November 2000 People & Events

Vote Anti-Abortion In Upcoming Election, Catholic Leaders Urge

The Roman Catholic hierarchy appears to be taking an increasingly active role in this year's election, urging voters to oppose candidates who do not follow the church's teaching on abortion.

Priests for Life, a New York-based group, began a $250,000 ad campaign in late September asking voters to reject office seekers who support legal abortion. According to the Religion News Service, the ads are being aired on cable television stations in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Washington, D.C., and in other areas that have large Catholic populations.

The ads do not mention any candidate by name but feature the group's director, the Rev. Frank Pavone, asking viewers, "If those elected to public office can't respect the life of a little baby, how are they supposed to respect yours?"

Americans United had earlier warned Priests for Life, a tax-exempt group, that its activities were very close to crossing the line barring partisan politicking by religious groups. If specific candidates were named in the ads, AU said, it would violate federal tax law.

Pavone insists that PFL's work is nonpartisan, but earlier this year he met with Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush and proclaimed the GOP contender "pro-life." The priest later condemned Democratic candidate Al Gore as an "apostle of abortion."

Pavone's group, which claims 6,000 priests and 40,000 lay supporters, clearly has the backing of the Catholic hierarchy. The PFL Episcopal Board of Advisors includes Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, and seven Catholic bishops.

According to the Institute for Democracy Studies, Pavone's activities raise the specter of a church-directed voting bloc that could threaten church-state separation. In a 1996 PFL audiotape, Pavone said, "It is not just the church that must obey God. So does the state. So does the government. Separation of church and state doesn't mean separation of God and state....God and his law are the very foundation...of the state."

The PFL campaign is but one example of church intervention in the current election. The leader of a conservative Roman Catholic group formerly aligned with the Christian Coalition has also told his fellow church members not to vote for Democratic candidate Gore.

Raymond Flynn, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, said he is a Democrat but will not vote for Gore because the vice president supports legal abortion. Flynn said he agrees with Bishop William Murphy of Boston, who blasted pro-choice politicians in an Aug. 18 column in the Boston Pilot.

"I fail to understand how any Catholic can support a candidate who is outspokenly and unambiguously 'pro-choice,' who supports the idea that the child in the womb is the property of the mother to be disposed of at will, and will make appointments to the Supreme Court that will reinforce the tremendous error of Roe v. Wade," Murphy wrote.

Flynn told The National Catholic Register, "This year, 2000, do exactly what Bishop Murphy said: Don't vote for anyone who doesn't strongly have a pro-life position." (Oddly enough, Flynn's strong anti-abortion views did not prevent him from accepting a job from President Bill Clinton as ambassador to the Vatican, even though Clinton's views on abortion mirror Gore's.)

Like Murphy, Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha has also recently blasted the Democrats for supporting legal abortion. But Curtiss denied that he is telling anyone how to vote.

"This is not partisan politics," he told The Register. "I'm pointing out the obligation that Catholics have in conscience, and it's about time that they stood up for this important value in the life of their church and the life of their faith."

The hierarchy's efforts may prove futile. Polls show that the majority of Catholics, like adherents of most other faiths, are pro-choice on abortion.

In related news:

Three Supreme Court justices Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy attended the Red Mass in Washington, D.C., Oct. 1.

Judges and other government officials are invited to the annual event at St. Matthew's Cathedral on the Sunday before the beginning of the fall Supreme Court term. The service is billed as an opportunity to "invoke God's blessing and guidance," but Roman Catholic prelates often use the religious ceremony to lobby court officials on issues such as abortion, parochial school aid and church-state relations. This year's celebrant, Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Va., was no exception.

"[W]e live in a culture where distrust and lying are only too evident," Loverde said. "We must learn to speak the truth in love, to proclaim the sanctity of all human life, both of the innocent and of the guilty, from conception through every stage until natural death."

During the "General Intercessions," prayers that are offered communally, a worship leader also prayed for "the inalienable right to life for every person from conception until natural death."

In addition to Rehnquist, Thomas and Kennedy, other notables at the mass included Attorney General Janet Reno, FBI director Louis Freeh and Maureen Scalia, wife of Justice Antonin Scalia.

