Senate may not pass "faith-based" bill, but Watts says he won't oppose it
U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), who retires this year but has left the door open for a return to Congress, has long been protective of H.R. 7, the faith-based initiative bill passed by the House July 19. As the Senate watered down its version of the bill to the point of near unrecognizability, Watts said he wanted the differences between the two bills worked out in a conference committee.

He has given up such hopes. "Half a loaf is better than going hungry," he said earlier this week. "It has been such a long time since the House passed our version of the faith-based initiative. Underserved communities shouldn't have to wait any longer."

This means that the Charitable Choice Act of 2001 is dead. The House bill's main point — indeed, the main point of Bush's faith-based initiative — was allowing churches and religious organizations to compete for government social service grants. The Senate bill currently contains only the most uncontroversial measures — mainly tax incentives for giving to charitable organizations. The Democrat-led Senate seems to be sitting on it simply to spite President Bush. As Dan Gerstein, spokesman for bill cosponsor Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), told the Associated Press, "Our bill does not change the status quo one bit."

But the bill still may become controversial. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), plans to introduce amendments that would, among other things, prohibit a government-funded group from "discriminating" against those potential employees who wouldn't want to adhere to the organization's statement of faith. Lieberman and his cosponsor, Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), "say that they will not bring the bill to the Senate floor unless they know they have the votes to beat all four amendments that Reed plans to offer," the AP reports. Which means that even with Watts's support, the lame Senate bill may not have legs.

More faith-based initiative news:

  • A right to bias is put to the test | A lawsuit filed in Georgia recently may help answer this open legal question: Do religious institutions that are ordinarily free to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion lose that freedom by accepting government money? (The New York Times)

  • Faith-based chief faces ideological minefield | The increasingly nasty fight over the role religious groups should play in providing services to the poor has just begun (National Catholic Reporter)

  • Faith-based initiatives becoming more palatable | Early opponents of Bush's plan are now less wary (Abilene [Tex.] Reporter-News)

  • Democrats may fear loss of party faithful | If the Bush administration can find a way to partner with African-American faith-based organizations and churches in effecting real changes in distressed urban neighborhoods, it could substantially weaken the close nexus between big government and the Democrats on the one hand, and the African-American community on the other (Joseph Knippenberg, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  • Show Pat the money | Robertson has apparently overcome his fear of ties to the government, as long as they lead to the U.S. Treasury. (Editorial, The Washington Post)

  • Government should stay out of faith-based initiative | May I be so bold as to say these people who support Israel because of eschatology are nuts (Tom Barberi, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Michigan Court of Appeals: Deadly force okay to protect unborn
After Jaclyn Kurr's boyfriend, Antonia Pena, punched her twice in her 16-weeks pregnant stomach, Kurr stabbed him in the chest and killed him. A trial judge rejected her argument that she was protecting her unborn quadruplets, saying the "defense of others" reasoning is only acceptable when it's in defense of  "a living human being existing independent of [defendant]." Kurr, who miscarried, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 5 to 20 years in prison.

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On October 4, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the decision. "We conclude that in this state, the defense should also extend to the protection of a fetus, viable or nonviable, from an assault against the mother," the court ruled in a 3-0 decision.

The New York Times notes that the ruling, which deliberately doesn't get into when a fetus becomes a person, will be a touchpoint in national debates. "About half the states have laws making assaults that cause miscarriages or stillbirths criminal," the paper says. "In debates in Congress last year about a possible federal version of the law, opponents understood the central issue to be [the outlawing of] abortion and not [reducing] crime."

Still, even prochoice activists say the Michigan Court of Appeals' decision was right. After all, it defends the right of the mother to choose whether to keep her pregnancy. "When a woman is carrying a wanted pregnancy and she has made that decision, which is constitutionally protected, she has the right to protect the embryo or fetus," says Center for Reproductive Law and Policy lawyer Linda Rosenthal.

But prolife activists may still have reason to seize on the decision. "The opinion certainly does recognize the sense that the fetus was another separate from the mother," says Kurr's lawyer, Gail Rodwan.

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