This Week

Issue: "Taking the Bait?," July 12, 1997

Bethel Update--Banned in Oklahoma

Not long after Bethel College president George Brushaber hosted Ed and Dorothy Sisam and their daughter Andrea June 16 for an informal luncheon meeting aimed at reconciliation, one of the key issues that caused conflict between the parties flared again. In Oklahoma last week, at the behest of an anti-pornography activist who had just heard about the Sisams' battle with Bethel over use of the film Tin Drum as part of a classroom exercise, a state judge issued an advisory opinion declaring the film in violation of the state's child-pornography laws. Police seized copies of Tin Drum from several Blockbuster Video locations, private homes, and at least one public library. Use of Tin Drum late last year as part of the curriculum in one of her Bethel courses was the final straw for Miss Sisam, who had been involved in a lengthy dispute with the Christian school over other classroom issues (see WORLD's "Class dismissed," May 17/24). She withdrew from Bethel, and in the following months, her parents, who are lawyers, sued Bethel, accusing the school of misrepresenting itself as a Christian institution. Bethel countered by suing Miss Sisam for harming its reputation. Now Tin Drum is acquiring a reputation. Liberal free-speech advocates are making the film a cause celebre; stories about the Oklahoma seizures appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, and on ABC's Good Morning America. The news also reached Bethel officials in St. Paul, Minn. Richard Sherry, Bethel's dean of faculty growth and assessment, speculated to WORLD that the judge's ruling might be overturned, but he later stipulated that the college had no official comment on the situation. Mr. Sherry said, "We are in the process of examining policies and making changes in the way we do things; that I can say officially."

ARMed and dangerous

Due to production problems and legal troubles, full-scale introduction of the French abortion pill, RU-486, is on hold. But a small, New York-based pro-abortion group is pushing ahead with a stopgap measure that will give up to 10,000 American women access to the abortion-inducing drug. Abortion Rights Mobilization (ARM) announced July 3 it will expand its "research trials" of RU-486, bringing the drug-in the words of ARM president Lawrence Lader-"within reasonable traveling distance of all U.S. women." The Food and Drug Administration, which claims RU-486 is "safe and effective," has given ARM its OK. The drug, also called mifepristone, causes a "non-surgical" abortion, in which a woman's body rejects and expels a developing child. In New Jersey, the teenager who gave birth in a bathroom during her senior prom was charged with murder after an autopsy concluded that the 6-pound, 6-ounce child she tossed into a trash can was either strangled or suffocated. Melissa Drexler, 18, had kept her pregnancy a secret from family and friends. Meanwhile, New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman vetoed the state legislature's attempt to outlaw partial-birth abortion. Elsewhere, Virginia became the 39th state requiring minor girls to get permission from one or both parents before having an abortion. In Florida, a new law requires doctors to tell any woman who wants to abort her child about alternatives to abortion.

Keeping the covenant

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On the final day of the Louisiana legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill allowing couples to choose a marriage contract that restricts the grounds for divorce. Couples married under a new "covenant marriage" option will be precluded from seeking divorce except in cases of adultery, abuse, abandonment, "habitual intemperance," or marital separation of two years or more. Other couples will still have recourse to "no-fault" divorce. The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the covenant marriage bill as "an attempt to use the government to enforce [a] religious doctrine regarding divorce."

Air apparent

President Clinton tried to clear the air with his environmental allies June 25 by publicly backing proposed new EPA regulations (which he said "will be somewhat controversial") that drastically tighten clean-air standards across the country. But environmentalists the next day regarded Mr. Clinton's speech at the U.N. Earth Summit as blowing smoke. The president rebuffed European Union efforts to win his agreement to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions to 15 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2010. Instead, he offered the unspecified promise of "a strong American commitment" in time for negotiations in December toward a new global greenhouse-gas treaty. Meanwhile, House Democrat John Dingell of Michigan vowed he is ready to "go to war" with the White House over the proposed air-quality standards. Mr. Dingell said the new regulations would carry "enormous economic burdens" and vowed legislation to block implementation of the EPA rules.

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