Maine Pro-family Groups Focus on Marriage Amendment; Conservatives Win, Lose in State Courts

BY MICHAEL FOUST                                                                                                                            © 2005 Baptist Press

aUGUSTA, Maine --Having lost a vote to overturn the state's new "sexual orientation" law, conservatives in Maine now are focusing on passing a marriage amendment to the state constitution.

Maine citizens Nov. 8 voted to keep a new "gay rights" law that gives homosexuality civil rights status and prevents discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing, education and public accommodations. The law had passed the legislature and was signed by the governor, but conservatives gathered enough signatures to force a "people's veto" that would have rejected the new law. But the veto, known as Question 1, lost by a margin of 55-45 percent.

"Though we are disappointed in the vote on Question 1, we remain committed to marriage as the beautiful and loving union between a man and a woman," Sandy Williams, chairman of the Coalition for Marriage, was quoted as saying in the Morning Sentinel newspaper. "And we'll keep working to promote that message and protect the children of the state of Maine."

But any amendment faces opposition in the state legislature. Just this summer, a marriage amendment fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed in the House of Representatives, failing even to get a simply majority. Fifty-six representatives voted for it, 88 against it. In addition, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci opposes an amendment.

"The governor's view of amending the constitution is it should only be done to broaden freedoms, not restrict them," Baldacci spokesman Lee Umphrey said, according to the Morning Sentinel. "At the same time, he has publicly stated he is against same-sex marriage."

Maine conservative leaders -- who fear the new law is the first step toward "gay marriage" legalization -- say Baldacci's position is inconsistent. If the governor is against "gay marriage," they say, then he should support action opposing it. Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said in his weblog that he would be contacting Baldacci "to discuss how we are going to make sure this scourge doesn't come to Maine."

To read the complete story, click here.

After Boycott, Wal-Mart Apologizes,
Acknowledges Christmas on Web Site

BY KEVIN ECKSTROM AND JASON KANE                                                                      © 2005 Religion News Service

(RNS) Retail giant Wal-Mart altered its Web site to acknowledge Christmas less than one day after a conservative Catholic group began a national boycott against the company.

The boycott, enacted because of perceived discrimination against Christmas, but not Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, was abandoned when Wal-Mart revised its Web site Thursday night (Nov. 10). Wal-Mart also issued an apology for a customer service e-mail that claimed Christmas does not have religious roots.

The New York-based Catholic League said Wal-Mart was treating Christmas as a secular holiday, while not taking a similar approach with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which begins the same day as Christmas, or Kwanzaa, a celebration of African-American culture that begins Dec. 26.

On Thursday afternoon, a search for Hanukkah on Wal-Mart's Web site yielded 200 products, and Kwanzaa 77. Prior to the change, a search for "Christmas" directed users to a "holiday" page, where a second link brought them to 7,967 Christmas items. Now, customers are taken directly to the "Christmas" site.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League and organizer of the boycott, was also angered by an e-mail from Wal-Mart headquarters to a customer who complained about "Happy Holidays." The e-mail said Christmas is not a religious holiday but an "ancient tradition that has its roots in Siberian shamanism."

"Santa is also borrowed from the Caucuses, (sic) mistletoe from the Celts, yule log from the Goths, the time from the Visigoth and the tree from the worship of Baal," the e-mail said, according to Donohue.

In a statement on its Web site, Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman apologized to those offended by the "inflammatory" comment, adding the associate responsible was no longer with the company.

"We at Wal-Mart believe this e-mail between a temporary associate and one of our valued customers was entirely inappropriate," he said, adding "Wal-Mart is proud to welcome customers of all faith, and celebrants of all holidays."

Displays of Christmas in the public square, particularly in retail environments, have become an annual crusade for Donohue. Last year he signed on with the Committee to Save Merry Christmas, which gets angry when store clerks wish "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

Wal-Mart stood by its policy encouraging employees to say "Happy Holidays," which Donohue called "dumb" but added that the greeting was not part of the boycott.

New Kansas Science Standards Critical of Evolution, Darwin

BY BOBBY ROSS JR.                                                                                                         © 2005 Religion News Service

A sharply divided Kansas State Board of Education voted 6-4 Tuesday (Nov. 8) to adopt new science standards that call for taking a critical view of evolution.

The vote ended an acerbic 10-month debate that pitted advocates of a theory called intelligent design against major science organizations, with the board's conservative majority leading the push to question the theory of evolution first advanced by Charles Darwin.

"No longer will Darwin be taught dogmatically in Kansas public schools," John Calvert, managing director of the Intelligent Design Network of Shawnee Mission, Kan., told the Lawrence Journal-World.

But Jack Krebs, a science teacher and vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science, told The Kansas City Star: "The standards are bad science ... an abuse of the educational system and they advance a particular religious viewpoint."

Under the standards, Kansas students will study not only "the best evidence for modern evolutionary theory," but also "areas where scientists are raising scientific criticisms of that theory."

While advocates of intelligent design pushed for the changes, "these standards neither mandate nor prohibit teaching about this scientific disagreement," according to the document.

Board Chairman Steve Abrams -- a member of the First Baptist Church of Arkansas City, Kan. -- said he considers evolutionary theory incompatible with the biblical account of creation. He praised the new standards at Tuesday's packed meeting.

But Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius called the action "just the latest in a series of troubling decisions by the Board of Education."

The debate could continue to dominate Kansas politics as four of the six board members who supported the new standards are up for re-election in 2006.

The National Academy of Science and the National Science Teachers Association both opposed the new standards and withdrew permission for Kansas to use copyrighted material that had been incorporated throughout the standards.

However, the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based organization active in the intelligent design movement, said the standards will expand the information presented to students by offering scientific criticisms. Kansas is the fifth state to adopt policies on teaching evolution that have been praised by the Discovery Institute. The others are Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Mexico.

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