President Bush Signs Bill Targeting Sex Trafficking

BY TOM STRODE                                                                                                                     © 2006 BP News

resident Bush signed into law January 10 a bill strengthening the campaign against worldwide trafficking in people, especially the effort to combat the sex trade in the United States.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, H.R. 972, became law in a signing ceremony at the White House after receiving congressional approval in December without recorded opposition. The Senate approved the measure by unanimous consent Dec. 22, eight days after the House of Representative passed it in a 426-0 vote.

The new law reauthorizes and expands the original 2000 law focused on international human trafficking, but it includes a measure targeting purchasers of illegal sex acts and the traffickers who exploit victims domestically. That provision, the End Demand for Sex Trafficking Act, focuses on halting the trafficking of people, primarily women and children, in the United States for purposes of prostitution and sexual slavery.

It is estimated as many as 20,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year. The End Demand measure is designed to aid state and local police in establishing programs to investigate and prosecute sex trafficking cases. It also will provide funds to assist trafficking victims, including the establishment of residential care centers for underage children. Under the legislation, a statistical study will be conducted every two years on the problem, and a yearly conference on best practices in reducing demand for prostitution and sex slavery will be held.

"America has a particular duty to fight this horror because human trafficking is an affront to the defining promise of our country," Bush said in a six-minute speech before signing the legislation. "In today's world, too often human traffickers abuse the trust of children and expose them to the worst of life at a young age. Human traffickers operate with greed and without conscience, treating their victims as nothing more than goods and commodities for sale to the highest bidder.

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Pope Says Terrorism Could Lead to `Clash of Civilizations'
BY STACY MEICHTRY                                                                                                   © 2006 Religion News Service

Pope Benedict XVI warned that the rise of Islamic terrorism, countered by the use of unchecked military force, was leading the world toward a "clash of civilizations."

In a foreign policy address to the Vatican's diplomatic corps, Benedict said the "temptation to use overpowering violence" to deal with religious and ethnic disputes was fueling extremism around the world.

Although the Vatican has been publicly critical of unilateral military action taken by Israel against Palestinian militants and by the United States in Iraq, Benedict on January 9 appeared to direct the force of his criticism at faith-inspired terrorist activity.

Noting that the world's attention "has rightly been drawn to the danger of a clash of civilizations," Benedict said "the danger is made more acute by organized terrorism, which has already spread over the whole planet."

"No situation can justify such criminal activity, which covers the perpetrators with infamy," he said. "It is all the more deplorable when it hides behind religion, thereby bringing the pure truth of God down to the level of the terrorists' own blindness and moral perversion."

Amid heightened concern for the health of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Benedict said the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict provided a "paradigmatic illustration" of the cultural standoff, making the region "a nerve point of the world scene."

"The State of Israel has to be able to exist peacefully in conformity with the norms of international law," Benedict said. "Equally, the Palestinian people has to be able to develop serenely its own democratic institutions for a free and prosperous future."

Texas Governor Supports Teaching of Intelligent Design

BY BOBBY ROSS JR.                                                                                                © 2006 Religion News Service

A letter from Texas Gov. Rick Perry's office advocates the teaching of intelligent design in public school classrooms, but Perry's office and the state school board chairwoman say there are no plans to push for curriculum changes.

Kathy Walt, the governor's press secretary, told The Dallas Morning News that Perry supports the teaching of intelligent design "much as the theory of evolution is now taught" in Texas schools.

Perry's position came to light because of a letter sent by his office last month to an East Texas constituent who asked the governor whether he backed the teaching of intelligent design, a theory that says the universe and living things are so complex an intelligent agent must be behind them.

The letter from Perry's office stated that it would be a "disservice to our children to teach them only one theory on the origin of our existence without recognizing other scientific theories worth consideration."

The letter noted that a Pennsylvania federal judge's recent ruling prohibiting a school district from requiring the teaching of intelligent design probably would be appealed. "Once the courts have spoken with finality and clarity, Texas schools will abide by that decision," the letter said.

But Walt said the governor's office was merely responding to a constituent's question and has no plans to seek legislation that would require the teaching of intelligent design in science classes.

"We try to respond to all letters that ask the governor's positions on issues," Walt told The Dallas Morning News. "He has always supported providing students with alternative theories as part of the effort to teach critical and analytical thinking skills."

Tincy Miller, chairwoman of the Texas State Board of Education, noted that board members voted in November 2003 against endorsing only biology textbooks that presented the most qualified characterizations of evolution, with words such as "may" or "could."

"We had a huge discussion; it was just put to bed," Miller, R-Dallas, told the American-Statesman. "We teach evolution in Texas."

Judge Says Oregon Archdiocese Owns Parishes, Schools

BY ASHBEL GREEN AND STEVE WOODWARD                                                              © 2006 Religion News Service

A bankruptcy judge has ruled that Catholic parishes and schools in Western Oregon are not separate from the Archdiocese of Portland, a decision that could help plaintiffs who are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in priest sex-abuse claims.

Judge Elizabeth Perris, however, left unanswered whether selling churches and schools would be an undue burden on the religious freedom of Catholics.

The Archdiocese of Portland became the nation's first Roman Catholic diocese to file for Chapter 11 protection after multimillion-dollar sex-abuse lawsuits in 2004. The issue before Perris was whether parish property belongs to individual parishes or to the Archdiocese of Portland, which encompasses 124 parishes, three high schools and about 400,000 parishioners.

The Dec. 30 ruling could determine whether the parishes' estimated $500 million in real estate, cash and investments are available to pay millions of dollars in child sexual-abuse claims.

The bankruptcy came the same day that the archdiocese was scheduled to go to trial in a $135 million sex-abuse lawsuit involving the late Rev. Maurice Grammond. The archdiocese already has made settlements totaling $53 million for more than 130 previous claims.

The bankruptcy froze dozens more claims seeking hundreds of millions more in damages. Perris' ruling covered ground from obscure real estate law to broad constitutional questions of religious freedom.

Church lawyers argued that Portland Archbishop John G. Vlazny made a sacred vow to uphold canon law, which prohibits him from seizing assets that church law says belong to the parishes.

In the main bankruptcy case, the archdiocese recently filed its reorganization plan, which asks Perris to set aside $40 million to pay the remaining sex-abuse claims.

Many plaintiffs argue that the figure should be significantly higher. Perris has set February 14 as the hearing date for arguments on the plan.

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