The Senate is holding up a bill establishing a new State Department envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East, provoking outcry from religious freedom groups that have been pushing for the new position. Those advocates think the position will help focus the U.S. government's attention on the worsening situation in that part of the world.
The legislation passed overwhelmingly in the House, 402-20, last summer. But Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., placed a hold on it, citing the State Department's opposition to the new position. The State Department says it duplicates the work of the ambassador for international religious freedom, and that the agency would have to redirect money for the new position away from current religious freedom efforts.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who was the chief sponsor of the envoy bill, wrote Webb last month to urge him to change his position: "Will a special envoy guarantee [religious minorities'] survival-and even flourishing-in the lands they have inhabited for centuries? I do not know. But I am certain, that to do nothing is not an option-lest on this administration's and this Congress' watch we witness a Middle East emptied of ancient faith communities, foremost among them the beleaguered Christian community." If the Senate doesn't pass the bill this year, the legislative process would have to start over in Congress' next term.
Monsignor William Lynn on July 24 received a sentence of three to six years in prison for one count of felony child endangerment. Lynn, 61, was secretary of the clergy in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and is the first Roman Catholic Church official convicted for covering up clergy sexual abuse in the United States. Lynn protected "monsters in clerical garb who molested children" when he transferred priests accused of sexual abuse to other parishes without warning the parishes, said Judge M. Teresa Sarmina during sentencing. "You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong." Lynn's attorneys had sought probation for Lynn, and they promise to appeal the conviction. Another Catholic official, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, will stand trial in August on a misdemeanor charge of failing to report suspected child sexual abuse.
Not Gates' girls
A July 12 family-planning summit in London drew $4.6 billion in pledges to further the use of contraceptives, targeting 120 million poor women in the developing world. The largest donors included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-lead private sponsor of the one-day event-along with a handful of European countries. In the United States, the Hewlett Foundation and Packard Foundation pledged to fund political advocacy to stress the "unmet need" for contraceptives around the world.
But not every woman in a developing country is a fan. "We need justice, not drugs" begins a video presentation featuring African and Asian women who denounce the dangerous side effects of contraceptives and point out that Gates' partners include "the largest abortion providers in the world" (see below). Contraceptives "do not help us get what we really need," they said in a presentation sponsored by Human Life International, "and they are not good for our health. ... Ms. Gates, we can do better."
Worthy of respect
After a two-year review, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) on July 17 reaffirmed its policy of excluding gays, ruling out any changes despite relentless protest campaigns by pro-homosexual groups and media. An 11-member special committee, formed discreetly by top Scout leaders in 2010, unanimously concluded that the exclusion policy "is absolutely the best policy" for the 102-year-old organization, a BSA spokesman told the Associated Press. Critics raged but pro-family groups praised the decision: "Whether it's learning how to sharpen a knife, cook a meal, or help a neighbor, the BSA has invested billions of hours into creating generations of responsible citizens," said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. "But more importantly, the Scouts are teaching boys something our culture doesn't: how to become men worthy of respect."
A July 22 rainstorm that dumped six inches of water on Beijing in a few hours claimed 37 lives and left nearly 2 million people in the Chinese capital waterlogged and without electricity. Parts of major expressways remained under several feet of water a day later, and many residents blamed the government: "China has been investing heavily in construction in recent years, and the glossy appearance of the cities is eye-catching," said one writing on a micro-blogging site. "However, the huge loss from the rainstorm in Beijing has exposed the flaws of the city's infrastructure, which should raise an alarm for the policy makers."
Food stamp bubble
A battle over the growth of food stamps has halted debate in Congress over the new five-year, $958 billion farm bill. With the current farm bill set to expire on Sept. 30, the Senate and House remain more than $12 billion apart on reductions to the farm bill's nutritional assistance program known as food stamps. With loosened eligibility requirements, nearly 46 million Americans are on food stamps today. That's a 64 percent increase from the 28 million participants in 2008. The cost of the program totaled $72 billion in 2011, a 70 percent jump from 2007. House Republicans originally called for $33 billion in cuts to the program, but now have advanced a bill that includes cuts of $16.5 billion. The Senate's farm bill includes just $4 billion in food stamp cuts.
The church & marriage
The Presbyterian Church (USA) in its General Assembly meeting in Pittsburgh last month voted narrowly to maintain a traditional definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. (A marriage issues committee earlier recommended changing it to a union between "two people.") After the final vote, moderator Neal Presa acknowledged in prayer, "Some of us weep while some of us rejoice. We are a divided church."
The Episcopal Church in its General Convention took another step toward "full inclusion" of homosexuals, overwhelmingly approving a liturgy to bless same-sex couples. The rite does not actually use the words "marriage," "husband," or "wife"-The Episcopal Church still defines marriage as a heterosexual union-but dubbed the ceremony "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant." Priests may use the liturgy whether or not gay "marriage" is legal in their state.