Parents lose legal defense
for using faith healing
by Laura Oppenheimer
The Oregonian staff
August 17, 1999
Salem __ Lawmakers celebrated the final approval Monday of a bill that dissolves parents' legal defense for treating sick children only with prayer, ending a long struggle with churches that practice faith healing.
Gov. John Kitzhaber praised the final product of a tumultuous six_month debate about faith healing, saying that it will minimize unnecessary deaths and illness. Legislators have struggled to come up with a bill that respects religious freedom while guaranteeing children adequate medical care.
"It's a very difficult and emotional issue," Kitzhaber said, signing House Bill 2494 before a group of about 20 supporters. The law takes effect immediately.
HB2494 was one of hundreds of bills sent to the governor by the 1999 Legislature. Kitzhaber has already vetoed 44 of them and is expected to issue a "hit_list" today with some 35 bills, satisfying a law that he give at least five days' notice before acting. Kitzhaber is on a veto pace that likely will set a record, beating his 1995 mark of 52.
Advocates of the faith_healing bill cheered the compromise version, which emerged last month in the final days of the 1999 Legislature. The bill eliminates the spiritual healing defense in cases of second_degree manslaughter, first_ and second_degree criminal mistreatment and nonpayment of child support.
Proponents of the bill had also hoped to eliminate the faith_healing defense for murder and first_degree manslaughter cases. In another concession, advocates agreed to give judges discretion in prison sentences for second_degree manslaughter cases, exempting faith_healing defendants from the typical 75_month minimum sentence.
Refusing to negotiate would have jeopardized the legislation, said Rep. Kathy Lowe, D_Milwaukie, who wrote the bill. Now, legislators are hoping that merely passing the new law will deter parents from denying their children the medical care they need.
"I'm hopeful that cases won't come to court now," Lowe said. "This religious community, they're all good people. They're all law_abiding people and ask their children to be law_abiding people. The only problem for them was ambiguity in the law."
For some Oregon churches, though, faith healing is a big part of religion. Some denominations __ most notably the Christian Science churches __ preach that faith is more powerful than science.
Churches have lobbied against HB2494 for months. On Monday, church representatives contacted Kitzhaber's office to voice concerns that followers will be prosecuted simply for practicing faith healing, not just for faith healing that harms a child or contributes to a child's death. Kitzhaber said the bill is not intended to penalize church members for their belief in the power of prayer.
The new legislation will substantially change the way church members practice their faith, said Russ Briggs, who grew up as a member of the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City. Briggs left the church after his two infant sons died because the church forbids modern medical care.
"A lot of this law has to do with what they're founded on," said Briggs, who has fought for the bill. "That's a big issue: mind over matter, soul over sickness."
Neither followers active in the church nor Terry Gustafson, the Clackamas County district attorney who said she couldn't prosecute the parents of an 11_year_old who died in 1998 because of flaws in Oregon's law, could be reached for comment.
In a series of stories that year, The Oregonian investigated the deaths of three children and found that of the more than 70 children buried since 1955 in a Followers of Christ cemetery just outside Oregon City, at least 21 would have lived with medical intervention.
The faith_healing debate started as soon as the legislative session began in January. Many lawmakers were furious about the deaths of the 70 children in the Followers of Christ church, Briggs' former congregation.
But religious conservatives in the legislature objected to the typical 75_month minimum sentence, saying the penalty was too harsh for parents who pose no threat to the public and mean no harm to anybody. Doing away with the minimum sentence forced legislators to make their second exception to Measure 11, a voter_approved 1994 initiative that set minimum sentences for certain violent crimes.
In the end, the faith healing bill soared through both chambers, with 24_2 approval in the Senate and 49_5 passage in the House. Supporters say the real test will come when a case first goes to trial. In the meantime, they'll concentrate on educating the public.
"I've said all the way along, it doesn't have to do with the parents being punished, it has to do with saving the children," Briggs said. "If the law is used, it means a child has suffered. I'd rather people just say, 'The state has spoken, I better listen.'"
