are suitable for young people – encourage your teenager to visit their local clinic or GP so they can make a choice that’s right for them,” says the pamphlet.  “Why not offer to go with you daughter or encourage them to take a friend to support them?”

Commenting on the new instructions, MP Hughes said that the government “doesn’t bring up children but … it does have a role to play in supporting parents and giving them access to advice and information.”

Of course parents shouldn’t try to convince their kids regarding the right and wrong of sex. That’s the job of the government, the entertainment industry, Planned Parenthood (or its British equivalent), and suchlike agencies.

The World Council of Churches puts out yet another statement about Gaza:

The Gaza war during Christmas season took a terrible toll on lives and communities that were already fragile. Bombs, missiles and rockets striking densely populated areas spread an unconscionable sorrow from Gaza to much of the world. Approximately 1400 Palestinians are dead – mostly civilians, children and women – thousands more are wounded, countless thousands are traumatized, and there remains widespread destruction and damage to homes and institutions including church clinics and a hospital. Four civilians are dead in neighboring Israel and 11 soldiers were killed during the fighting and many other people injured.

Actually, it was about 1300, and most were in fact men, with most likely being terrorists. According to UPI:

The Israeli military’s Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration said its accounting of the conflict has found that 300 of a total of 1,200 Palestinians killed during the assault were “non-combatants,” The Jerusalem Post reported Monday.

The report said 580 of those killed have been identified as fighters of the Hamas Palestinian militant group. Another 320 victims have yet to be classified but they have been described as all men, two-thirds of whom were deemed likely by Israel to be terror operatives.

Such numbers are of course discounted by the WCC, since it believes whatever Hamas says. Moving on:

The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains extremely alarming. More than one million people, 80 percent of the population, depend on food aid. Thousands of jobs have been lost. The educational and health systems have broken down due to the blockade that is still being imposed by the Israeli government.

Somehow they managed to never mention the Hamas thefts of UN supplies meant for the civilian population. Perhaps they are unaware of them, since Hamas hasn’t reported them.

Israel, like any other state, has the right of self defense, but is also bound by humanitarian principles of proportionality and distinction. The imperative to protect human lives is mandatory for all parties involved – including the international community. All have failed in this responsibility. Civilians have suffered on both sides. However, as the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights noted, “the scale of civilian harm resulting from Israeli unlawful conduct was far greater than that of Palestinian unlawful conduct.”

The UNSRHR is a fanatical anti-Zionist whose “reporting” can be safely ignored. As for the rest, it’s a neat trick to condemn a military operation that sought to keep civilian casualties as low as possible, while never mentioning the use of civilians as human shields by the terrorist organization that actually has a political stake in maximizing civilian casualties among its own people.

What happened in Gaza is not an isolated tragedy. It is to be seen in the context of the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory that began in 1967. In the case of Gaza the last three years have seen siege and collective punishment harden into a stringent 18-month blockade. Without an end to the occupation, the cycle of violence continues.

Let’s say it all together again: Gaza isn’t “occupied,” it hasn’t been “occupied” in three years, and the only reason for the continuing blockade is because Hamas refuses to give up terror and admit that Israel has a right to exist. There is no blockade on the West Bank, and there’s a reason for that–Fatah, for all its faults, isn’t still terrorizing its neighbor, and has conceded that it is dealing with a state with a right to self-defense.

Gaza’s suffering should serve as a reminder to governments to carry out their third state responsibility. International law requires states not to knowingly aid or assist another state in internationally unlawful acts and not to recognize such acts as lawful. They bear indirect responsibility if they assist or recognize such acts, for example, the illegal use of force and violations of laws and rights that take place daily in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But evidently third states are supposed to continue to support the use of terrorism as a weapon against a member of the UN. I come to that conclusion by virtue of the lack of condemnation of nations such as Iran and Syria, which continue to provide money, weapons, and logistical support to Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad.

Palestinians who take up arms are also accountable under the law for their use of force. We join the international condemnation of the violence perpetrated by members of Hamas and other groups against civilians in Israel and against their own people.

This is the only reference to Hamas in the course of this screed. And note the qualifying “members of Hamas”–it isn’t the organization itself that engages in such tactics, but only renegade “members” who should be held to account by their more responsible overseers.