A Catholic priest in Rockford, Ill., was arrested Sept. 30 after he drove his car into an abortion clinic and attacked the facility with an axe. The Rev. John Earl, 32, was arrested and charged with burglary and felony criminal damage to property, the Associated Press reported.

According to the AP, Earl drove his car through the front door of the Abortion Access Northern Illinois Women's Center around 8:15 a.m. The center was not open at the time, but its owner was in the building and fired two shotgun blasts to scare him off.

'Charitable Choice' Off To Slow Start In States, Group Asserts

"Charitable choice" the concept of giving religious groups largely unrestricted public funds to tackle social problems is being largely ignored in the states, a national group that promotes the idea has charged.

The Center for Public Justice, a conservative Christian policy group, complained last month that 40 states have not yet changed their policies to allow "faith-based" organizations to receive taxpayer money, despite a federal mandate that they do so.

According to the Center, only Texas, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin have fully embraced the concept. Those states earned A's under the Center's rating scale. Forty states earned F's.

Critics of the concept, including Americans United, assert that "charitable choice" raises serious constitutional concerns and may violate the First Amendment. AU says some states may not have implemented the change because their own state constitutions forbid any diversion of public funds to sectarian organizations.

State officials may also be waiting to see how the issue shakes out in the courts. Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union have already filed one lawsuit against "charitable choice" in Kentucky and are exploring the possibility of future lawsuits. (The Kentucky case concerns a Baptist-run agency for troubled youth that fired a woman on religious grounds, even though the agency receives much of its budget from state coffers.)

"Charitable choice" proponents frequently claim that sectarian agencies are better equipped than government agencies to deal with social problems such as welfare relief, unemployment and substance abuse. However, their claims are largely anecdotal.

Stories about religious groups wasting taxpayer money exist as well. Recently a case came to light in Georgia of a religious group that took government funds to help refugees and ended up placing them in run-down and dangerous apartments.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Catholic Social Services accepted hundreds of thousands of federal dollars to help resettle refugees from various war-torn countries. But instead of getting the help they needed, the refugees were left to languish in filthy, cockroach-infested apartments in one of Atlanta's worst neighborhoods.

Refugees complained that they were not given help finding jobs or provided with access to medical care. Most were given no help dealing with immigration matters either.

"It was like hell for us," Andre Kayisabe, a native of the Congo, told the newspaper. "We were not part of America."

Another refugee, Nyator Gany, who was resettled to the United States from a refugee camp in Ethiopia, observed, "The refugee camp was better than here."

Thousands of refugees from war-torn nations are resettled in the United States every year. The State Department relies on 10 charities across the country to do the work, including Catholic Charities. The charities get $740 for each refugee to help with resettlement costs. Agencies are expected to pair the money with their own funds to help the refugees make the transition. State Department regulations require that refugees be placed in "safe and decent" housing."

Church officials in Atlanta began moving the refugees out of the complex after the report came to light. Kathi Stearns, vice chancellor in charge of special projects for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, which oversees the Catholic group, told the newspaper, "This is clearly not acceptable. What I saw on Friday [at the apartments] was so horrid I don't even have the words to describe it."

The day after the story ran, Bui Van Tam, who had overseen refugee services for the archdiocese, resigned and apologized to Archbishop John F. Donoghue of Atlanta after it came to light that some of the refugees had been housed in a sub-standard apartment complex owned by Tam's wife.

Alabama Judicial Panel Says No To Christian Coalition Voter Guides

Alabama's Judicial Inquiry Com­mission has warned candidates for state judgeships not to answer a questionnaire from the Christian Coalition or risk being investigated.

The Commission said TV preacher Pat Robertson's political group has no right to quiz judicial candidates on issues such as abortion, the legalization of gambling and tax aid to home schooling parents. The nine-member panel said sitting judges who answer the questionnaire run the risk of violating the state's Canons of Judicial Ethics, which forbid judges from giving their opinions on matters that may come before the court.

The Commission has already brought charges against one judge, Harold See, accusing him of airing misleading ads against Etowah County Judge Roy Moore as the two competed in the Republican primary for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. (Ironically, Moore is a Christian Coalition favorite best known for displaying the Ten Commandments in his courtroom and opening some sessions with Christian prayer.)

Coalition leaders in the state had planned to use the answers on the questionnaire to compile voter guides. John Giles, president of the state Coalition chapter, called the Commission's action a violation of free speech.