You can reach Laura Oppenheimer at 503_221_8378 or by e_mail at email@example.com
Oregon's 'Child Sacrifice
crippled -- not dead
by Cliff Walker
One of two states that still believes that a parent's right to pray overrides such a parent's duty to provide adequate medical care to their children, severely crippled (but did not eliminate) this madness. (See "Oregonian" article above. Be aware that Gov. Kitzhaber is an M.D., thus the hoopla and ceremony over this particular bill.)
Until today, a parent who failed to provide medical treatment to a child who later died, could cite various statutes in the Oregon law books as a defense against even the charge of manslaughter or murder.
The compromise bill, HB2494, eliminates the spiritual healing defense in cases of second-degree manslaughter, first- and second-degree criminal mistreatment and nonpayment of child support. Proponents of the bill had also hoped to eliminate the faith-healing defense for murder and first-degree manslaughter cases.
"Positive Atheism" lauds the passage of HB2494, but condemns the fact that murder and first-degree manslaughter are still protected by what we earlier dubbed as Oregon's "Child Sacrifice Laws." Under these laws, prayer was deemed an acceptable substitute for medical care, absolving parents from culpability in the injury, neglect, or death of a child.
"Positive Atheism" does not want to see "prayer police" hunting down Christian Science practitioners and other groups. However, we do think parents who use these "methods" should be held accountable for injury or death in the same way that an atheist parent would be held accountable if he or she neglected his or her child's health.
Thomas Jefferson said: "If anything pass in a religious meeting seditiously and contrary to the public peace, let it be punished in the same manner and no otherwise than as if it had happened in a fair or market." (Notes on Religion, 1776. Papers, 1:548.) In other words, if it's wrong for anybody to neglect their child's health, it should be wrong for everyone -- no exceptions.
"Positive Atheism" also advocates the same principle in Oregon's peyote case of a few years back. If it's illegal to take peyote, it's illegal to take peyote. If the American Indian Church wants to make it legal for its members to take peyote, then we, as a society, should legalize it across the board. As it stands, the peyote laws are racist, in that Asian or an African-American or an Anglo-Saxon does not qualify to receive the same exemption, under the law, as members of the Native American Church.
Kentucky School Displays
by Kimberly Hefling
Associated Press Writer
August 12, 1999
McKee, Kentucky (AP) -- Students returning to classes at Jackson County High School hardly paid attention to the new small plaques mounted in their classrooms. Maybe the new dress code was on their minds.
But officials in this eastern Kentucky school district hope that by posting the Ten Commandments in each classroom, they can prevent violence and other problems that have plagued schools nationwide.
The county school board and superintendent allowed the plaques as part of "an effort to start having good morals in school ... because of all the violent issues that have been showing up," said Betty Bond, principal of the high school.
The plaques went up Wednesday.
Schools around the country have considered using the Ten Commandments as a symbol of morality amid headline-grabbing violence involving students over the past year.
In the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that organized prayer and Bible readings were not permitted in public schools; in 1980, it decided posting the Ten Commandments violated the Constitution's ban of government-established religion.
But in June, the U.S. House passed a measure allowing the Ten Commandments to be posted in schools and other government buildings. The bill now goes to the Senate.
Timothy Crawford, Jackson County's school district attorney, said he is concerned about lawsuits, but believes the plaques in the district's five schools are allowed by law because they were paid for and posted by local volunteers and not sponsored by the district.
"I do not believe posting the Ten Commandments is imposing anyone's religious views because the kids are not tested on that, the kids are not required to look at it, and the kids are not required to read it, and they're not held accountable for that knowledge," Crawford said.
Tonya Adams, principal of Union Chapel Elementary School in Russell County, which has had the Ten Commandments posted for years, said she's never received any complaints about it.
"People in our community would probably be upset if they were taken away," Adams said.
In Adams County, Ohio, a group of ministers paid to place Ten Commandments tablets outside four high schools to counter "moral decline."
Jeff Vessels, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said the ACLU considers the move unconstitutional, but would not act unless there is a complaint.
"The ACLU is certainly very concerned about school violence, but saying posting the Ten Commandments solves it is incredibly simplistic," he said.
Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said the organization tells districts to follow the Supreme Court ruling and not allow the Ten Commandments to be posted. He said a lawsuit could cost a district up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
There was virtually no opposition from the community about the plaques, and students returning to the high school said little about them.
"We have a new dress code this year, and I suspect in the children's mind that's much more of a trauma than the Ten Commandments being placed up because this is a very traditional community and really church-oriented," Bond said.
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Evolution Takes a Hit
in Kansas Schools
by Larry Witham
The Washington Times
August 12, 1999
The Kansas State Board of Education yesterday adopted the most anti-evolution science education standards in the nation.
The learning of "macroevolution," or the idea that fish evolved into humans over millions of years, "is not in the state mandate at all," said board member John Bacon in an interview. He was part of a 6-4 majority.
The 100-page document also excludes mention of the age of the Earth or universe, suggesting the standards allow schools leeway to teach a young Earth and universe of 10,000 years old, a viewpoint of so-called "creation science."
"These standards are clearly not a science issue, but a political issue," said Helen M. Alexander, a biology professor at the University of Kansas. "I was at the hearings, and what these people are interested in is biblical literalism."
The board vote was between a version by the state's 27-member Science Writing Committee, which took one year and firmly presented evolutionary biology, and a draft by an ad hoc subcommittee formed by board member Steve Abrams.
Mr. Abrams' version revised the science panel's draft with the help of Tom Willis, president of the Creation Science Association for Mid-America, based in Missouri.
Mr. Bacon, a board member, said that while teaching Darwinian evolution by natural selection is not mandated, he hopes all students learn it for college entrance exams.
It is not mandated, he said, so that public school science may discuss other views besides Darwinism.
"I feel that a student's science education can be enhanced by teaching different theories of origin," he said.
The standards do mandate the teaching of "microevolution" in eighth-grade biology. Microevolution is change within a species, such as change in size of a finch beak or "evolution" of an insect to resist a pesticide.
Evolutionists say microevolution proves macroevolution, but creationists see such small changes as no threat to the idea that God created the basic forms of life.
Kansas Gov. Bill Graves, a Republican, opposed the anti-evolution version, and others predict its sponsors will be ousted in the next school board election and the standards revisited.
A less politically influential group of Kansas professionals had proposed a third alternative. They backed the science panel's version except for its "preconceived notion that everything in the universe, including life, is the result of blind naturalistic forces."
In testimony submitted to the board Monday, the group said students should be taught that non-naturalistic forces may be considered in science, especially when "design" seems to be taking place. Without that, they said, science "will have the effect of undermining theistic religions."
John Calvert, a lawyer and former geologist with the group, said it was pleased that the adopted standards changed "natural explanations" to "logical explanations" in its definition of science.
On Tuesday, the chancellor and five presidents of Kansas' universities said in a public letter that "people can believe both in God and evolution." They rejected the "argument that teaching evolution will destroy a student's faith."
Still, a survey published in Nature, the science journal, reported that 95 percent of National Academy of Science biologists do not believe in God and that 60 percent of ranking American natural scientists also do not believe.
The national science standards movement began about 1990 and was propelled especially by a 1996 National Research Council's document, which defined evolution as one of the "five unifying principles" in science.
Boards of education have since drafted state standards on what science students must learn in each grade. States have established them for exams used for evaluations or as "all or nothing" graduation tests. The standards also prepare students for college entrance exams.
Ms. Alexander, the biology professor, said that the American College Testing and the Scholastic Aptitude Test emphasize macroevolution in biology segments.
"I teach intro to biology at the university, and in one semester I can't also teach what they should have learned in K through 12," she said.
The Kansas education department still must itemize the science facts on assessment tests for grades four, eight and 10. The tests are for evaluation, not graduation.
"Kansas has the most thorough removal of evolution and its underlying concepts," said Molleen Matsumura of the National Center for Science Education.
Yet it is not the only state board to face the debate.
Alabama, Illinois and Nebraska have diluted evolution in their new standards, while Arizona did so but has reversed that. State school board flaps took place in Ohio, New Hampshire, Washington, Georgia, Tennessee and West Virginia, but evolution prevailed.
