Archive of June 27, 2005

Supreme Court rules on government Ten Commandments displays

Washington D.C., Jun 27, 2005 (CNA) - In the shadow of a Ten Commandments display that sits above its own courtroom, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled 5-4 that Ten Commandments displays violate the doctrine of separation of Church and State. In a separate ruling, the Court upheld the constitutionality of displaying the Ten Commandments on government land.

In the case involving Kentucky courthouse exhibits, the court said it was taking the position that issues of Ten Commandments displays in courthouses should be resolved on a case-by-case basis.  In both the Kentucky decision and the other decision, also 5-4,  involving the positioning of a 6-foot granite monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas Capitol, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was the swing vote.

Justice Antonin Scalia released a stinging dissent in the courthouse case, declaring, "What distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority is the absolutely indispensable requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle."

The majority decision in the Kentucky case argued that some displays inside courthouses would be permissible if they're portrayed neutrally in order to honor the nation's legal history.  But Scalia countered that such determinations often boil down to the Court’s “personal preferences.” 

“Today's opinion forthrightly (or actually, somewhat less than forthrightly) admits that it does not rest upon consistently applied principle. In a revealing footnote, ante, at 11, n.10, the Court acknowledges that the Establishment Clause doctrine it purports to be applying lacks the comfort of categorical absolutes. What the Court means by this euphemism is that sometimes the Court chooses to decide cases on the principle that government cannot favor religion, and sometimes it does not. The footnote goes on to say that [i]n special instances we have found good reason to dispense with the principle, but [n]o such reasons present themselves here. Ibid. It does not identify all of those special instances, much less identify the good reason for their existence.”

In contrast, a 6-foot-granite monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol -- one of 17 historical displays on the 22-acre lot -- was determined to be a legitimate tribute to the nation's legal and religious history.  "Of course, the Ten Commandments are religious -- they were so viewed at their inception and so remain. The monument therefore has religious significance," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the majority in the Texas case.  "Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment clause," he said.

Rehnquist was joined in his opinion by Scalia, and justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Breyer filed a separate opinion concurring in the result.

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Pope appeals for a prudent driving: "life is precious and unique”

Vatican City, Jun 27, 2005 (CNA) - During the recitation of the Angelus yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI addressed tens of thousands of faithful in St. Peter's Square. Concerned by the numerous car accidents reported during the summer holidays, he asked the drivers to avoid distraction and superficiality “for, in a single moment, they can ruin one's own life and that of others.”

To prevent such tragic situations, in which many young people lose their lives, the Holy Father appealed all drivers reminding the need of “everyone's contribution and commitment. Distraction and superficiality must be vanquished. Life is precious and unique: it must always be respected and protected, even with a correct and prudent behaviour on the highway".

At another point of his intervention, the Pope invited the faithful in Rome and all around the world to pray for heavenly protection on the Church and her pastors at the Holy Mass on the occasion of the Solemnity of St. Peter and  St. Paul Apostles, that he will preside next Wednesday. The Holy Father expressed his will that it might “be a significant occasion to underline the unity and catholicity of the Church”.

Finally, Pope Benedict XVI asked for Virgin Mary’s maternal protection on all those who travel these days.

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California court weighs three cases of parental rights of homosexual couples

San Francisco, Calif., Jun 27, 2005 (CNA) - California’s Supreme Court is expected to decide this summer what criteria makes a person a parent in a homosexual relationship and if that criteria is based on biology, legal standards or the role a person lived in that relationship, that is, if a person acted like a parent.

The state Supreme Court in San Francisco heard three cases May 24, all involving the parental rights of homosexals once the couple has split up. A ruling is expected in the coming months.

With heterosexual couples, decisions regarding custody and child support are generally simple because the biological criteria is usually present. This is not the case with homosexual couples.

A report in USA Today described the three cases. In one case, Elisa Maria B. and Emily B. decided they wanted children. Emily became pregnant by a sperm donor and gave birth to twins in 1998; one had Down Syndrome. The couple decided Emily would stay home and care for the children while Elisa Maria worked to support them.

The couple split 18 months later, and Elisa cut off financial support, arguing that she was not the children’s biological father. The case made its way to the Supreme Court, with lower courts once ruling in favor of Emily and once ruling in favor of Elisa Maria.

