The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors
Court Upholds Partial-birth Abortion Ban
he U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal ban on a gruesome procedure known as partial-birth abortion April 18, delivering an important victory for legislative efforts to protect unborn children.
The high court's 5-4 decision reversed rulings by two federal appeals courts and affirmed the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act as the law of the land, marking the first judicially approved restriction on a specific procedure since the justices legalized abortion in 1973. The 2003 law prohibits an abortion technique that involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered baby normally in at least the fifth month of pregnancy.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in the majority. Kennedy, who affirmed the court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in a crucial 1992 ruling, wrote in the majority opinion that the ban does not infringe on the right to abortion declared previously by the high court, meaning Roe remains in effect. He said the ban is not vague and does not impose "an undue burden on a woman's right to abortion" based on it being either overly broad or lacking an exception for the mother's health.
Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sharply disagreed in her dissent, calling the decision a retreat from previous rulings. She said the opinion was "alarming," and she described as "irrational" the idea the law advanced a "legitimate governmental interest." Associate Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter and Stephen Breyer joined Ginsburg in the minority.
President Bush, who nominated Roberts and Alito to the high court, said he was pleased with the ruling, calling it an "affirmation of the progress we have made over the past six years in protecting human dignity and upholding the sanctity of life. We will continue to work for the day when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law."
The stark contrasts on the court were mirrored in the reactions of pro-life and pro-choice advocates.
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Groups Take Sides in Fight Over Hate Crimes
Congress will soon consider legislation that extends hate crimes protections for homosexuals, bisexuals, and those with gender identity issues in the same way that people are protected now because of race and creed.
It's setting up a bitter battle between traditional faith communities, which teach that homosexuality is sinful, and progressive religious groups that say too many people have been harmed because of their sexual orientation. The proposed hate crimes bill went before a House Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday (April 17).
The bill would give the federal government jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute violent crimes that are committed because of a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. The existing law, on the books since 1968, imposes tougher penalties for violent acts judged to be hate crimes.
Saying the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the religious right "have hogged the spotlight for far too long," Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people should be included in the politics of faith.
"We are all God's children and our different gender identities and sexual orientations are gifts from God," said Solmonese, head of the nation's largest gay rights group.
But more conservative Christian leaders warned that extending hate crimes legislation to cover sexual orientation would give certain individuals "special rights." "This legislation would say that protecting someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity -- whatever that is -- is in the same category as protecting individuals who suffer because of the color of their skin or religion," said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who serves on the Judiciary subcommittee.
Those opposed to the bill fear that clergy would be investigated and prosecuted if members of their congregation committed hate crimes against homosexuals because of a preacher's sermon, or counseling that said homosexuality is immoral. "I'll stay out of your bedroom, but I plead that they stay out of my pulpit," said Kimberly Daniels, a Florida-based evangelical preacher.
Traditional faith leaders made it clear at several events around Washington that homosexuality and questions of gender identity are far from being accepted--or even settled--in their circles.
It is expected to reach the floor of the House by the end of the month, where Gohmert said Democrats have enough votes to pass it. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate.
Church Arsonists Given Additional 2-Year State Sentences
Three confessed arsonists pleaded guilty on April 12 to burning five rural churches last year, and under their plea agreement will serve two years in state prison. The sentences are in addition to the federal sentences of eight to nine years that Russell DeBusk, Matthew Cloyd, and Benjamin Moseley received in federal court on April 9.
Under an agreement with prosecutors, the men will serve two years of their 15-year sentences on local charges in state prison after they finish serving their federal sentences.
The three men entered their guilty pleas before Bibb County Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins. The three had sought youthful offender status, but were denied because of the seriousness of the crime, said District Attorney Michael Jackson.
"We wanted them to know burning churches is serious, and state prison will help them understand," Jackson said, calling the plea agreement a compromise.
Cloyd, 21, and Moseley, 20, were ordered to serve an eight-year federal term for setting fires to nine churches, including five in Bibb County on Feburary 3, 2006. DeBusk, 20, who confessed to setting only the five fires in Bibb County, received a seven-year federal sentence.
The three former college students will be placed on probation for five years upon release from state prison. If they get into any trouble, they will have to serve the remaining 13 years.
Cloyd and Moseley still face prosecution for other fires set in Greene, Pickens, and Sumter counties four days later. No trial dates in those cases have been scheduled.