Dispatches > In Brief

In Brief

"In Brief" Continued...

Issue: "The Road to Damascus," Sept. 21, 2002

Silber's shot across the bow

Boston University Chancellor John Silber came back from a six-year hiatus from running the day-to-day operations of the school and promptly jumped into a culture war. He shut down a homosexual support group at a prep school run by the university.

The neoconservative gadfly and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Massachusetts complained that the program encourages kids to have sex outside of marriage. "We're not running a program in sex education," Mr. Silber told The Boston Globe. "If they want that kind of program, they can go to Newton High School. They can go to public school and learn how to put a condom over a banana."

The school involved in the controversy is the BU Academy, which includes grades 8 to 12. The school boasts some of the highest SAT scores in the country.

Mr. Silber lamented that kids have sexual messages "pounded" into them "from the time they're 6 years of age." He told the paper that troubled students should consult teachers instead of a support group, and he objected to the politicization of sexuality. "It's none of my business," he said. "So don't make it my business by insisting on rubbing my nose in whatever your preference is, because I don't want to know."

The support group's defenders claim they protect kids from being threatened and harassed by others. Kevin Jennings, executive director of the New York-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, murmured about Mr. Silber violating federal equal access laws. "Certainly he's violating the spirit of the law and we're looking at whether he's violating the letter of the law," he said. But some parents objected that such groups encourage kids to experiment sexually.

Mr. Silber won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1990 (some called him a Reagan Democrat) but lost to Republican William Weld in the general election. He became known nationally for his outspoken style and fiery temper. | Chris Stamper

Hoosier hooch

Indiana University is America's top school. Top party school, that is, according to rankings by the Princeton Review.

Every year, tens of thousands of students fill out surveys for the New Jersey company, which is best known for test preparation. The company bases the party school label on reports of alcohol and marijuana use, the popularity of fraternities and sororities, and how much time students spend studying outside of class. The company includes the controversial list in its popular Best Colleges guide.

The American Medical Association is the list's most prominent critic, claiming it legitimizes alcohol abuse on campus. "Students who are looking for little more than a good time may be influenced by this ranking, and the 'party school' designation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," said the AMA's Richard Yost.

Topping this year's party school list are Indiana, Clemson University, the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Florida.

Endangered exemption

The clergy's tax-exempt housing allowance under the U.S. tax code is safe-for now. But stay tuned.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco late last month dismissed a high-profile case involving Southern California megachurch pastor Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist. Rev. Warren had sued the Internal Revenue Service after the IRS rejected his $80,000 claim as a housing allowance. The IRS argued that only the fair-market rental value of a minister's home is exempt; Rev. Warren contended all costs related to clergy housing are exempt.

Instead of ruling on the case's merits, the panel initially decided to explore whether the religion-based exemption itself violates the Constitution's Establishment Clause. It asked Southern California University law professor Erwin Chermerinsky to file a friend-of-court brief on its legality.

Alarmed, Congress hurriedly enacted legislation in May to strengthen the exemption in law. And to head off the court's intervention, both Rev. Warren and the IRS, joined by the Justice Department, asked that the case be dismissed.

Wanting to keep the constitutional question alive, Prof. Chermerinsky opposed the motion for dismissal. But in its decision last month, the court said he hadn't established grounds for continuing in the case. However, the panel suggested he could now file his own separate lawsuit as a taxpayer questioning the exemption's constitutionality.

Prof. Chermerinsky told reporters he will do just that.

Plans aborted

A Roman Catholic church in Medicine Hat, Alberta, canceled the long-planned wedding ceremony this month of Celina Ling and her non-Catholic fiancé three days after a newspaper article appeared, quoting her as an employee of Planned Parenthood.

Angry and "devastated," Miss Ling took her story to the media. She said she had confirmed the wedding plans with church officials nine months ago, paid a deposit, and completed mandatory marriage preparation classes. She said she had told Rev. John Maes, the parish priest, that she worked for Planned Parenthood, and he said nothing about it.


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