In the second case, K.M. v. E.G., a fertilized egg from K.M. was implanted in E.G., who had twins in 1996. The couple split in 2002, and E.G. denied K.M. access to the children. She cited a waiver of parental rights K.M. signed when she donated her egg. At the state Supreme Court, however, K.M.'s lawyers argued that how the couple lived — both acting as parents for six years — should trump the waiver.

In the third case, Kristine H. v. Lisa R., Kristine had a daughter through artificial insemination. Before the girl was born, she received a court judgment that Lisa was the legal “father” and that both partners were the parents.

The couple split nearly three years later, and Kristine asked the court to void the judgment and rule that Lisa had no visitation rights. An appeals court agreed with her. But Lisa’s attorney’s argued before the state Supreme Court that Lisa's behavior as a parent entitled her to visitation.

Family law professor Ed Stein of Cardozo Law School in New York City said these cases underscore that the law is increasingly defining relationships according to their functionality, or the roles people take on in relationships. “That's a direction in which the law, generally speaking, is headed,” he told USA Today.

Similar legal cases are being heard in Utah, Georgia and Washington state. Courts in New York, Vermont and Pennsylvania have already ruled that both partners of same-sex couples who split may be considered parents.

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Benedict XVI to attend televised concert at the Vatican

Vatican City, Jun 27, 2005 (CNA) - In what will be his first appearance since the beginning of his pontificate in a televised performance at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI will attend the concert “Many Hearts Gathered Around the Pope, Messenger of Peace,” which will take place in his honor on June 28.

Like his predecessor John Paul II, Pope Benedict will attend the traditional concert scheduled for the eve of the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Organizers said that during the concert, “the musical numbers will be separated by special messages of peace and hope, in order to bear witness to the Church’s closeness to people.”

The concert will be held at the Vatican’s Nervi Hall and will feature several singers, including Andrea Bocelli, as well as a choir from the Ivory Coast and groups from Poland and Jordan. The event will be broadcast by Channel 5 in Italy and via satellite by Sat2000.

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Majority of doctors believe in God, new report says

Washington D.C., Jun 27, 2005 (CNA) - Researchers were surprised to discover that a majority of physicians in the United States are religious. The results fly in the face of claims that science and faith can’t mix.

Some of the survey results were released in the press last week. According to a report by, 76 percent of the 1,044 doctors surveyed nationwide said they believe in God, 59 percent said they believe in some sort of afterlife, and 55 percent said their religious beliefs influence how they practice medicine. Sixty percent are Christian and 14 percent are Jewish.

More doctors than other scientists believe in God. Previous studies suggest that fewer than half of U.S. scientists believe in God.

Still, physicians came in lower than the general population, 83 percent of which say they believe in God.

Dr. J. Edward Hill, president of the American Medical Association, said religion and medicine are compatible. Belief in "a supreme being ... is vitally important to physicians' ability to take care of patients, particularly the end-of-life issues that we deal with so often," he reportedly said.

The study will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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Changes at Air Force Academy could lead to anti-Christian discrimation, expert says

Colorado Springs, Colo., Jun 27, 2005 (CNA) - The U.S. Air Force Academy intends to “stamp out evangelical openness” at its Colorado Springs campus, says Pentagon adviser Lt. Col. Bob Maginnis. The change, he said, could lead to “overt anti-Christian discrimination” and make it more difficult for Christians to be accepted into the academy.

An Air Force team conducted an investigatation at the campus after complaints were filed by several groups, including Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, that evangelical Christians were wielding too much influence, reported AgapePress. These groups claimed that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment had become pervasive.

The investigation found no overt discrimination but concluded that the staff failed to accommodate the diverse religious needs of cadets and staff.

The academy was required to clarify its policies on religious expression. The superintendent has pledged to change the culture at the academy according to the findings, which could take up to six years.

Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant-colonel and prominent military expert, called the upcoming changes at the academy “tragic.”

"Changing the culture means that they're going to stamp out evangelical openness at the Air Force Academy, which I think is tragic, especially in a time of war," Maginnis reportedly said.

