CULTURE DIGEST: Gender-specific events banned by school district
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- A school district in Rhode Island banned father-daughter dances and mother-son baseball outings because the events are gender exclusive, drawing significant backlash and a call to change a state law.
"I acknowledge many of these events have long traditions and for many parents these types of gender-based events are not an issue," Judith Lundsten, superintendent of Cranston Public Schools, wrote to school organizations.
"However, this is a public school system and under no circumstances should we be isolating any child or their family from full participation in school activities and events based on gender," Lundsten wrote.
The decision came in response to a complaint last May from the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a single mother whose daughter could not attend a father-daughter dance because she did not have a father in her life.
In addition to father-daughter dances, the school traditionally organized a mother-son outing to a Pawtucket Red Sox baseball game.
Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU, wrote in a statement Sept. 18 that parent-teacher organizations "remain free to hold family dances and other events, but the time has long since passed for public school resources to encourage stereotyping from the days of Ozzie and Harriet."
"Not every girl today is interested in growing up to be Cinderella -- not even in Cranston," Brown wrote. "In fact, one of them might make a great major league baseball player someday."
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung said Sept. 18 he was "utterly disappointed to have such a time-honored tradition under attack in the name of political correctness."
"Traditions like this are what make up the fabric of our childhood memories and definitely contribute to the wellbeing of our children as a whole," the mayor said.
Federal law exempts father-son and mother-daughter activities when banning discrimination, but in Rhode Island, the law could be interpreted to mean all school functions must be gender inclusive.
Cranston School Committee chairwoman Andrea Iannazzi said the committee soon will consider a resolution asking lawmakers to modify state law to allow the school district to preserve father-daughter dances, according to the Providence Journal Sept. 19.
'BERLIN PATIENT' PROMOTES GENE THERAPY AIDS CURE -- The lone man who claims to have been cured of AIDS through gene therapy says he hopes others infected can be similarly treated, but doctors are still testing whether gene therapy can cure the disease.
In the treatment, doctors would transplant stem cells from a donor with a certain cell feature that provides natural resistance to HIV infection. The treatment has not involved stem cells from embryos but from adults.
Timothy Ray Brown, 46, of San Francisco, called "The Berlin Patient" because of where he was treated, appeared Sept. 12 at a gene therapy symposium at Washington University in St. Louis, accompanied by Gero Hutter, the doctor who treated him.
While some doctors are skeptical Brown is cured, Brown and Hutter said the passage of time since the 2007 surgery and the fact Brown has not needed HIV drugs since his operation, further support he is cured, the Associated Press reported.
Brown's case was first reported in 2008 and included in the New England Journal of Medicine the following year. While Brown says he feels great, doctors in California this year found traces of HIV in Brown's tissue. The discovery led to speculation that the disease had returned, but Brown said the traces are only remnants of HIV that cannot replicate nor cause a recurrence.
Washington University's Biologic Therapeutics Center sponsored the symposium as part of its work to advance the use of gene therapy. Gene therapy has helped treat other diseases, including cancer and hemophilia, symposium speakers said.
Brown is involved in a foundation named for him that seeks a cure for HIV. An estimated 1 percent of the northern European population has the particular cell feature that provides natural protection from HIV.
VA. BOARD TOUGHENS RULES FOR ABORTION CLINICS -- Virginia abortion clinics will have to abide by more stringent building regulations to meet health and safety standards called for by a 2011 law, according to a new state agency decision.
In a Sept. 14 meeting, the Virginia Board of Health voted 13-2 to require all abortion clinics to abide by the state's building standards for hospitals. The vote amounted to a reversal of the board's June decision to exempt existing clinics from the rules.
After the Board of Health voted not to apply the law's standards to existing clinics, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli refused to certify the regulations. Cuccinelli's office announced in July the board did not have the authority to approve such rules.
The law is the first in the country to mandate such regulations for clinics performing first trimester abortions.
Upon the 2011 law's enactment, abortion rights advocates heavily criticized the standards. They alleged the guidelines, which included size requirements for hallways, might result in the closing of 17 of the state's 21 abortion clinics.
Supporters of abortion expressed strong disapproval after the Board of Health's latest vote, but pro-life advocates commended the decision.
"The hysterical claims of the abortion industry that today's vote denies access to health care are simply untrue. Today's decision simply requires the industry to clean up its act," said Victoria Cobb, the Virginia Family Foundation's president. "These centers can continue to offer any other service they provide even [if] they can't meet these reasonable guidelines. They simply have to stop performing surgery unless they meet these standards."
