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Secular World

by Matt Cherry

The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 13, Number 4.

New Law Denies Inmates Abortion Access

A new anti-abortion ordiance passed by an Oregon county is forcing a jail inmate to carry her unwanted pregnancy to term, Reuters reports. The Yamhill County ordinance prohibits any county "agent" from facilitating performance of an abortion "by any means."

Joni Ledbetter, who is jailed on robbery charges, is willing to pay for her abortion. But under the new law, the county will not let her travel, in custody, to get an abortion. The American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging the law, says the law appears to be the first of its kind in the US.

"No government agency can force a woman to continue a pregnancy she does not want to continue. All women have a right to choose whether or not to end a pregnancy," commented an ACLU representative. "The county commisioners ... have no authority to override the Constitution."

Russia Restricts Religious Freedom

Russia has established the Russian Orthodox Church as the country's pre-eminent religion and limited the activities of other religious groups. The new law pledges respect for Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity in general, but it requires that religious groups must be present for 15 years before they can publish or distribute religious literature, or invite foreigners for preaching activities. Only a handful of religious groups were allowed to operate during the Soviet era, so most groups do not meet the 15-year requirement.

The Council for Secular Humanism's newly launched Center for Inquiry Moscow protested the law. Valery Kuvakin, Director of the Center for Inquiry Moscow, said "Although secular humanists are not religious, we believe very strongly in the freedom of religion and belief. We will do everything we can to reverse this discriminatory and illiberal law." Kuvakin took part in protest demonstrations against the new law.

Newfoundland Votes Against Religious Schools

Newfoundland has voted to abolish its system of publicly-funded church schools. The Canadian province will replace the system of church-run schools with a non-denominational system.

A referendum in September revealed 73 percent support for the the change. "This is a clear and strong mandate, almost without precedent in the history of referendums in Canada," declared Newfoundland Premier Brian Tobin. The change is expected to be implemented next year. Schools will not become wholly secular however, as the proposal still allows for religious worship in schools.

Spiritual Funding

Religious groups have created a coalition to try to introduce "spiritual healing" to American prisons and hospitals. According to its executive director, Ceasar Giolito, the newly formed National Interfaith Coalition for Spiritual Healthcare and Counseling wants prisons to offer certified religious chaplains and health insurers to pay for spiritual counseling. The coalition is funded by a variety of churches and religious groups including, United Church of Christ, Southern Baptist Convention, United Methodist Church and the New York Board of Rabbis. Religious organizations could gain considerable revenue if "spiritual counselling" were to be paid for by government agencies and health insurers.

Matt Cherry is Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism.

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This page was last updated 12/04/2003

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