This Week

Issue: "The persecuted church," Nov. 1, 1997

The nation's top doc?

Late in the Washington news cycle on Friday, Oct. 17, President Clinton quietly vetoed yet again legislation overwhelmingly approved by Congress to ban partial-birth abortions. The president wisely eschewed the emotional props he used for his last veto-parents who paid doctors to kill their children by the brutal method-but he used the same rationale: that his veto protects those "who need an abortion ... to avert death or serious injury." This is perfect nonsense, and he's either willfully lying about it or his staff has kept him in the dark about the well-publicized opposition of the American Medical Association-that the procedure is never medically necessary and is even "ethically offensive to most Americans and physicians." Most physicians, that is, except the man Mr. Clinton has nominated to become surgeon general. David Satcher, who won the approval of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee last week, admitted in writing that he supports partial-birth abortions to protect the "health of the mother." It's one thing for a politician to feign ignorance of medical facts; it's quite another for a medical professional seeking the top public-health job to be so badly misinformed. The post of surgeon general has remained vacant since Joycelyn Elders, who disgraced the office so effortlessly, returned to Arkansas. Mr. Clinton's next nominee, Henry Foster, went down in flames in part because he couldn't tell the truth about the number of abortions he had performed and in part because of his extremist views on teen sexuality. In the favorable committee vote on Dr. Satcher's nomination, only five Republicans voted no. The nomination now heads to the full Senate for confirmation.

An "A+" for effort

Even as the White House was staging events aimed at attacking Republican educational reforms, the House voted to approve a change to the tax code that would allow parents to use education savings accounts to help finance K-12 private school expenses. "A+ Education Savings Accounts" would permit the deposit of up to $2,500 in after-tax funds per child per year into a savings account that could accrue interest tax free. The president threatened to veto that legislation, even though he signed a tax bill this summer that provides a similar education savings plan for pre- and post-graduate education. The National Education Association teachers' union opposes the A+ plan. Congress and the White House are at loggerheads over other education issues-as well as a handful of other issues-and that's holding up passage of the six remaining appropriations bills to fund the federal government for Fiscal Year 1998, which is now into its second month. Congress approved last week another temporary funding bill, to keep all the federal lights on through Nov. 7, the date lawmakers hope to adjourn for the year, with all the funding legislation passed and signed by the president.

Pleading the Fifth

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The same constitutional amendment, the Fifth, that protects citizens from giving self-incriminating testimony also protects citizens from governments' taking control of their property without providing just compensation. The House on Oct. 22 voted 248-178 to require federal courts to treat Fifth Amendment land-use cases as they do First Amendment free-speech cases. Under current federal court rules, landowners who lose the use of their property as a result of zoning or other restrictions must first exhaust the series of administrative law procedures before getting to make a constitutional case in federal court. President Clinton, whose biggest benefactors in the campaign-finance scandal are making regular use of the Fifth Amendment in a different context, threatened to veto the House's expansion of Fifth Amendment rights for landowners. Requiring governments to defend their actions in court against Bill-of-Rights challenges, White House officials said, would "seriously impair the ability of state and local agencies to protect public health, safety, and the environment."

School days

Due to its religious nature, a high school chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) has been told it doesn't have the same right to meet on campus as other school clubs. Although many clubs are allowed to meet at specified times during school hours, a Superior Court judge in Orange County, Calif., backing the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, ruled that the FCA doesn't qualify. Under school district guidelines, on-campus meetings of religious groups are prohibited. In addition, such groups aren't even allowed to put up posters on school property to advertise their existence. The Rutherford Institute, a Christian-based legal organization, plans to appeal the judge's ruling, arguing that it's a blatant violation of the 1984 federal Equal Access Act. In Fort Myers, Fla., the Lee County school board touched off a philosophical firestorm with its 3-2 vote to OK an elective high-school history course based on the New Testament. People for the American Way officials fretted that the Bible-as-history class could be used to "indoctrinate" students and threatened to mount a legal challenge against it. The course curriculum, developed by the North Carolina-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, currently is being used in public schools in 22 states. The parents of a 9-year-old New York City schoolgirl, allegedly sodomized during recess by a group of 8- and 9-year-old boys, accused the school principal of trying to cover up the incident. According to published reports, the principal met with the boys but did not notify the girl's parents or police. Only after the girl's parents reported the alleged incident to police were the boys suspended. School officials maintain the principal acted properly. Meanwhile, parents and politicians demanded tougher punishment for a New York City high school teacher who required his sophomore class to study a sexually graphic poem written by a former student. Teacher Charles Self got a slap on the wrist-in the form of a letter of reprimand-but was not forced to face a disciplinary hearing.

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