The piece goes on to come to several conclusions, which include:

Recommends that member churches and related organizations in a position to do so practice morally responsible investment and purchasing in regard to corporations whose products or services support the occupation of Palestinian territory.

In other words, divest from Israel. Apparently there is no “morally responsible investment” in the Palestinian territories.

Calls for the United Nations to investigate alleged war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law by the parties to the Gaza conflict, including the use of weapons that have indiscriminate effects; and calls for the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1860 which requires inter alia that the government of Israel lift the siege of Gaza.

Right. Get the UN, the world headquarters of the anti-Israel movement, to investigate Israel. There’s nothing like an impartial investigation to get the result you want.

Calls on the government of Israel to facilitate the on-going work of United Nations agencies in Occupied Palestinian Territory including access for the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights to the populations living under occupation[.]

Israel will of course go along with this demand because it has a death wish, and desires to help two of the most anti-Israel agencies in the world, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (whose facilities have been used by terrorist organizations for decades as safe havens and training grounds) and the UNSRHR, carry out their own special forms of jihad against the Zionist entity.

Predictable, absolutely predictable.

And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

–President Barack Obama, addressing Congress and the nation last night, leaving history teachers all over America shaking their heads and causing an international incident with Germany

(Via Hot Air.)

Which of these things is not like the others?

The Roman Catholic Church, 67,117,06 members, down 0.59 percent. (Ranked 1)

The Southern Baptist Convention, 16,266,920 members, down 0.24 percent. (Ranked 2)

The United Methodist Church, 7,931,733 members, down 0.80 percent. (Ranked 3)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5,873,408 members, up 1.63 percent. (Ranked 4)

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,709,956 members, down 1.35 percent. (Ranked 7)

Presbyterian Church (USA), 2,941,412 members, down 2.79 percent (Ranked 9)

Assemblies of God, 2,863,265 members, up 0.96 percent. (Ranked 10)

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), 2,383,084 members, down 1.44 percent. (Ranked 14)

The Episcopal Church, 2,116,749 members, down 1.76 percent. (Ranked 15)

The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1,400,000 members, down 3.01 percent. (Ranked 19)

American Baptist Churches in the USA, 1,358,351, down 0.94 percent. (Ranked 20)

United Church of Christ, 1,145,281 members, down 6.01 percent. (Ranked 22)

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1,092,169 members, up 2.12 percent (Ranked 23)

Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), 1,053,642 members, up 2.04 percent. (Ranked 25)

Of the 14 largest denominations that had reported figures in the 2009 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, only the Mormons, Assemblies of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Church of God (Cleveland, TN) saw increases in membership in 2008. The biggest drops were from the PCUSA at 2.79%, AME Zion Church at 3.01, and the UCC at a staggering 6.01%. Take it for what you will.

UPDATE: A correspondent has directed my attention to information that indicates that the figure for the PCUSA is incorrect. The actual membership figure as of 2007 was 2,209,546. A 2.79% drop from that would give a 2008 membership of 2,147,900 (a loss of 61,646).

I got a chuckle this morning from the weekly mailing from the PCUSA’s Washington Office. In it, we are urged to “send a message in support of voting rights” to our Senators regarding a bill to give the District of Columbia a voting member of the House of Representatives. The e-mail says:

Despite the fact that they pay federal taxes, serve on juries and defend our Nation in times of war like most other Americans, the residents of the District of Columbia are barred from having voting representation on the floor of the U.S. House or Senate.  This classic example of “taxation without representation” is contrary to everything that this nation is founded on.  This means that more than half a million people, more than 57% of whom are African American (with Caucasians making up just over 30% of the population and 8.5% of the residents claiming Hispanic background), are paying money to and dying for a government in which they have no say.  It also means that the federal government is receiving and spending $4 billion without having to account for it.

