News & Reviews

Issue: "Digital Revolution," Nov. 27, 1999

Will the supremes address lemon religious-freedom decision?
Making Lemonade?
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed last week to referee the Texas dispute over student-led school prayer (WORLD, Nov. 13). At issue is a question that affects students across the nation: Can schools constitutionally allow student-led prayer at school events? According to the court ruling now under appeal, the answer is no. A decision of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals held that football games are "hardly the sober type of annual event that can be appropriately solemnized with prayer." And without the requisite solemnity, the court held, the prayers are unconstitutional. "Solemnity" finds no place in the constitutional language; this standard arises from federal court case law. Public religious expressions must meet three conditions in order to pass "constitutional" muster, and one of them is that they must have a "secular purpose." It's the "Lemon test," created by the Supreme Court in a 1971 case, Lemon vs. Kurtzman. Subsequent federal court rulings have held that bland prayers at graduation ceremonies meet the "secular purpose" standard because they "solemnize" the events. Texas football fields became ground zero in this latest church-state debate when a judge banned the Galveston-area Santa Fe school district from allowing student prayer over its football stadium loudspeaker earlier this year. The 5th Circuit concurred and went even further, forbidding at properly solemn graduation ceremonies any mention of Jesus or others recognized in non-Christian religions as deities. The Santa Fe school district fought back with a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court backed by friend-of-the-court briefs from nine state governments and a congressional resolution in favor of pre-game prayer. School districts across the country now await the high court's verdict. The usual suspects lined up in opposition to the petition. Said Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the pre-game prayer ban should remain: "The school's giving you the microphone. It will sound like an officially sanctioned religious statement, and that has no place at a high school football game." But religious freedoms are at stake, according to Kelly Shackelford of the Texas-based Liberty Legal Institute: "The Supreme Court will now decide: Will the government for the first time in our history be forced to ban the prayers of private citizens? Or will the court stand for the students' rights to freedom of expression?" Feeling heat, online retailer dumps porn
Amazon.com: 'We listen'
With book titles like Carnal Knowledge and Doing It for Daddy, some sections of Amazon.com-the world's largest online bookseller-read like a pornographer's wish list. Nevertheless, pro-family groups are celebrating a small victory after Amazon.com quietly removed from its virtual shelves a book promoting pedophilia, called Varieties of Man/Boy Love: Modern Western Contexts. The victory followed bad publicity generated on the radio and the Internet. Chuck Colson, on his BreakPoint radio program, announced that his organization had terminated a contract with Amazon.com because of the book. National radio personality Dr. Laura Schlessinger lambasted Amazon.com for peddling pedophilia books even though the practice is illegal in all 50 states. Volleys from "Dr. Laura" and Mr. Colson were aided by an email alert that the American Family Association sent to 10,000 supporters. At first, Amazon.com resisted, telling email protesters that "our goal of universal access makes it impossible to remove the book from our catalog." But two days after Dr. Laura's program, the book was missing from Amazon.com lists. Asked to explain the sudden disappearance, Amazon.com spokesman Paul Capelli told WORLD, "We listen to our customers.... The photography and graphic nature of the book pushed it over the line of child pornography, which is not appropriate content for sale." Mr. Capelli said Amazon.com will not remove other books about incest and pedophilia because they are not considered pornography. Fed raises rates
One last hike
The Federal Reserve raised interest rates, but indicated that it may leave things settled for the rest of the year, prompting an immediate rally on Wall Street. Some economists cited the Y2K computer changeover as one of the reasons the Fed might leave interest rates alone at its Dec. 21 meeting. Meanwhile, the economy continued to surge, with unemployment at a 30-year low of 4.1 percent. The No-Comment Zone

  • Nathaniel Abraham, 13, sat expressionless and looked straight ahead as a Michigan jury made him one of the youngest convicted murderers in U.S. history. His defense attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, the flamboyant former defender of Jack Kevorkian, helped Nathaniel avoid a first-degree murder conviction, which would have put him in jail for life without parole. Now Nathaniel, with his second-degree guilty verdict, will be locked up until he is at least 21. Then prosecutors say his case should be reviewed to see if he has been "rehabilitated." Nathaniel was already suspected in nearly two dozen crimes, including theft, beating two teens with metal pipes, and snatching a woman's purse at gunpoint, when he shot 18-year-old Ronnie Greene with a stolen rifle, in Pontiac in 1997.
