Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Trading places," June 30, 2001

High court lets stand ruling that kept boy from reading bible story to class
Subversive story?
Poor Zachary Hood. He did so well in reading achievement in his first-grade class at an elementary school in Medford, N.J., that he qualified for teacher Grace Oliva's reward. She allowed all high achievers to select a short and simple story to read to their classmates. That's when the trouble started. Zachary chose a story titled "A Big Family." It was about the biblical brothers Jacob and Esau and how they had a joyful reunion following years of estrangement. The story appeared in a book called The Beginner's Bible, a note said the story came from Genesis 29-33, and biblical scenes adorned the book jacket. But the story text itself contained no religious terminology, not even a mention of God. Yet the teacher thought it inappropriate for Zachary's classmates to hear the story, and she had him read it in private to her instead. Zachary's mother, Carol Hood, complained. The teacher said allowing the boy to read the story would have amounted to a Bible reading. The principal backed her, saying it also would have been "the equivalent of praying." Mrs. Hood sued, alleging discrimination and violation of free-speech rights. That was in 1996. A federal judge and the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the teacher was within her rights to restrict access to a young "captive audience." The appeals court distinguished between private student speech, which is protected, and speech inside a classroom, which carries an implied stamp of school approval. The U.S. Supreme Court decided on June 18 to stay out of the fight. Zachary now goes to school elsewhere. Ashcroft: End tobacco fight
Rolling up a lawsuit
Call it clearing out the last administration's crusades. Attorney General John Ashcroft told lawmakers he would assign three career Justice Department lawyers to reach a settlement in the government's massive $20 billion lawsuit against tobacco companies. Anti-tobacco groups were upset, but the companies named in the suit weren't cheering, either. "We will not settle this lawsuit for any amount of money," declared R.J. Reynolds spokesman Seth Moskowitz. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters that the move may not mean a more favorable outcome for the industry, and that the president believes "there are far too many lawsuits, and it's preferable if you can reach agreements, to reach agreements." Justices let Alabama students pray
It's OK here, but not there
Want to pray at high-school football games? Play your games in Alabama, not Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court on June 18 let stand a lower court ruling that allows students to participate in group prayers at school functions such as football games and graduations. At issue was a 1993 Alabama law that requires public schools to permit student-initiated prayer, provided they don't favor one religion over another and students don't try to convert their classmates. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law. Last year, the Supreme Court instructed the appeals court to review its judgment in light of a high court ruling in a Texas case that found prayers at high-school football games were unconstitutional. The appeals court said the Texas case didn't apply and recently reaffirmed its own position. The high court chose to live with the Alabama opinion. Top Republicans call for embryo research
Compromising life
Politicians like to talk about how they are the voice for the voiceless, but that doesn't always extend to human embryos. In an effort begun by the Clinton administration and fueled by testimony from such Hollywood stars as Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox, researchers are seeking federal funds to harvest stem cells from embryos created in infertility laboratories. Now otherwise pro-life politicians are joining their cause. First in March and again this month, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson has disappointed pro-life groups by suggesting a compromise to allow some federal funding of stem-cell research on human embryos. Pro-lifers point out that new research shows that adult stem cells are a potentially excellent and nonlethal source of research for degenerative ailments like Parkinson's disease. President Bush has suggested his support for adult stem-cell research, but the administration is delaying any definitive action. Meanwhile, other pro-life officeholders have weighed in for embryo research. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wrote to President Bush that it was "consistent with bedrock pro-life, pro-family values" since frozen embryos aren't fetuses in wombs. In response to the media attention to officialdom, Dave Andrusko of the National Right to Life Committee explained that not one pro-life group has taken that step: "We respectfully, but vigorously, disagree." Groups on both sides claim that most Americans favor their viewpoint. The Coalition for Advanced Medical Research declared 77 percent favored research on stem cells "taken from frozen embryos about to be discarded by fertility clinics." The NRLC contends a new poll found a majority opposed federal funding of stem-cell research in which "live embryos would be destroyed in their first week of development," by a margin of 70 to 24 percent. Darwinian teaching on trial