Casey Mattox, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said, "Abortion clinics should be held to the same health and safety standards as all other medical facilities. Their resistance to such standards exposes their real attitude toward women."
The ACLU of Virginia criticized the board's actions, saying the regulations "will make abortions more expensive and more difficult to obtain particularly if some clinics are forced to close."
All nine members of the board appointed by current Gov. Bob McDonnell voted for the regulations. Four appointees by former, pro-choice Gov. Tim Kaine approved the rules, while two of Kaine's appointees opposed them.
The board's Sept. 14 vote came only two days after the Family Foundation released a report from the state's Department of Health that showed nine abortion clinics had received 80 citations, including for issues related to infection prevention, equipment and personnel.
The permanent regulations approved by the board still must undergo review by the offices of the attorney general and governor before a public comment period and final decision by the Board of Health. Emergency regulations adopted last year for the law are now in effect.
MO. LAWMAKERS OVERRIDE VETO OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM BILL -- The Missouri legislature voted Sept. 12 to overturn a veto of legislation designed to protect the religious liberties of employers and employees against the contraceptive/abortion mandate included in the health care reform law supported by the Obama administration.
The Senate voted 26-6 for the override, while the roll call in the House of Representatives was 109-45, according to the Associated Press. A two-thirds majority was required to overcome Gov. Jay Nixon's veto.
The abortion-contraceptive mandate in the law commonly referred to as "Obamacare" requires all plans to cover contraceptives and sterilizations as preventive services without cost to employees under a federal rule announced in January. The mandate includes coverage of contraceptives that can cause abortions of tiny embryos. The rule regarding that mandate has a religious exemption critics find woefully inadequate and has elicited ardent opposition from church groups and religious freedom advocates.
The new Missouri law protects employers and employees from being required to purchase health insurance that covers abortion, contraception or sterilization if doing so would clash with their religious or moral beliefs.
After the successful override, Nixon, a Democrat running for re-election, said legislators who voted for the bill "are standing between women and their right to make their own personal decisions about birth control," AP reported.
Rep. Sandy Crawford, a Republican who steered the measure through the House, said, "This bill is about protecting our religious liberties. This bill is about protecting businesses from the overreach of government."
The Greater Kansas City Coalition of Labor Union Women filed a legal challenge to the law the same day and asked a judge to block its enforcement.
OBAMA CALLS RICHARDS, THANKS PPFA FOR SUPPORT -- Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards recently provided another indication of President Obama's connection to the country's leading abortion provider.
In a Sept. 10 tweet, Richards said, "Yesterday @BarackObama called to thank PP for all we're doing. He knows how important this election is for @PPFAQ patients. Let's win this!"
Richards was one of 25 speakers at this month's Democratic National Convention who spoke in support of abortion rights.
The Obama re-election campaign has referred to abortion in its television commercials more than that of any other major presidential candidate in history.
Affiliates of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) reported performing 329,445 abortions in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available. PPFA and its affiliates, which are under investigation by a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee, received $487.4 million in government grants, contracts and reimbursements in 2009-10.
'VOTE PRO-LIFE FIRST INITIATIVE' SET THIS FALL -- Students for Life of America is leading a national campaign this fall to educate voters and recruit youth workers as part of its "I Vote Pro-life First Initiative."
Working in conjunction with other pro-life organizations, Students for Life of America (SFLA) is urging Americans to sign a pledge committing to make the life issue the most significant one in their decision to vote for president and all other offices. SFLA hopes to educate 300,000 voters and find 1,200 young people to help motivate citizens to go to the polls.
"If a candidate does not support the basic right to life, we believe they cannot be trusted to handle any other issue, fiscal or social, with honor and dignity," SFLA President Kristan Hawkins said.
As part of the campaign, SFLA will kick off Sept. 17 a tour to university campuses in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
OFFICIAL URGES LOOSENING OF ASSISTED SUICIDE RESTRICTIONS -- Great Britain's new under-secretary of state for health wants anti-assisted suicide laws liberalized to allow family members and friends to help terminally ill patients kill themselves.
"I think it's ridiculous and appalling that people have to go abroad to end their life instead of being able to end their life at home," Anna Soubry said, according to a United Press International report based on a Sept. 8 article in The Telegraph.
While British laws call for a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison for assisted suicide, prosecutions are uncommon. Of 60 assisted suicide cases sent to prosecutors since 2009, only 18 have gone to trial. Prosecutors withdrew nine of those 18, according to the report.
Soubry does not agree with permitting physicians to assist with suicides, she said.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Erin Roach and Diana Chandler of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).