BY TOM STRODE © 2006 Baptist Press
outh Dakota’s enactment of a ban on abortion has boosted hopes the new law might be the vehicle for a reversal of Roe v. Wade, but Associate Justice Antonin Scalia said recently he doubts the current Supreme Court would overturn the 1973 opinion and doesn’t know if it ever will.
Speaking to a gathering of Swiss professors and students March 8, Scalia, whose opposition to Roe is well known, said when asked if the highly criticized ruling would be reversed by the high court, “I have no idea. I have no idea whether it will be.
“It is not likely to be overturned with the current court, because there are still five justices on our court who voted in favor of Roe vs. Wade,” Scalia told a group at the University of Freiburg. “So, if I had to guess, I would say, ‘Not yet -- maybe not [ever] -- but certainly not yet.”
Though Scalia said he did not have an official opinion on abortion, he said a right to the procedure “is not contained in the Constitution of the United States.” His remarks underscored concerns some pro-life advocates have voiced about South Dakota’s frontal challenge to Roe.
In a March 8 online editorial, National Review, a conservative magazine, said it had “mixed feelings.” The editors said they “share the pro-life objectives that animate” the South Dakota law and a Mississippi bill, “but we doubt that they actually advance those objectives.”
If the measures are challenged and reach the high court, “they will elicit another reaffirmation of that decision,” the editorial said. “They could thus strengthen the felt force of the argument that Roe is a super-duper-precedent.
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Lay Reform Group Calls for Top Catholic Bishops to Step Aside
BY G. JEFFREY MCDONALD © 2006 Religion News Service
The top two officers at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops faced new pressure Friday (March 10) to relinquish their national posts in light of allegations related to sexual misconduct.
Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), a Boston-based lay reform group that claims 30,000 members, called for interim leaders to replace Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington, and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago in their respective roles as president and vice president of the bishops conference.
Skylstad faces allegations dating back to the early 1960s from a woman who says he sexually abused her as a minor; Skylstad has denied the allegations. In Chicago, George is facing heat for having failed to act on a panel's recommendation last October to remove a suspected pedophile from ministry. The accused priest, Daniel McCormack, was arrested in January.
Accused bishops should step down from their offices until investigations are complete, according to VOTF, a step that is required of all priests under the bishops' 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. "The public credibility of the Charter, the accused bishops, and the entire Conference of Catholic Bishops is at stake," said VOTF President James E. Post and President-elect Mary Pat Fox in a statement. "There is no mistaking the seriousness of this moment."
At the bishops conference, however, there were no signs of a shake-up. Spokesman Bill Ryan said nothing in the conference bylaws would require an office holder to step down as a result of allegations. "Both Bishops Skylstad and Cardinal George will be continuing with their duties as president and vice president of the Conference," Ryan said. "There's no plan or procedure to ask them to step down from their offices."
Arson Arrests Relieve, Sadden Pastors
of Burned Alabama Churches
BY GREG GARRISON © 2006 Religion News Service
Leaders of churches destroyed by arson responded with relief at the arrest of three people Wednesday (March 8), but they also expressed sympathy for the suspects and their families (see related story).
"I feel sorry for the young guys," said the Rev. Robert Murphy, pastor of Pleasant Sabine Baptist Church in Bibb County, which burned February 3. "They're going to lose a lot of years in their lives in prison for what they did. At their age, they haven't got the opportunity to know what life's all about. I feel bad for their parents who put so much into their education." The arson spree started February 3, when five Baptist churches were burned in Bibb County.
Rehobeth Baptist Church in Lawley, Ashby Baptist in Brierfield and Pleasant Sabine Baptist in Centreville were destroyed; Old Union Baptist in Randolph and Antioch Baptist in Centreville were damaged. The second group of fires came February 7, when four more churches were set ablaze in Pickens, Sumter and Greene counties.
"It's hard enough to raise kids, then for them to go out and do a heinous crime like this, it's sad," said Galilee Baptist Church Assistant Pastor Willie Speights.
Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Boligee, Dancy Baptist in Aliceville and Galilee Baptist in Panola were destroyed; Spring Valley Baptist Church in Gainesville was damaged. "We're very relieved to know this had no political, racial or religious overtones," said the Rev. Jim Parker, pastor of Ashby Baptist Church in Bibb County. "To the churches in our community, this was devastating. For a blow like that, you're looking for a reason. To think it was malicious vandalism, we're just kind of taken aback."
Bush Challenges Corporations, Foundations
to Fund Religious Charities
BY ADELLE M. BANKS © 2006 Religion News Service
President Bush on Thursday (March 9) urged large private funders to join government agencies in offering grants to faith-based organizations, adding that corporations and foundations should rewrite their rules if they don't allow funding of religious charities.
"I believe all of us ... ought to allow religious organizations to compete and function on an equal basis, not for the sake of faith but for the sake of results," he told about 1,200 people gathered for a national conference of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. He cited research by that office that showed only a small level of grant giving to faith groups by corporations and foundations.
The White House also released new research that showed 10.9 percent of competitive grants from seven federal agencies were received by faith-based organizations in fiscal year 2005. That percentage, which represents more than $2.1 billion in funding, is a slight increase from the previous fiscal year. Although the president's focus has generally been on public funding of faith-based organizations, the conference encouraged the private sector to consider religious groups providing social services.
"I would hope they would revisit their charters," Bush said.
The White House also found that only 6 percent of grants from 20 large corporate foundations went to religious charities. "I would urge our corporate foundations to reach beyond the norm and look for those social entrepreneurs who haven't been recognized heretofore," the president said.
Despite recent gains, the White House office reported that faith-based organizations substantially trail secular nonprofits in the receipt of government funds. While faith-based organizations received 10.9 percent of available funds from the seven agencies studied, secular nonprofits received 64 percent, or $12.7 billion of $19.7 billion.