  • Planned Parenthood must give back over $100,000 collected from the Missouri government after a judge upheld a law aimed at keeping taxpayer funds from going to abortionists. State judge Byron Kinder said the legislature acted properly when it imposed the restriction and ruled that two area Planned Parenthood groups won't get any more money. That means the groups will lose almost $700,000 in funds allocated for the rest of this year-and must pay interest on what they received in July and August.
  • Tradition turned tragic at Texas A&M last week when a 40-foot pyramid of logs being assembled for an annual bonfire collapsed, killing at least nine students and injuring 28. Students gathered near the scene, holding hands and praying as rescuers searched for victims in the rubble. Since 1909, A&M students have built the massive bonfire before the football game against archrival University of Texas. The structure of logs is assembled over the course of several weeks, and the bonfire usually draws tens of thousands of spectators.
  • German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says prostitutes have the same right to welfare as everyone else. According to reports in the Los Angeles Times, his leftist government wants to take prostitution out of the "immoral" category and open working girls to welfare benefits. Prostitution isn't illegal in Germany, and the prostitute population is estimated at about 50,000 in a population of over 80 million. IRS forced into embarrassing admissions
    Shred of evidence
    Suppose the IRS audits a taxpayer. Suppose the taxpayer tells the agent that the document he wants he can't have because the taxpayer "could not locate [it]." Or suppose that agent sought an audiotape that contained important information and discovered the tape was unavailable because the taxpayer "used the tapes to record music at her home." That's precisely what the IRS is saying in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking examples of politically motivated audits of tax-exempt groups. An IRS official admitted last week he could not locate 114 of 1,586 files related to tax-exempt groups' audits. The conservative Landmark Legal Foundation, which filed the FOIA lawsuit, claims IRS agents targeted conservative organizations and then shredded evidence that might show members of Congress or White House officials pressed for the audits. Landmark contends an IRS official, speaking at a meeting of IRS managers, admitted shredding evidence showing congressional or White House pressure. Landmark contends the official, Frances T. Hallihan, said that whenever a government official suggested an audit, the IRS agent was supposed to ask for alternate documentation of a potential violation so that the "IRS intake employee could list the 'tip source' as something other than the congressman or staff member." At first, the IRS responded to Landmark's information request by saying no tape of the speech existed; last month, a Justice Department attorney admitted an IRS secretary had made tapes of the Hallihan meeting for later transcription of minutes. But, said Justice official Joseph Sergi: "When the minutes were completed, and the tapes were no longer necessary, [secretary Jeannette] Wallace used the tapes to record music at her home." IRS had no official comment on the revelations. A spokesman said comment would be "inappropriate," but that regardless of the motivation of anyone requesting an audit, politics never enters into the IRS's decision-making. Co-chairman quits Hillsdale panel
    An open question
    Conservative leader William J. Bennett last week withdrew from the search committee charged with finding a new president for Hillsdale College. The school's longtime president, George Roche III, earlier this month retired under pressure after being accused of having an affair with his daughter-in-law, who committed suicide last month. Mr. Bennett said he had "profound disagreements" with the college's handling of the matter, particularly its view "that the facts will never be known and so the matter is closed." EgyptAir probe becomes diplomatic issue
    Suicide flight?