Christian faculty members will be under close scrutiny, Maginnis added. He said he knows of at least one incoming professor who was asked whether he is a Christian.

"If that's a litmus test for future academy faculty, then we clearly have overt anti-Christian discrimination, and that's very disconcerting," he reportedly said.

Maginnis said he also believes that, given a new culture, it could also become much more difficult for Christians to be accepted at the academy in the future.

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Scientists admit failures of embryonic stem-cell research

Washington D.C., Jun 27, 2005 (CNA) - Scientists at a conference on embryonic stem-cell research in California last week admitted that there hasn’t been much progress in the controversial research and that the biotech industry is losing millions of dollars because of it, reported

James Thomson, the Wisconsin biologist who was the first to isolate embryonic stem cells, admitted that embryonic stem-cell research was oversold. He said cures from this research may not be available for another 10 or 20 years.

Celgene president Alan Lewis reportedly admitted: “Many of the technologies we hyped to the general public haven't worked yet.”

As well, research investors have stated that they are not eager to fund embryonic stem-cell research because of its limited success so far and the lack of future prospects.

William Haseltine, CEO of Human Genome Sciences, is one. He says results are decades away and his company is not spending money on the unproven embryonic cells.

"The timeline to commercialization is so long that I simply would not invest," Haseltine was quoted as saying.

As a result, leading embryonic stem-cell research firms are losing money. California-based Geron invested more than $100 million into embryonic stem-cell research but lost $80 million last year.

Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts is also in financial problems due to embryonic stem-cell research. It was one of the first biotech firms to claim that it cloned a human embryo.

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Debate begins on Canada’s same-sex marriage bill

Ottawa, Canada, Jun 27, 2005 (CNA) - The debate on Canada’s same-sex marriage bill begins in the House of Commons today. The bill already passed the first two readings in the House and was before a parliamentary hearings committee for the first two weeks of June.

On Sunday, Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler told CBC Newsworld that the same-sex marriage bill, C-38, could come to a vote this week.

Several media have reported that Conservative House Leader Jay Hill has said many Conservative MPs will speak against bill C-38 but that the passage of the bill is a foregone conclusion.

The Liberal government won a vote last week to extend the parliamentary session into the summer in order to pass the budget and same-sex marriage bills. They won the budget vote by five ballots, opening the way for a debate and a vote on the same-sex marriage bill. 

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Court allows same-sex marriage in eighth Canadian province

Moncton, Canada, Jun 27, 2005 (CNA) - A court decision made New Brunswick the eighth province in Canada to allow same-sex couples to get a marriage license.

Judge Judy Clendenning ruled Thursday in favor of four homosexual couples, who argued that the Atlantic province’s definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman violated their rights.

The ruling gives the province 10 days to change the definition of civil marriage to “a lawful union between two persons." The judge denied church-based groups intervener status in the case because she said her ruling would not infringe on their religion freedom.

New Brunswick is the ninth of 13 Canadian jurisdictions to change the definition of marriage by court order. The other eight include seven provinces — British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland — and Yukon Territory.

At this point, only Prince Edward Island, Alberta, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories do not recognize same-sex marriage.

Previously, New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord had said he personally holds to the traditional definition of marriage but the provincial government would not contest if the courts or Parliament changed the definition.

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Neurologist discredits Schiavo autopsy report, says she died ‘horrific’ death

Chicago, Ill., Jun 27, 2005 (CNA) - A neurology expert has discredited several aspects of Terri Schiavo’s autopsy report, released earlier this month, saying that the main cause of death listed in the report is inaccurate.

Dr. Thomas Zabiega, MD, has said the medical examiners’ claims that Schiavo died from anoxic-ischemic encephalopathy are wrong.

“She died of starvation and dehydration, plain and simple, although many of the ischemic and anoxic changes may have resulted from the chemical abnormalities caused by the starvation and dehydration,” he wrote.

The 41-year-old physically disabled and brain-damaged Florida woman died March 31, almost two weeks after her feeding tube was removed. She had fallen into this state after she suffered a heart attack in 1990 that left her without oxygen to her brain for several minutes. Her husband won a years-long court battle to remove her feeding tube, sparking an international right-to-life debate in the process.

