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In Brief

News highlights from around the world

Issue: "9/11 remembered," Aug. 17, 2002

Pledge hedge

That Pledge of Allegiance case is back in federal appeals court in San Francisco. Sandra Banning, the mother of the 8-year-old girl whose atheist father filed the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the "under God" phrase in the pledge, asked the 9th Circuit judges to remove her daughter from the case. Her name is not disclosed in court papers.

She said she and her daughter are members of Calvary Chapel of Laguna Creek, an evangelical church in the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove (where Ms. Banning teaches Sunday school), and have no objections to the pledge. "I do not wish for my daughter, for the rest of her life, to be known as 'the atheist child who hated the pledge,'" Ms. Banning said in court papers.

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Michael Newdow, a physician-lawyer in suburban Sacramento and an activist member of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, filed the anti-pledge lawsuit in California. A panel of the 9th Circuit on June 26 ruled 2-1 that recitation of the pledge in public schools is unconstitutional because it contains the phrase "under God" and thereby violates the First Amendment.

The decision in effect overturned the 1954 act of Congress that inserted the two words in the pledge. However, Judge Goodwin stayed the order until the full court-under intense pressure from Washington-decides whether to rehear the case. Court records show that Ms. Banning and Mr. Newdow, who never married, are in a custody battle for the daughter, who lives with Ms. Banning. | Edward E. Plowman

Religion in the e-square

May Christians send religion-oriented e-mail at work if they're government employees? For LaDonna DeVore, what started as an innocent e-mail is now a court case about religious freedom.

Last spring, she sent a message over her work e-mail system that included a proclamation by President Bush concerning a national day of prayer. Her employer is an upscale Dallas-area school district, which has a policy against sending religious messages.

Ms. DeVore says Highland Park Independent School District officials told her the message was inappropriate-and warned that future religious messages could result in suspension of her e-mail privileges. She is now suing the district, which would not comment on the case.

The district has a communications policy prohibiting "religious worship" or "proselytizing." Yet Ms. DeVore's complaint says employees may use the e-mail system for both work-related and private messages. In this case, the e-mail went to acquaintances within the school system and some outside friends.

"The school district has a communications policy that discriminates against religious speech," said Stuart J. Roth, senior counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which filed the suit. "The law is clear: If a school district permits employees to communicate a wide variety of both work-related and private messages, it cannot prohibit a message from being communicated because its content is religious in nature."

Approved but restricted

Those who buy Xyrem, a newly approved drug for treating narcolepsy, will have to explain why they want to buy it and accept government monitoring of how they use it.

And understandably so, because Xyrem also goes by the name GHB, the potentially deadly date-rape drug. In approving Xyrem for medical use, the Food and Drug Administration required that doctors who prescribe it register with the government. Only one pharmacy will sell the drug, shipping it to patients who certify that they understand the penalties for abuse. The government will investigate lost shipments, and abusers will face jail time. T

he colorless, odorless drug became notorious during the 1990s for its use by rapists, who would mix it in drinks to knock out victims. Several dozen deaths are also blamed on the drug. "No system, I believe, is foolproof, but there will be very close tabs" kept on Xyrem, said Russell Katz, the FDA's neurologic drugs chief.

Double dog DARE?

Does DARE do anything? Critics for years have said that it and other drug-prevention programs are ineffective, and new research is bolstering that argument.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say that DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), Here's Looking at You 2000, and McGruff's Drug Prevention and Child Protection underperform. Their study, published in the journal Health Education Research, shows that many schools use "heavily marketed curricula that have not been evaluated, have been evaluated inadequately, or have been shown to be ineffective in reducing substance abuse."

Police officers in Los Angeles created DARE in 1983, and it quickly gained widespread popularity in America's public schools. More than 50,000 police officers have been trained for DARE programs, and 80 percent of school districts use the program.

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