    The final seconds in the cockpit of EgyptAir flight 990 became the focal point not only for air safety investigators but also for top-level diplomats. Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy called on U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering to protest findings in the U.S.-led investigation. The probe into the Oct. 31 crash, which killed 217, turned from mechanical malfunction to possible human sabotage after a review of the flight's cockpit voice recorder. But U.S. officials delayed turning it over to the FBI for criminal investigation, to allow Egyptian officials to verify preliminary data. U.S. investigators suspect that a relief co-pilot, left alone in the EgyptAir cockpit, put the jet into a deliberate nosedive after switching off the plane's autopilot. He said in Arabic, "I made my decision now; I put my faith in God's hands," according to the tape. Just after the plane began to dive, the pilot returned and apparently struggled to right the Boeing 767. By synchronizing the comments of the two pilots with the mechanical response of the plane, as captured on the flight data recorder, investigators concluded that the pilots in some way struggled for the controls-until the plane broke apart over the Atlantic. That conclusion has angered Egyptians and Muslim groups. Relatives of the relief co-pilot, Gameel el-Batouty, say he was neither suicidal nor involved with terrorism. They described him as a loving father of five who had been married 27 years. Mr. el-Batouty joined EgyptAir in 1987 after training pilots at Egypt's Civil Aviation Authority and in the air force. The 59-year-old aviator had more than 5,000 flight hours in a Boeing 767 and was to have retired in March. pro-family group welcomes 6 billionth baby
    'Great progress'
    Family advocates gathered in the UN's Geneva headquarters building for a session that often denounced the world body's approach to family and population policy. The second annual World Congress of Families opened its four-day session in the Swiss capital with 1,000 delegates and dignitaries. Panels of speakers included Christian, Muslim, and Jewish pro-family leaders. "The fact that we have reached 6 billion inhabitants on the earth recently is a sign of great progress," said conference organizer Allan Carlson of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society in Illinois. "Those people who decide to create large families, with all the sacrifices that involves, need to be smiled upon." 7.5 quake strikes 50 miles from August disaster
    Turkey hit again
    Less than a week before Western leaders gathered in Turkey for a security summit on Europe, the country was once again wracked by a major earthquake. The 7.5 quake was centered 50 miles east of the epicenter of an August quake that killed more than 17,000. The death toll from the Nov. 12 quake was expected to pass 600. World Relief workers who have set up tent housing for victims of the August earthquake were quickly dispatched to Duzce, the epicenter. There, the group's portable housing units were used to replace a collapsed hospital. The group also lent a hand to rescue efforts, pulling an infant alive from beneath his dead father. The father's body had protected the child from rubble. Thousands of Turks across the region braved a homeless cold rather than risk aftershocks inside vulnerable buildings. Hundreds waited in Duzce streets while rescue efforts continued. "There is nothing else to do when all earthly possessions are lost," said Benjamin Piper, a Moody Bible Institute student working with World Relief. World in brief
    WTO/China deal
    The United States and China reached an agreement that will likely open the way for China to join the World Trade Organization. The deal will grant China entry into the world body and open world markets to its exports, in exchange for concessions that China will reduce its own tariffs and open banking, agriculture, and telecommunications to foreign investors. Presidential contenders and U.S. business interests are split over the agreement, as are Christian organizations. Some mission groups believe reducing trade barriers will also open doors for greater evangelistic work in China. Others say granting trade privileges eliminates the incentive for China to improve its human-rights record, which includes imprisoning Christian house church pastors and leaders. Lords a leaping
    Parliament on Nov. 11 officially threw out unelected members of Great Britain's House of Lords, stripping hereditary peers of their centuries-old right to be lawmakers. But when a new legislative session opened just days later, it was clear that pageantry was not entirely a thing of the past. Queen Elizabeth II arrived at Westminster in a gilded carriage drawn by four gray horses and escorted by Buckingham Palace cavalry. It is less clear what will become of the chamber's lifetime peers. Of 500, 92 have been allowed to stay on until agreement is reached on a reconfigured body. Its members will be appointed and, in all likelihood, cronies of the party in power.

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