November 2003 Issue #104
Religious Right Agenda In Congress
Pres. Bush signed the “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.” Those on both sides of the debate over abortion rights consider it a significant milestone. Bush invited religious right leaders to the signing ceremony and private meetings before and after the ceremony.
The following day, Reps. DeMint (R-SC) and Bartlett (R-MD) introduced the “RU-486 Suspension and Review Act of 2003.” RU-486, or mifepristone, induces abortion when administered in early pregnancy. The FDA approved it in 2000. The bill calls on Congress to suspend the approval and conduct an independent review of the procedures the FDA used to approve it. The religious right contend that the FDA circumvented the lawful approval process and the drug is dangerous. Its supporters dispute that and maintain that the drug has proven to be a safe and acceptable option for women, noting that it was used in Europe for over ten years before it was approved in this country. The House bill has 59 cosponsors. Sen. Brownback (R-Kan.) plans to introduce a similar bill in the Senate.
The religious right is also advocating the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (S. 1019 and S. 146), called “Laci’s and Conner’s Law” in the House (HR 1997). It would make harming a fetus other than during abortions and medical treatment a federal crime.
State Education Board Approves Biology Textbooks
The State Board of Education (SBOE) voted to approve all biology textbooks that it was considering. The final voice vote was unanimous.
The previous day, the SBOE had given the books preliminary approval in an 11-4 vote. Terri Leo of Spring and David Bradley of Beaumont joined fellow religious right members Gail Lowe and Don McLeroy in voting not to approve the books because they did not mention “weaknesses” of evolution.
SBOE members said they had gotten thousands of e-mails, faxes, and phone calls about the books, mainly from critics. Groups such as Texas Eagle Forum and Focus on the Family had urged people to contact SBOE members to ask them to reject books that did not address evolution’s “weaknesses.”
Textbook Author Sues Education Board Members Over Rejected Book
The author of an environmental science textbook that was rejected for use in public high schools by the State Board of Education in 2001 has sued 5 current and former SBOE members over the rejection. The complaint charges that the SBOE’s decision was “guided by constitutionally invalid concerns regarding viewpoints expressed in the text, rather than by any legitimate concerns for factual accuracy or curriculum fulfillment.” It alleges that this viewpoint discrimination constitutes censorship in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The textbook has been widely used for over 20 years in universities, including Baylor University. According to the lawsuit, the Texas Commissioner of Education recommended adopting the book and the official review panel concluded that the book was free of factual errors. The SBOE rejected the book by 10-5, allegedly without pointing out any specific factual errors or identifying any other grounds for the rejection.
The complaint accuses Defendants McLeroy, Shore and Thornton of working directly with Texas Public Policy Foundation and Citizens for a Sound Economy to develop a strategy for rejecting the book. At a SBOE hearing the day before the vote, those two groups attacked the book as anti-Christian, anti-free enterprise, and anti-American. They were motivated, the complaint alleges, entirely by “their strong disagreement” with the author’s viewpoints on environmental and economic issues. The complaint asserts that another publisher, whose book was preliminarily rejected and then approved after he agreed to make some changes to address some objections raised at the hearing, called the approval process a "book burning" that was "100 percent political."
Two high school students are also suing for themselves and other students who have been denied access to the book. The plaintiffs seek a court order declaring that the rejection of the book was unconstitutional and requiring the book’s addition to the list of approved texts. The author also seeks monetary damages, including for lost sales in Texas and other states.
The suit was filed in federal court in Dallas by the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ), a “national public interest law firm dedicated to using trial lawyers’ skills and resources to advance the public good.” The complaint in the case, Chiras v. Miller, is posted on TLPJ’s web site, www.tlpj.org.
Judges Block "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban"
Minutes after Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, a Nebraska judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking it from taking effect. Judges in New York and California did the same the next day. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the ACLU on behalf of National Abortion Federation, the professional association of abortion providers in the United States and Canada, had each filed a federal lawsuit challenging the act before Bush had signed it.
The plaintiffs in all three cases argue that the law is very similar to a Nebraska law that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down. The Supreme Court ruled that the lack of an exception to preserve a mother’s health and the prohibition of a range of safe abortion procedures made it unconstitutional.
U.S. Supreme Court Actions
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the appeal of a ruling that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public school violates the First Amendment because of the phrase “under God.” The Court agreed to decide the constitutionality issue and whether the plaintiff, who does not have custody of his daughter, had standing to bring the suit. Justice Scalia recused himself from the case, reportedly because he had criticized the ruling in a speech.
The Court unanimously rejected Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s appeal of the order that he remove his Ten Commandments monument from the state’s judicial building. Moore will face a state judicial review board considering disciplinary action for his refusal to comply with the order.
Religious Right Defend General
The religious right is staunchly defending the general who gave speeches likening the war against terrorism to a religious war. Lt. General William Boykin, the deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said that Islamic extremists hate the U.S. “because we’re a Christian nation,” Satan is the enemy, “our spiritual enemy will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus,” and his God was a real God while the God of his Islamic adversary was an idol. He also asserted that George Bush was not elected by a majority of voters in the United States but was appointed by God.
The Bush Administration said the remarks do not reflect its views, but it has not publicly criticized Boykin or condemned his remarks. The Defense Department is conducting an internal investigation. Nineteen representatives have cosponsored a resolution (H.Res.319) calling on the President to clearly censure and reassign Boykin for his “religiously intolerant remarks against people of the Islamic faith.”
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