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Secular World

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 enactment.

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 dignity laws.

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, Winter 1997/98).

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 Secular Humanism.

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