"Texas has evolution in the standards, but it was a fight," Ms. Matsumura said. Inclusion of evolution in the standards of Texas and California, the two largest textbook buyers, also has made texts firmer on the topic.
The local scene has been peaceful. Virginia adopted science standards on the national model, and last week Maryland's department of education approved its first "content standards," which include evolutionary biology.
Gary Heath, chief of arts and sciences for the Maryland Department of Education, said he has watched the evolution-creation debate since he was a teacher in 1972 and is not surprised by events in Kansas.
"When any state takes that action, it becomes an issue for all of us in education," he said.
Harold Pratt, former director of science education programs at the National Research Council, said that despite the Kansas case, the national science standards are holding sway.
"Evolution is becoming a more and more accepted part of biology and science across the country," he said. He added that it is not the only controversial science topic.
"The mathematics people have their own problems," he said.
ACLU of Illinois Lauds Court Ruling
That Chicago Boy Scouts Cannot
Discriminate Based on Sexual Orientation
ACLU Press Release 8/13/99
August 13, 1999
Chicago, August 13, 1999: The ACLU of Illinois today hailed a decision handed down on Thursday, August 12, 1999, by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Stephen A. Schiller barring the Chicago Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America (CAC) from considering the sexual orientation of applicants in employment decisions.
The case, Chicago Area Council of Boy Scouts of America v. City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations and G. Keith Richardson, closely mirrors the recent ruling of the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey in Dale v. Boy Scouts of America. In that matter, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected the Boy Scouts anti-gay policies and declared that the Boy Scouts held themselves out as open to the public and was, therefore, subject to state anti-discrimination laws. The Cook County court is equally direct in the assessment that for the Boy Scouts "the mere sexual orientation of an employee ... is not related to any nondiscriminatory basis for denying opportunities for employment."
"When this ruling is considered in the context of the Dale decision last week, the courts' collective message to the Boy Scouts is powerful, clear and unmistakable," said Roger Leishman, Director of the ACLU/Roger Baldwin Foundation Gay and Lesbian Rights/AIDS and Civil Liberties Project, reacting to the decision.
"The courts will no longer tolerate the Boy Scouts' discriminatory practices based on sexual orientation. It is time for the Boy Scouts to bring a voluntary end to these practices and to embrace the most important values we can share with young people-tolerance and inclusion."
The Richardson case was argued by staff attorneys of the ACLU of Illinois on behalf of Mr. Keith Richardson, a former Eagle Scout who was denied consideration for employment by the Chicago Area Council of the Boy Scouts in 1992. Judge Schiller's decision upholding a 1996 ruling by the City of Chicago Human Relations Commission forces an end to the Scouts' practice of discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, and prohibits the Scouts from publishing and distributing any materials within the City of Chicago that indicate any discriminatory criteria for employment.
The decision of the court supports a central argument articulated by the ACLU-namely, that an individual's sexual orientation has no bearing on their ability to accomplish successfully the duties of any job. The court specifically ruled that the discrimination against Mr. Richardson by the Boy Scouts was particularly grievous because of the very public, inclusive nature of the organization. The Circuit Court and the City of Chicago Commission on Human Rights especially noted that the Boy Scouts have a strong tradition of tolerating and including a wide range of religious and moral viewpoints within their membership and among their sponsoring organizations. Discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, the court found, is antithetical to this long tradition and practice of inclusion and tolerance.
"I am personally thankful for the judge's ruling," said Keith Richardson, who became an Eagle Scout in 1974. "It should be pointed out, however, that this decision is broader and encompasses more than my own efforts to gain employment with the Boy Scouts. It is a signal that, from now on, all people-regardless of their sexual orientation-will have an equal opportunity to continue their participation in Scouting through employment. My hope is that the result will be a more tolerant, more inclusive and stronger Boy Scouts of America."
Volunteer attorneys Charles H.R. Peters of Schiff, Hardin & Waite, Chicago, and Ms. Ann Rae Heitland of Flagstaff, Arizona assisted the ACLU in this case.