"It's like sticking a match to the U.S. Constitution," Giles told The Birmingham News. He added, "We believe the public deserves and wants to know who a candidate is before they vote for that person."

In other news about the Christian Coalition:

The Greene County, Mo., Christian Coalition chapter apparently didn't get the word urging local affiliates to pretend to be non-partisan. The local group aired ads last month on a Christian radio station in Springfield attacking Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore and lauding Republican George W. Bush.

Gore, the ad charged, has "publicly praised homosexuality and abortion while George W. Bush has embraced traditional family values." The ad goes on to note that the next president may be able to appoint several Supreme Court justices.

Florida allies of the Christian Coalition fared poorly in some recent elections. For example, a former Seminole County, Fla., Christian Coalition officer lost his bid to unseat a county commissioner. In a Republican runoff election Oct. 3, Bob West, former Florida field director for the Coalition, lost to incumbent Daryl McLain 45 percent to 55 percent. During the campaign, McLain accused West of distorting his positions on Coalition voter guides.

In addition, John Dowless, also a former Coalition official, lost his bid for the state House of Representatives. In a run-off election, Dowless was defeated by Andy Gardiner, 46 percent to 54 percent.

Meanwhile, Lee County Sheriff John McDougall, a Religious Right activist, lost in the GOP run-off to Rod Shoap by 68 percent to 32 percent. McDougall was an outspoken opponent of abortion, gay rights, feminism and church-state separation. He used his office website to insist that America must say, "Jesus Christ, we are sorry for having betrayed our promise to you by having turned our backs on you and your Commandments."

After a protest letter from Americans United's legal department last year, the sheriff removed the religious language.

Shut Down Public Schools, Speaker Tells 'Concerned Women' Conference

Public education should be abolished, a speaker told attendees at a conference sponsored by Concerned Women for America (CWA) Sept. 15.

Marshall Fritz, director of the Separation of School and State Alliance, a group that advocates ending all tax support for public schools, told the crowd that the right to education is "a fake right" that holds that "you have a right to your neighbor's money, removed from him by force of taxation, to pay for your children's schooling."

Continued Fritz, "In fact, this so-called 'right to an education' is mere public relations spin for the act of coveting your neighbor's earnings and is in direct violation of Exodus 22:17, 'thou shalt not covet.'"

Fritz, whose remarks drew repeated applause from the crowd, said that government does not force anyone to attend or pay for Sunday School and thus, "Neither should we use the government for Monday school, Tuesday school or Wednesday school." He advised conferees, "The most important action you can do is remove your children from public schools. The next most important is to help finance the poor to do the same."

Fritz was followed at the speakers' podium by Rita Thompson, an elected member of the Fairfax, Va., County School Board and a staffer at CWA. Thompson did not take issue with any of Fritz's comments and went on to suggest that public schools force children to accept moral relativism.

"We cannot allow in our [Fairfax] program for children to criticize each other at all," Thompson complained. "That is taboo. Now, I understand not having children mock people and say negative things to people. But if the truth is a criticism, then the Word that I read says, 'the truth shall set you free.' So, to make a child feel that he or she is a bad person for telling the truth, just because administrators...don't want other children to feel bad is just wrong."

Concerned Women for America is a Religious Right group based in Washington, D.C. Founded by Beverly LaHaye, CWA had revenues of $11.7 million in 1998. LaHaye's husband, Tim, is a Baptist minister and long-time Religious Right leader who has become rich from writing the "Left Behind" Christian novel series.  

In other news about the Religious Right:

The Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association is no fan of American United. In a recent fund-raising appeal, Wildmon writes, "Anti-prayer/Anti-Christian groups like the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have teamed up with liberal judges on the U.S. Supreme Court and are stripping away our religious freedoms."

Wildmon goes on to announce "Project Prayer," an effort designed to persuade people to pray out loud following the National Anthem at local high school football games.

The Rev. Louis Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition has announced a project "to fill America's highest elected offices in 2000 with leaders who are committed to the traditional moral and Biblical values that made America great." The plan, which Sheldon says will cost more than $12 million, includes production of voter guides, church-led voter registration, radio and television ads and a voter identification project designed to increase fundamentalist turnout.

