by Matt Cherry
The following article is from the Secular
Humanist Bulletin, Volume 14, Number 1.
Oregon Becomes First State To Legalize Assisted Suicide
The state of Oregon is now the only place in the world with the legal right to
physician aid in dying. "The Death with Dignity Law" (Measure 16) was first
passed by Oregon voters in 1994, but a three-year legal campaign by opponents delayed
Two developments confirmed the legality of the Death with Dignity Law. On October 27,
1997, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Measure 16 was legal. Then on November
4, in a second referendum on physician-aided suicide, a measure to overturn the 1994 law
was defeated by a 60:40 majority.
Oregon is the first place in the world to recognize a legal right to physician aided
suicide. Voluntary euthanasia has long been decriminalized in The Netherlands, but is not
a legal right. The Northern Territories of Australia decriminalized voluntary euthanasia
in 1996, but this decision was soon overturned by the Australian federal government.
Legislatures in the states of Main and Michigan are currently considering new death with
Christian Coalition May Give Up Tax-Exemption
In the face of mounting evidence that it is a partisan political organization, the Christian Coalition may be considering giving up its
tax-exempt status. The Washington Post,
citing sources inside the Christian Coalition, reported that the organization may register
itself as a Political Action Committee (PAC). As a PAC, the Coalition would lose its
tax-exempt status but could take an open and active role in party politics.
The Coalition appears to be reacting to pressure from government agencies and watchdog
groups, whose investigations have revealed the partisan political nature of the Christian
Coalition. The last straw may have been the recording of Pat Robertson, the Coalition's
founder and president, boasting that he would control the Republican presidential
nomination in 2000. The secret recording revealed the Coalition's political strategy at
local, state, and federal levels (see front-page story in Secular Humanist Bulletin,
Since its foundation in 1989, the Christian Coalition has operated under 501(c)4 tax
exempt status. This status confers many financial benefits to an organization, but also
requires that the group does not endorse candidates or engage in political campaigning as
its main activity. The Christian Coalition, founded by televangelist and some-time
presidential candidate Pat Robertson, has long been accused of contravening its charitable
status. The Internal Revenue Service has refused to make the Coalition's tax-exempt status
permanent, and the Federal Election Commission has sued the Coalition for coordinating its
campaigns with Republican candidates in in 1990, 1992, and 1994.
Patriarch Brands Catholics "Heretics"
The spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians began a month-long visit to
America by calling Roman Catholics "heretics." Patriarch Bartholomew's remarks,
made at a Catholic University last Fall, refuted Catholic claims that there could be
reconciliation between Christianity's two largest denominations by the year 2000.
In a speech at the University of Georgetown, Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople,
said that the separation between the Eastern and Western churches was not merely one of
geography, structure, or religious law. Rather, he declared, "the manner in which we
exist has become ontologically different." He followed up this opaque comment on the
nature of the difference between the two churches with a much clearer pronouncement on its
consequences: "Concerning those that have freely chosen to shun the correct Glory of
God, the Orthodox Curch follows the Apostle Paul's recommendation, which is `A man that is
a heretic after the first and second admonition, reject.'"
Since the Second Vatican Council 30 years ago, representatives of the Roman Catholic
and Eastern Orthodox churches have been trying to repair the breach between their
churches. The Great Schism of 1054 split the Christian faith into Orthodox and Catholic
churches. In 1995, when Patriarch Bartholomew joined Pope John Paul II in prayer at a Mass
at St. Peter's in Vatican City, the pope proclaimed the possible reconciliation between
Christianity's two largest churches by the millennium. It seems the "heretic"
spoke too soon.
Bible Exemption Overturned
A Rhode Island District Court judge has overturned a state law exempting the Bible, but
no other book, from sales tax. Under the ruling, released October 28, 1997, the tax
exemption for the Bible was judged a violaton of the First Amendment's ban on government
endorsement of religion.
Indiana County Drops Ten Commandments Law
Grant County, Indiana, has rescinded its resolution to hang the Ten Commandments in
government buildings. The County Commissioners backed down, in December 1997, after the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the
resolution. A number of Religious Right organizations have urged local governments to post
the Commandments in the wake of Alabama judge Roy Moore's highly publicized effort to keep
the Ten Commandments hanging in his courtroom.
North Dakota Schools End Bible Distribution
The Wahpeton Public School District, North Dakota, has agreed to stop the distribution
of religious materials during school hours by religious groups. Prior to the decision, Gideons International had been distributing the New
Testament to young children at public schools. The decision followed a legal challenge by
a group of parents.
Gay Couple Granted Adoption Rights
A New Jersey judge has granted a gay couple the right to jointly adopt their two-year
old foster son. The state had previously refused to recognise gay and lesbian partnerships
as family units, requiring same-sex couples to undergo separate adoption procedures for
each parent. The judgement ensures that same sex couples in New Jersey have the same right
to adopt as any other couple. Adoption applications must henceforth be evaluated solely on
the basis of the best interests of the child, and therefore must focus on the
qualifications of the prospective adoptive parents without regard to their marital status
or sexual orientation.
Adoption by gay and lesbian parents is strongly opposed by many religious groups. The
New Jersey decision paves the way for wider recognition of lesbian and gay couples'
adoption rights. More than 20 states nationwide have approved adoptions by lesbian and gay
parents, but the New Jersey ruling is one of the first involving a joint adoption by a gay
couple, rather than a single gay parent.
The couple, Jon Holden and Michael Galluccio, became the foster parents for
three-month-old Adam in January 1996. The couple filed a court petition for a joint
adoption of Adam, who was born HIV exposed and cocaine addicted, after nursing him through
a remarkable recovery.
"This has got to be the happiest day of our lives," said Galluccio. "We
are a real family, and now nobody can take that away from us." "We are ecstatic
beyond belief," added Holden. "Michael and I can concentrate our attention on
being Adam's parents and stop worrying about lawsuits."
Matt Cherry is Executive Director of the Council for
Humanism Online Library