Are antiabortion activists essentially gangsters?
The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a long-simmering case over antiabortion demonstrations (a transcript will be available in a few weeks). But both inside and outside the courtroom, everyone is arguing over what the case is really about.
Is it about abortion?
"It may have real consequences for free speech in this country but will impact abortion law not at all," writes Slate.com senior editor Dahlia Lithwick. "It's a testament to how utterly bonkers both sides in this debate have become, that they alone can't see that."
But Joseph Scheidler, the main protester involved in the suit, counters, "As hard as people try to say this case isn't about abortion, it is about abortion."
Is it about free speech?
"The First Amendment is not an issue in this case," U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson told the court, noting that the Supreme Court had rejected the free speech part of the protesters' appeal.
"There's always a First Amendment implication in a protest case," Justice Anthony Kennedy responded.
The justices are supposedly trying to rule on narrow issues of federal statutory law. Can private parties (such as abortion clinics) sue under anti-racketeering laws themselves, or is action left to the government? And do political protesters' coercion and blockades amount to "obtaining property through wrongful use of force" (whether it's threatened or actual), and are thus acts of extortion?
The protesters admit breaking the law, but argued in earlier courts that they were nonviolent, just coercive. A Chicago jury found them guilty of violating racketeering and extortion laws, essentially putting them in the same category as Al Capone. Other courts upheld the verdict.
If the Supreme Court also sides against the protesters, says their lawyer, "classic protest actions venerated in American history would be crimes." That's one of the reasons that other protesters are siding with the prolifers.
And it's one of the reasons that several justices brought free speech back into the case. "This threatens to bring us constantly into the difficult situation where we have to figure out whether the definition sails too close to the wind for First Amendment purposes," said Justice Antonin Scalia.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer agreed. "I'm rather concerned about this problem," he said.
But Justice Sandra Day O'Connor isn't convinced. "In some cases there were assaults," she said. "To paint a picture that what we're talking about is pure speech … that is not the case. We're not talking about conduct that is lawful."
Scalia disagrees somewhat. "It wasn't smacking people around. It was just not letting people in [to the clinics]," he said.
But World magazine says O'Connor has been duped. "Justice O'Connor's information on 'assaults' is included in a brief NOW filed in September that alleged a series of violent acts perpetrated by the Scheidler defendants," writes Lynn Vincent. But World says many of those assertions are based on false testimony.
Allegations of false testimony? Comparisons to the most wicked men of history? Apocalyptic scenarios? Don't kid yourselves: this case is all about abortion.
Head of Parents Television Council fired, allegedly for prayer
After just three months as executive director of the watchdog group Parents Television Council, Dennis Mansfield has been fired. He tells The Idaho Statesman it was because of "Jesus."
At a November 14 fundraiser and awards ceremony, Mansfield had asked Ted Baehr, head of the Christian Film and Television Commission and Movieguide, to offer a prayer.
"It was a normal, ordinary prayer," Baehr told conservative news website WorldNetDaily. "I was praying for [PTC president] Brent Bozell to be healed. He'd had a heart attack the Friday before. … Whenever I pray, I pray in the name of Jesus. … I would expect people of other faiths to pray in the name of the one they believe in."
"It was like a prayer you pray over the dinner table," Mansfield, former head of the Idaho Focus on the Family affiliate, told the Statesman. "That's nice in Idaho. It's just not nice in Hollywood."
He says the prayer cost the organization several large donations: one donor withdrew a $100,000 gift, and another withdrew $10,000.
"PTC doesn't want to be perceived as a right-wing religious group," Mansfield told WorldNetDaily. "They're trying to pander to non-Christian donors. … I would caution Americans against giving to PTC. There are a lot of organizations people can give to and I'm not sure one that's being more PC than J.C. [Jesus Christ] is the one to choose. You can't play to the Christian community—the mom and pops who give $5 and $10—and at the same time appeal to non-Christian donors. The name of Jesus divides those two groups."
This may not be a flash in the pan. Bozell—the man prayed for and the man who fired Mansfield—also runs CNSNews.com, a conservative news service that has become very popular among many Christian websites like Charles Colson's Breakpoint.org and Salem Communications's Crosswalk.com. Will any of these organizations protest? Stay tuned.