Senators for sound science
Congressional conservatives are quietly cheering the passage of a two-sentence amendment in the Senate education bill by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). It reads in part that schools should teach students "to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science." Mr. Santorum framed the language with help from Berkeley law professor Philip Johnson, who has long pointed out that government schools teach Darwinism as dogma. Mr. Santorum's amendment passed 91-8, and several Democrats expressed their support on the floor, including Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who declared, "I hope all of our colleagues will vote in support of it. We want children to be able to speak and examine various scientific theories on the basis of all the information that is available to them." A National Association of Biology Teachers spokesman announced that the organization will oppose the amendment. It must clear a conference committee that will soon mesh the House and Senate bills together before sending a final bill to President Bush. Benetton settles suit over ads
Killer shills
Last year, Benetton ran an ad campaign that begged people to sympathize with death row murderers. Now, to settle a lawsuit filed by the state of Missouri, the Italian fashion company will apologize and donate money to a victims compensation fund. Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon claimed that Benetton conned the Potosi Correctional Center into thinking interviewers were doing research for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, not for information to help sell perky pastel-colored women's clothes. The "We on Death Row" ad campaign that resulted from the interviews featured inmates fielding softball questions like "Do you consider yourself a lucky person?" "Are you afraid of dying?" and "Do you have any dreams?" Benetton's ad creators said the project was about "giving back a human face to the prisoners on death row." As part of the settlement, the company will give $50,000 to the Missouri Crime Victims Compensation Fund and immediately stop using the four Missouri inmates on the Benetton website. One of the quartet, Jerome Mallet, murdered a state trooper in 1985 and is scheduled to be executed July 11. Attorneys general in Kentucky, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Oregon are considering similar lawsuits. The death row ads ran around the world-and a German woman even fell in love with one of the inmates. Dagmar Polzin moved to Raleigh, N.C., in October to be near Bobby Lee Harris, who confessed to the 1991 killing of commercial fisherman John Redd. The murderer, who stabbed his victim three times in the back and dumped his body over the side of a boat, has an IQ in the low 70s. Turner starts a studio to push left-wing causes
Ted's big venture
Ted Turner isn't giving up. After AOL Time Warner shoved him into a figurehead job, he started making plans to get back onto the media scene with his own movie studio. Ted Turner Pictures, located three blocks from CNN Center in downtown Atlanta, will make documentaries and commercial films that follow the founder's interests. "He's focused on certain things about improving the quality of life, saving this planet, preserving history," Robert Wussler, chief executive of the company, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That includes producing pieces for Mr. Turner's left-leaning organizations: the UN Foundation, the Turner Foundation, and the Nuclear Threat Initiative. They will also reflect his interest in military history and the Civil War. Turner Broadcasting System still bears the founder's name, but AOL executive Jamie Kellner now runs it. (The new boss has started overhauling the properties, including the cancellation of pro wrestling and the relaunch of TNT.) The rise of Ted Turner Pictures means that the 62-year-old cable TV billionaire will still exert some influence over pop culture, although he'll have to do it without the marketing muscle of TBS and AOL/Time Warner. "It's something he's prepared to put a sizable amount of his financial well-being into," Mr. Wussler said. Modern terms make it into the Oxford English dictionary
What's the word?
"Retail therapy," "serial monogamy," "lifestyle drugs," and hundreds of other bits of modern verbiage now have official status in the English language via the Oxford English Dictionary, or OED. The OED is an expensive monster of a dictionary, with 20 volumes covering half a million words. It traces the history of words, showing changes over time. Although normally used by specialists, it is the gold standard of the English language. OED posted online other new additions, including "acid jazz," "peace process," and "boy band." The dictionary update also included plenty of Internet terms, such as "cybercafe," "cybercrime," and "cyberphobia." Eventually the 250 new or revised entries will find their way into the next edition of the print dictionary, but its publication is years away. Work on the third edition started in 1990, but is far from finished. The most noted new word comes from The Simpsons: Homer's trademark "doh." The OED defines it as "expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned or that one has just said or done something foolish. Also implying that another person has said or done something foolish."

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