“She did not die from the injuries that caused her to have brain damage, rather from the enforced starvation and dehydration,” said Zabiega. “The examiner only notes she died from dehydration in one of the last sentences of the report, but does not list it as the main cause of death.”

The neurologist and vice president for legislative affairs of the Chicago Physicians' Guild questioned whether medical examiners were making this claim in order to exonerate the issue of how she died.

 “If I have lung cancer and someone gives me cyanide, I died from the cyanide, not the lung cancer,” he said.

The neurologist added that osteoporosis, joint degeneration, and muscle atrophy that medical examiners found in Schiavo were not the result of anoxic-ischemic encephalopathy either, but “a direct result of lack of physical therapy and lack of activity that Terri Schiavo was not allowed to have due to her husband's orders.”

The report also indicated that Schiavo's heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and gastrointestinal tract were “normal except for changes secondary to the dehydration/starvation process,” Zabiega noted.

He concluded, therefore, that Schiavo “would have probably lived for many more years without any major health problems” had she received proper food and hydration.

The autopsy report stated that Schiavo had no memory — because her hippocampus was damaged — and no cognitive ability. But Zabiega noted the "relative preservation" of the frontal and temporal lobes.

“Complex cognition and executive decisions as well as emotional output are often associated with the frontal lobe, while the temporal lobes are often associated with memory, as well as hearing,” he explained.

“Therefore Terri Schiavo's ability to think, react with appropriate emotions, memory, and hearing could have all be intact at the time the feeding tube was removed,” he stated. The same may have been true about her memory since damage to the hippocampus could have been caused by the dehydration and starvation, he added.

Schiavo may have been cortically blind, but there was no way of saying if the preserved occipital lobe had taken over and whether there was macular sparing, allowing her to see up close, the neurologist said. This would make it possible that Schiavo could indeed see her mother and react to her.

What Zabiega says is “most horrific” is that Schiavo had only acetaminophen (Tylenol) found in her blood. This means that she was not receiving appropriate amounts of morphine after her feeding tube was removed and that “she died a horrific, painful, excruciating death that would be worse than any form of execution used in modern times,” he said.

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Expert says real focus in debate over homosexuals being lost

Madrid, Spain, Jun 27, 2005 (CNA) - An expert in family issues from the University of Arkansas said last week Spaniards should be concerned about respecting the right of children to have a father and a mother instead of looking for a social consensus on homosexual conduct.

Professor Hillary Wilson said the attacks against Spanish Professor Aquilino Polaino, who addressed the Spanish Senate on the “psyco-pathological profile” of homosexuals, were to be expected.  “When was the last time it went well for somebody who suggested that homosexuality was more than just ‘a healthy and admirable lifestyle’ of mature, free and autonomous individuals?” Wilson asked.  “Polaino himself knew that his comments to the Senate meant the ‘public execution’ of his person and his professional reputation,” she noted.

According to Wilson, the pathology of homosexuality or its eventual spread through education, “are important issues in this debate, but they are not, nor should they be, the only deciding issues.”

Amidst the rush to “excuse” and “reaffirm” the positive nature of homosexuality, “it seems the original issue that gave rise to this controversy has been lost from sight:  Should the right to adoption be granted to same-sex couples or not?” Wilson maintained.

“To deny a same-sex couple the possibility of adopting is not discrimination against persons with homosexual tendencies,” she explained.  “The problem is not one of sexual orientation, but of the nature and purpose of adoption itself: adoption does not mean giving a child to any couple who wants one, but rather the seeking out a family for a child who needs one.”

“A child in need of being adopted is a child who is an extraordinary and abnormal situation: he or she is a child without parents.  From a juridical and social point of view, the purpose of adoption is to ‘create’ a family relationship similar to one that is natural.  Not, for example, like two fathers and one mother, or three friends, or a single person, because these do not exist as a natural biological relationship,” Wilson explained.

She went on to state that “the simple attention and affection of one, two or five people is not sufficient.  In order for a child to have a balanced development and reach full maturity as a human person, she needs the presence of father and mother.  If we are going to talk about adoption as a right, the rights of the child are above other rights because children are innocent and defenseless.  It is the child who should be benefited by the adoption, not the couple.”

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