This Week

Issue: "Pilgrims' progress," Nov. 28, 1998

A toddler's two mommies

Imagine a son raised by a split-up lesbian couple both considered his mother by the law. That's already the case for an unnamed 2-year-old boy in New Jersey who was the center of a lesbian custody battle. Superior Court Judge Vincent Grasso ruled that a lesbian partner can share custody of the child, even though she isn't the biological mother. In this case, the couple planned to raise the child together and chose a sperm donor to inseminate one. Judge Grasso ruled that the other woman "stands in the shoes of a parent to the child and should be accorded the status of parent." She is expected to take the boy for three or four 12-hour days each week while biomom is at work, as well as on alternate weekends. This ruling means that whatever person of whatever sex plays the role of parent can legally seek custody. The significance of this ruling isn't lost on Kate Kendell of the National Center for Gay and Lesbian Rights: "Our children have as much right to a continuing relationship with both parents as any other child of two parents." But the decision isn't binding statewide, and two other similar cases in New Jersey have yet to be decided.

Prison disfellowship

A racist cult called the Five Percent is reaching across America-from hip-hop radio to maximum security prisons. It rejects most accepted history, authority, and organized religion. The black man, the Five Percent teaches, is a god. It's nuts, but it sells. Pop powerhouses like Busta Rhymes, Wu Tang Clan and Erykah Badu sing about the 34-year-old movement. Thousands follow the teachings in Harlem, where the movement began, and beyond. Ron Holvey, New Jersey's top prison investigator, says his state's prisons hold at least 1,000 Five Percenters-and perhaps several times that. In a South Carolina prison, the Five Percent exploded one steamy spring day in 1995 when five inmates attacked five guards. They beat some with a baseball bat and scalded one with boiling water. They took hostages. When the convicts surrendered at day's end, they gave Arabic names. Now, prison officials in five states censor Five Percenters despite complaints that this tramples on freedom of religion. (In New York, a state Supreme Court judge upheld the ban.) Some prison systems label all Five Percenters gang members, even though some condemn violence and drugs. They say what started as a loose, disorganized group is becoming more and more dangerous. "They're organized crime," said Mike Moore, head of South Carolina's Corrections Department. Cult teachings are called Supreme Mathematics. "Five percent" is supposedly the percentage of people who teach the "truth" about black male divinity. The Five Percent borrowed the Nation of Islam's teaching that a mad scientist made the white man from the black man. The cult considers Allah as supreme being, but each black man gets to be god of his own universe. Women are "Earths," which is why the sect is also known as the Nation of Gods and Earths. "The beauty of the teachings lets you know that destiny and fate is in your own hands," says Bilal Allah, a self-proclaimed deity and MCA record executive "It's all on you, man, it's all on you."

Starr lays out his case

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On Nov. 20 Ken Starr took the stand before the House Judiciary Committee in an inquiry that few observers believed will ultimately lead to the president's impeachment by the House and removal from office by the Senate. Mr. Starr charged-before a panel strictly divided along partisan lines-that President Clinton "misused his authority and power" to obstruct justice. Democrats objected vehemently to the entire process. Mr. Starr's testimony was interrupted twice by a Democrat congresswoman who raised irrelevant points of order. And while chairman Henry Hyde told his colleagues, "The hearing today is not a trial. It is not White House versus Starr," many congressmen tried to turn Mr. Starr into a Mark Fuhrman-esque scapegoat. For example, John Conyers (D-Mich.) characterized Mr. Starr's evidence as "tawdry, salacious, and unnecessarily graphic" and claimed his testimony was "a desperate effort to breathe new life into a dying inquiry." He slurred Mr. Starr as "a federally paid sex policeman spending millions of dollars to trap an unfaithful spouse." Sitting in the same room where impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon convened 25 years ago, independent counsel Starr spared no words about the president: "On at least six different occasions-from Dec. 17, 1997, through Aug. 17, 1998-the president had to make a decision," he testified. "He could choose truth or he could choose deception. On all six occasions, the president chose deception." Mr. Starr mostly stuck to material from his September report and dismissed Democratic suggestions he had no right to investigate Mr. Clinton's affair with Ms. Lewinsky. Obstruction of justice "is not a private matter," he declared. But he emphasized that the matter is in the hands of the Congress. He closed with personal reflections and betrayed some frustration with the political circus that his investigation has provoked: "My experience is in the law and the courts. I am not a man of polls, public relations, or politics-which I suppose is obvious at this point."

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