Mexican Red Cross Opposes Condom Use
by Stephen Macoff
An inhumane Red Cross? It seems like a contradiction in terms. Yet the head of the Mexican Red Cross has announced his opposition to
the use of condoms for birth control and AIDS prevention and has halted the agency's fight
against the disease, which is now threatening epidemic proportions in Mexico. This move
is, of course, a radical departure from the policies of the International
At a recent press conference, Jose Barroso Chavez, director of the Mexican Red Cross
for 12 years, explained his views and said that condoms have "a failure rate of up to
40% [in preventing disease], and the proof of this is the fact that every day there are
more people infected." But in offering this figure, he misconstrued a study conducted
by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
in Atlanta. The study was done to determine the effectiveness of improperly used
condoms. Actually, the CDC says that a great deal of research shows that properly used
condoms have an effectiveness rate of 94% to 100% in preventing transmission of HIV/AIDS.
The study that Barroso refers to actually concludes that there is a need for better
education on how to correctly use condoms and that latex condoms were superior to other
types in disease prevention.
Ironically, a Mexican Federal law, the Norma Oficial published November 22, 1993,
states that condoms are approved for use in protecting against both fertilization and the
transmission of sexual diseases and that ten international health organizations say that
condom effectiveness is between 85% and 97%.
Some have found Barroso's rationale for his views disturbing. "We have many
needs," he said, "and if ten thousand people die of AIDS but there are a million
that suffer respiratory or digestive ailments, I believe it's more important to help the
million than just the ten thousand." He noted that "There is a great pressure
from international organizations, especially from the United
Nations, to promote birth control and avoid the demographic explosion." He stated
that this is a contradiction because "Mexico is one of the most under-populated
countries of the world."
What's really behind Barroso's opposition to condoms? There is little doubt about that,
observers say: It's his strong Catholicism. It's not surprising then that attending the
press conference was Jorge Plaencia, Commissioner of Health of the Archdiocese of Mexico.
Regarding condoms, Plaencia added that it's necessary to promote "other values, such
as protecting life through fidelity and continence."
Many have questioned both Barroso's actions and motives. "There is a need to
separate religious beliefs from facts," says Patricia Lopez Zaragoza, President of
the Mexican Ethical Rationalist Association (AMER), an organization dedicated to the
diffusion of reliable information concerning science and society. "People should know
that he [Barroso] is a member of a right-wing secret society of the Catholic church known
as the Knights of Malta."
Florida Bible Class Fails Legal Test
by Jo Ann Boydston
On February 25, 1998, seven plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the People for the American Way Foundation reached a
settlement with the Lee County, Florida, Board of Education on a "Bible as
History" course in the county's public high schools. Andrew H. Kayton, ACLU Florida
Legal Director, called the settlement an important success for the ACLU, one that
"could set an important precedent on the constitutional use of the Bible in U.S.
The controversy over teaching the Bible - as literature or as history, the Old and/or
the New Testaments - began early in 1996 when a local volunteer for the North Carolina
Council for Bible Curriculum suggested the "Bible as History" course to the
Board of Education. At a six-hour meeting in March, dozens of speakers, including
ministers, rabbis, and imams for local churches, synagogues, and mosques, objected
strenuously to having the district offer such a course. The Board approved it, however, by
a 4-1 margin. Specifics of the curriculum were to be worked out by a 15-person committee
appointed primarily by the Board and, therefore, heavily weighted with Religious Right
Meetings of the curriculum committee - composed of clergy, parents, political
activists, and Bible literalists and dominated by Bible supporters - were lengthy and
acrimonious, producing personal attacks and ethnic slurs, such as the statement that those
who opposed the course were "Jews and others who you wondered if they had any
religion at all."
In the summer of 1997, after having met frequently for a year, the committee decided to
adopt the course originally suggested, one developed by Elizabeth Ridenour, a former
real-estate agent, and her Greensboro, North Carolina-based group, the National Council on
Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.
Once the curriculum had been adopted, Board Chairman Douglas Santini, who strongly
supported the Bible class, accused Lee County Superintendent of Schools Bobbie
D'Alessandro of dragging her feet in starting the course. Many citizens in the community
rallied to D'Alessandro's support, but she finally acknowledged that the harassment and
intimidation by Board members made it too stressful for her to continue; the Board bought
out her contract in February 1997. Meanwhile, the Lee County School District attorney also
resigned under pressure in January, after pointing out that the planned Bible course
"plainly contravenes the Constitution." His stand was vindicated when the
Board's new attorneys advised them that the Old Testament course could result in a
successful legal challenge.
In December 1997, the ACLU filed suit in U.S. District Court on behalf of seven Lee
County parents and other taxpayers, claiming the course as planned - both Old and New
Testament segments - was unconstitutional because it was religious and not secular in
nature, as defined by the 1963 Supreme Court ruling. The Board of Education was
represented by Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and
U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich then ordered the Lee County School District
not to implement the New Testament course based on the North Carolina curriculum, and,
while agreeing to let the Old Testament course be taught, ordered that it be monitored by
videotaping. The Old Testament "Bible as History" class began on January 22,
On February 25, 1998, the plaintiffs and the Board of Education finally reached a
formal settlement on the Bible course. The Board agreed to pay the plaintiffs' attorneys
$95,000 and to redesign the class, developing course content based on the college-level
textbook entitled Introduction to the Bible. Rather than using the Bible as a
"textbook," the Introduction to the Bible leaves interpretation to
scholars; the book deals with the formation of the Bible, biblical criticisms, and sources
of information concerning such issues as the life and teachings of Jesus. Judge
Kovachevich asked to retain jurisdiction in case problems arise in actual implementation
of the settlement.
Videotaping continued until March 11, when Judge Kovachevich signed the final
settlement and ordered subsequent classes audiotaped up to the end of the present course.
The plaintiffs and their lawyers are reviewing the tapes of the Old Testament classes in
order to ensure that the approach in the course was secular rather than religious. The
Board of Education also announced that students who take the new course must also take
either world history (already required) or a comparative religion class (long offered
without any takers).
Mark Ehman, a parent and plaintiff in the suit against the Board of Education, as well
as a member of the committee to develop the new course, believes the class will now use a
proper approach. Ehman said of the settlement, about which he clearly has mixed feelings,
"We proposed the settlement and it's a compromise. I think that basically, though,
the course is now on sound academic ground and sound constitutional ground."