Actually, this nation was founded precisely on the principle that the seat of government should not itself be involved in partisan politics, which is why a constitutional amendment was necessary to give DC three electoral votes. No one is forced to live in the District (indeed, the founders envisioned that few other than those involved directly in governance would), so that their representational status is a matter of choice, rather than tyrannical denial. The reference to the racial makeup of the District is irrelevent except as a play on liberal guilt, and the reference to the taxes paid by District residents is a joke: the District gets back $5.55 for every dollar in federal tax paid, more than twice as much as any state (for comparison, New Jersey, ranked last, gets 61¢ back for every dollar that goes to the feds). That illustrates why the claim of “taxation without representation is bogus–the Constitution’s framers’ plan was for Congress as a whole to represent the District (where, remember, not many people would live other than government types from somewhere else), which, based on the money spent there, they seem to do quite nicely, thanks very much.

To begin to correct this gross injustice, the Senate is scheduled to consider S. 160, the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009, this week.  This legislation is a good first step toward the goal of full democratic voting representation in Congress for DC residents.  S. 160 would add two voting members to the U.S. House of Representatives – one to represent Washington, DC and one to represent Utah (Utah narrowly lost getting an additional congressional seat after the last U.S. Census in 2000; officials in Utah believe that thousands of missionaries living abroad were unfairly excluded during the Census count.)  This bill provides a “vote neutral” option by adding two additional seats most likely to be represented by a Democrat and a Republican.

Because it is not a constitutional amendment, the bill in question is undoubtedly unconstitutional. But what’s really funny here is that the Washington Office simply repeats a Democratic Party talking point–hey, this isn’t partisan, since we’re giving another seat to Utah! But that’s meaningless for a couple of reasons: 1) Utah isn’t monolithically dominated by Republicans the way the District is by Democrats (as recently as 2004 the governor was a Democrat, for instance); and 2) with the next census, that seat could easily be re-assigned to another state. So this is no more “vote neutral” than any other Washington action that tinkers with the electoral system.

But then, what else would you expect from an agency that may as well be a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party?

These two news items have nothing to do with one another. The individuals involved are not connected in any way, nor is there any tie between the various organizations. But I couldn’t help putting together stories regarding the nomination of the #2 official at the U.S. Department of Justice and a lawsuit over a work-related suspension, and wondering what it says about the kind of society that we are becoming.

First, there’s this from Fox News from a couple of weeks ago:

[Deputy Attorney General nominee David] Ogden frequently represented clients, not all of them nudie-magazines, who challenged what they saw as censorship and unconstitutional restrictions.

For instance, he once filed a brief on behalf of a group of library directors arguing against the Children’s Internet Protection Act. The act ordered libraries and schools receiving funding for the Internet to restrict access to obscene sites. But Ogden’s brief argued that the act impaired the ability of librarians to do their jobs. He called it “unconstitutional,” though the Supreme Court later disagreed with him and upheld the act.

And he argued, on behalf of several media groups, against a child pornography law that required publishers of all kinds to verify and document the age of their models (which would ensure the models are at least 18). The provisions were struck down.

Ogden was quoted at the time saying the potential reach of the law was “mind-boggling” and even “terrifying.”

Then there’s this from today’s Christian Post:

A veteran youth counselor is suing a California children’s home after she was suspended without pay because teenagers under her supervision overheard Christian music.

In a suit filed on Feb. 13, Maureen Loya charged Orangewood Children’s Home with religious discrimination for slapping her with a six-week suspension for “exposing children to unapproved religious activities.”

In July 2006, the counselor took four teenage girls from the Orangewood Children’s Home on an approved field trip to the Anaheim 5K run and then to the beach.

When the group went to Huntington Beach pier, they encountered the Surfrider Foundation’s Celebrity Surf Jam, which featured a surfing competition and concert as part an effort to raise awareness and support for our nation’s beach and coastal environments. The event’s entertainment included Christian-based music groups Incubus and Switchfoot. According to the suit, the group overheard ten minutes of Christian music as they were eating. The girls also visited booths at the pier, some of which were selling Christian items.

Following the beach outing, Loya, who has worked with the group home for 18 years, was questioned about the trip during a disciplinary meeting at the children’s home.

Again, there’s no connection between David Ogden and the Orangewood Children’s Home. But what does it say when a guy who argued against using means to keep children from being exposed to pornography gets a high ranking position at Justice, while a woman who allows children to be in the vicinity of Christian music for 10 minutes gets suspended from her job?

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