Critics say it is highly unlikely that Sheldon's small Anaheim, Calif.-based organization has the ability to raise $12 million especially since he announced it just a few months before the election.

Many Americans are wary of mixing religion and politics, according to a recent poll. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, found that 70 percent of Americans prefer a president with strong religious beliefs, but 50 percent said they feel uncomfortable when politicians talk publicly about how religious they are. In other findings, 51 percent of those responding said they believe churches should express their views on political issues.

Support For Vouchers Drops, New Poll Shows

Public support for private school vouchers is beginning to decline after rising steadily for several years, a new poll indicates.

The annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup survey on education found that 56 percent of those asked opposed vouchers, while 39 percent supported them. Three years ago, support for vouchers peaked at 44 percent in the poll.

A separate question asked if people would support the government paying all or part of a student's tuition at a private school. Fifty-two percent said they were opposed, while 45 percent favored the idea.

People were also asked to respond to a series of proposals that have been put forth to improve public education. In this question, only 19 percent said they think "free choice for parents among a number of private, church-related schools and public schools" will improve public education.

The poll also found that 76 percent believe that a private or church-related school that takes voucher aid should be required to meet the same standards of public accountability as public schools and that 74 percent believe that private or church-related schools that take voucher aid should be required to accept students from a wide range of backgrounds and academic levels.

President Clinton Signs Law Protecting Religious Land Use Rights

President Bill Clinton has signed legislation giving religious groups and prisoners increased legal protections for religious free exercise.

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) is designed to give religious groups more flexibility in dealing with zoning laws. It also requires prison officials to make reasonable accommodations for inmates' religious practices.

A broad coalition of religious and public policy groups from across the political spectrum, including Americans United, supported the legislation. On zoning issues, the new law requires governments to show that their land-use laws are the least restrictive measures possible and that they serve a compelling interest before being applied to religious groups.

"The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act will provide protection for one of our country's greatest liberties the exercise of religion while carefully preserving the civil rights of all Americans," Clinton said in a statement prior to signing the bill Sept. 22. "Religious liberty is a constitutional value of the highest order, and the Framers of the Constitution included protection for the free exercise of religion in the very first amendment. This act recognizes the importance the free exercise of religion plays in our democratic society."

Calif. Voucher Scheme Would Cost Billions, New Report Charges

A new study has concluded that a voucher proposal on the ballot in California would cost the state $3 billion to subsidize tuition for wealthy parents whose children already attend private schools.

The study, conducted by Policy Analysis for California Education, charged that the voucher plan would disproportionately aid the rich. "It's essentially tax relief for the well-off," said Luis Huerta, the study's co-author.

The California proposal would give a $4,000 voucher to any parent in the state with school-aged children who requested it. There is no income cap, which means wealthy parents would qualify alongside poor families. The scheme was devised by Timothy Draper, a Silicon Valley multi-millionaire and anti-public school activist, who spent millions of his own money to get it on the ballot and promote it.

Polls show Draper's Proposition 38 lagging in support, leaving its backers to adopt unorthodox strategies to win favor. Recently they began offering prizes, including Hawaiian vacations, $2,000 shopping sprees and computers, to people who refer the greatest number of new supporters to the effort. Education Week reported that the initiative's website also features a sweepstakes drawing.

Michigan also faces a voucher referendum this year. Proposition 1 is much less ambitious than the California proposal and would offer vouchers worth $3,300 to parents whose children are in public schools that fail to graduate at least two-thirds of their high school students within four years. A poll released in mid September showed the measure ahead, with 42 percent backing it and 31 percent opposed. Twenty-seven percent were undecided.

Americans United and its allies are working in both states to educate voters about the dangers of voucher schemes.

In other news about vouchers:

A Florida appellate court has upheld the state's controversial voucher program. The three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee ruled unanimously Oct. 3 that the program does not violate a provision in the state constitution requiring the state to provide a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools."

The program was pushed through the Florida legislature by Gov. Jeb Bush last year. It currently serves about 51 students in Pensacola. Americans United, the NAACP, the ACLU, the PTA and other education groups sponsoring the litigation plan to appeal the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court.

If that fails, the groups plan to challenge the program on other state constitutional grounds, including the separation of church and state.