- Same house, different faiths | For millions of Americans, December is an extended toast to every holiday's highlights (USA Today)
- Presbyterian panel probes gay decision | A regional panel for the Presbyterian Church (USA) is reviewing a decision by Baltimore churches to not discipline an openly homosexual minister for violating a rule that unmarried clergy must be chaste (The Washington Times)
- Gay rites | The new Archbishop of Canterbury's liberal views on gays and lesbians are going to cause a storm, but his solutions could hold the answer to the Christian faith's prayer (Richard Holloway, Sunday Herald, Scotland)
- Longtime Orlando pastor resigns | Howard Edington announced his retirement Wednesday in the wake of a controversy sparked by his conservative views on the role of gays in the Presbyterian Church. (The Orlando Sentinel)
- Seminary program victim of low enrollment | Only 25 students in four-year program (The Boston Globe)
- Bono's welcome at Wheaton College does grad proud | Wheaton was, at least in those moments, the best of what Christianity can be. (Cathleen Falsani, Chicago Sun-Times)
- Amish, Mennonites eyed for health rules | Four more Amish and Mennonite schools have failed to comply with health codes for refusing to install running water and a septic system for outhouse toilets, a county health official said (Associated Press)
- Religion of peace? | Prove it. (Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online)
- Violence and Islam | From Nigeria to Sudan to Pakistan to Indonesia to the Philippines, some of the worst, most hate-driven violence in the world today is perpetrated by Muslims and in the name of Islam (Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post)
- Bush praises virtues of Islamic faith | During a visit to a Washington mosque, the president continues his drive to counteract animosity in the Muslim world toward the U.S. (Los Angeles Times)
- Also: Bush revisits mosque to praise Islam (The Washington Post)
- Also: Bush praises Islam for its 'morality' (The Washington Times)
Missions and ministry:
- Homeless preacher says spirit moves her | Argyle city officials are planning her exodus (The Dallas Morning News)
- Brewing faith | Theology on Tap targets young adults where alcohol is served (The Indianapolis Star)
- Making God cool | High school club emphasizes that being an active Christian doesn't have to be boring (Federal Way [Wash.] Mirror)
- Why British carol singers face silent night | Carolers could face prosecution if they do not buy a license to perform, lawyers studying the Government's Licensing Bill say (The Times, London)
- Weigh Down: faith or fraud? | A biblically based diet swept the country almost ten years ago, boasting a high success rate. But, some are saying the program and its affiliated church are the beginnings of a cult (WTVC, Chattanooga, Tenn.)
Clergy sex abuse:
- Congregants stay loyal to minister who quit | Backers of a former Presbyterian minister accused of sexual abuse turned out at a meeting here tonight to show support for a man they said was flawed, but beloved (The New York Times)
- Woman smashes archbishop's window | Claims abuse by priest (AAP, Australia)
- Priests agonize over disclosures | Some call openly for Law to depart (The Boston Globe)
- My word! | Lutherans break out the fun with Martin Luther bobblehead (Star Tribune)
- Nodding Jesus brings kitsch to Christmas | Ship of Fools launches "Twelve days of Kitschmas" poll (Reuters)
- Pullman trilogy set for Radio 4 | His Dark Materials is a fantasy trilogy set in a parallel universe ruled by a senile god and a cruel church (BBC)
- Unmarital bliss | The joys of living in sin (The New Yorker)
- A much talked about tell-all on marriage | Mort Kondracke has set a standard for himself to be "consistently loving, caring, patient and supportive" of Millie and he meets regularly with a men's Christian fellowship group and considers Jesus' message of "love, self-sacrifice, and total commitment" to be an "ideal for humanity." (Janice Shaw Crouse, The Washington Times)
Television and film:
- Vini, vidi, voice-over | To some ears, the sound of voices exclaiming in Latin may trigger ugly flashbacks of grammatical traumas past. But it was music to the ears of Patricia Aste, producer of the PBS documentary "Peter and Paul and the Christian Revolution," an examination of early Christianity under the Roman empire (Los Angeles Times)
- Drama brings back Jesus as football fan | British ITV to air Second Coming, an adaptation of DH Lawrence's Sons and Lovers (The Guardian, London)
- Myth at the multiplex | Tolkien poured Christian values into a pagan world (John J. Miller, The Wall Street Journal)
- Television faith healer's staffer blasts lawsuit, plaintiff | Ernest Angley representative says woman exaggerating injury claims (The Beacon Journal, Akron, Ohio)
- Also: Woman claims she was injured at healing service (Associated Press)
- Christian music gets hip | Experts say more accurate methods of tracking sales, a more devout public and better music saved the genre (Fox News)
- This year, 'Jesus Has Two Mommies' is as controversial as it is comical | Last year it sold out. This year the musical is having trouble (The Boston Globe)
- Also: Her own personal `Jesus' | Faith Soloway's Savior has a nontraditional family (Boston Herald)
- Mormon scholar predicts his expulsion | Thomas W. Murphy, 35, published an article in the May Signature Books anthology "American Apocrypha," which uses genetic data to discredit the Book of Mormon claim that American Indians are heathen descendants of ancient Israel (Associated Press)
- Baptist preacher defies Mormons on their turf | Kurt Van Gorden's attempts to convert members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to his kind of Christianity in the shadow of its holiest site is met with stony silence and glares (Los Angeles Times)
Charities and giving:
- Evaluating charities easier than ever | Donors trying to distinguish between worthy and dubious charities have ever-expanding sources of advice at a time when the array of federally recognized nonprofit groups is dizzying (Associated Press)
- Also: A look at charity monitoring groups (Associated Press)
- What would Jesus give? | Call it Greedmas. (Bob Ewegen, The Denver Post)
War with Iraq:
- Chicago's religious leaders oppose war | Letter was signed by leaders of several communities, including Greek Orthodox, Islamic, Episcopal, Protestant and Roman Catholic (Chicago Sun-Times)
- Religious leaders urge bush to avoid war (Associated Press)
- U.S. at junction of war, faith | Iraq attack could fuel Muslims' deep reservations about U.S. policy (San Francisco Chronicle)
- A just war in Iraq | Those raising religious questions aren't all pacifists (Robert P. George, The Wall Street Journal)
- Rhema pastor expelled for prolife activism | Leaders of charismatic denomination had warned him 'not to go to any abortion clinic ever' (Charisma News Service)
- Man arrested for graphic abortion sign sues city | Keith Tucci was arrested under a "vague and overly broad statute" that gives police wide latitude in determining inappropriate behavior, The Rutherford Institute said (The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
- Can RICO be used against abortion protesters? | Supreme Court will decide if law aimed at mob applies (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
- Attorney says unborn child murder law unconstitutional | Pennsylvania is one of 27 states that have fetal homicide laws, widely promoted by anti-abortion groups to back up their argument that fetuses should be recognized as living human beings (Associated Press)
- Abortion decline seen through 1999 | Steady decline that started in 1991 now at lowest recorded level since 1975 (The Washington Times)
- No peace over Planned Parenthood's holiday card | A holiday card by the nation's largest abortion-rights group is under fire from some groups that say it is offensive and reflects an anti-religious bigotry (CNN)
- Abortion contortions | Arizona is funding a poor woman's right to choose. Texas could be next (Slate.com)
- Australia's stem-cell laws nearer | Senate approves bill (The Canberra Times)
Internet and technology:
- What would Dewey do? Libraries grapple with Internet | Libraries are struggling to balance their mission to provide patrons access to information against the desire to protect children from sexually explicit material (The New York Times)
- And behold, the voice of Elmer Gantry was heard in the land | Buried in the Communications Bill is a proposal to allow any sect to win a national radio license in the new age of digital broadcasting. (Nick Cohen, The Observer, London)
- Website for worship and e-prayers | A monastic community in north Wales has set up an internet service to provide spiritual guidance in cyberspace (BBC)
- The return of 'prodigal' Milingo | At long last, the cloud of speculation that hang over Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo's celibacy saga is about to dissolve as the prelate visits Zambia (Chansa Mulalami and Tetiwe Nkhata, The Times of Zambia)
- Pope asks Catholics to welcome immigrants | Denounces racism, xenophobia and the "terrible crime" of human trafficking in a message Monday, calling it a Christian duty to welcome immigrants (Associated Press)
- Betting on the next Pope | An Irish bookmaker is risking the displeasure of the Vatican by inviting punters to have a flutter on the identity of the next Pope (BBC)
Prayer and spirituality:
- Did the sniper attacks affect your spiritual life or beliefs? | Washington Post readers respond (The Washington Post)
- Don't wait; share God's love | Perhaps in our fast paced culture, waiting has become a practice that is foreign and unappreciated. For the Christian, however, waiting is part of our relationship with God through God's Son, Jesus Christ (Suzan Farley, Bucks County [Penn.] Courier Times)
- All freakish and alien | The Bible is of very little sincere use to anyone these days (Zoe Williams, The Guardian, London)
Other stories of interest:
- Battle fatigue | Even with the GOP in power, the pro-family fight can be frustrating (Joel Belz, World)
- Church sues Broward over zoning issue that blocks use of building | Parishioners at a Hispanic Baptist church contend they are being denied the right to pray, and that Broward County employees have been watching them to make sure they are not using their building as a church (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
- Christians split over support for Israel, Palestine | Two groups of Americans who are visiting the West Bank travel a path within Christianity that diverges sharply (Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.)
- Chinese church leader on hunger strike in jail | Gong Shengliang, founder of the South China Church, has refused to eat since Nov. 14 (The Washington Post)
- Religion news in brief | Canada-Anglican abuse settlement, Methodist pastor detained in West Bank, and other stories (Associated Press)
- Conversions belong to pre-modernity | Organized efforts at conversion, recalling the Crusades of yesteryear, is unwarranted and uncalled for (Subrata Mukherjee, Indian Express)
- Researchers struggle to explain religious behavior | Some scholars at annual meeting believe that social science and faith just don't mix (The Dallas Morning News)
- CE is pointlessly PC | It is not merely the fact but also the timing and irony that is galling about this latest act of multicultural intolerance toward the country's majority Christian tradition (Editorial, The National Post, Canada)
- Keeping the papers on side | Rowan Williams, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, is learning to choose his words with care (The Telegraph, London)
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