CULTURE DIGEST: Obama administration, in court brief, supports prayer at public meetings
NASHVILLE (BP) -- The Obama administration has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of prayer at public meetings.
The Obama administration joined a group that includes the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and congressional Republicans in filing a brief in an appeal of a ruling that invalidated a New York town's prayer policy for its board meetings.
"The case could lead to a major change in the law on religion that would go well beyond prayers at council meetings," the Los Angeles Times said Aug. 8.
The Obama administration told the court that the town's practice should not be considered an endorsement of religion, the Times said.
U.S. Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli Jr. wrote that opening a town meeting with prayer "does not amount to an unconstitutional establishment of religion merely because most prayer-givers are Christian and many or most of their prayers contain sectarian references."
Verrilli added that local councils should not be required to "closely police the content of prayers."
Ken Klukowski of the Family Research Council called the administration's filing "a surprisingly conservative brief, and it came as a pleasant surprise," according to the Times.
"It's gratifying that even the Obama administration recognizes that courts are not qualified to censor prayers," Klukowski said.
REGIONAL GAP GROWS ON ABORTION -- Regional divisions on the abortion issue are growing in the United States, according to a new opinion poll.
The gap between the South Central region's opposition to legal abortion and New England's support "has widened considerably" during the last two decades, the Pew Research Center reported.
In the eight South Central states, 52 percent of the population say abortion should be illegal "in all or most cases" and only 40 percent say it should be legal "in all or most cases," according to a July survey by Pew. In New England, only 20 percent say abortion should be generally illegal, while 75 percent say it should be legal.
The belief in South Central states abortion should be illegal grew from 45 to 52 percent based on a comparison of surveys in 1995-96 and 2012-13, according to a Pew analysis. That same analysis showed support for legal abortion in New England increased from 70 to 75 percent. During that time period, the abortion support gap between the two regions jumped from 18 to 35 percent.
The analysis found the Mountain West was the only region other than New England to grow in its support for abortion.
The South Central region, which stretches from Texas to Kentucky, is the only one in which a majority say abortion should be illegal, the new Pew poll showed. In declining order between the two extremes, the other regions say abortion should be illegal "in all or most cases" at this rate: Midwest, 47 percent; South Atlantic, 42; Great Lakes, 41; Mountain West, 36; Mid-Atlantic, 33; and Pacific Coast, 30.
Michael New, an expert on state abortion laws, said, "This geographic polarization has important implications for the pro-life movement."
"Since the 1990s, Republicans have won majority control of both chambers of the state legislature in nearly every southern state," New wrote in a blog post at National Review Online. "The political success of Republicans coupled with the strong pro-life sentiment in the South has resulted in many southern states taking the lead in promoting laws that offer even greater protection to the unborn -- currently, all southern states are enforcing both a parental-involvement law and an informed-consent law."
New, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, added, "However, pro-lifers should also remember that state abortion policy was not always neatly divided by ideological or geographic lines. For instance, during the 1980s the first group of states to enact pro-life parental-involvement laws included such liberal bastions as Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. As such, the increasing polarization on sanctity-of-life issues -- both political and geographical -- poses both a challenge and an opportunity to the pro-life movement."
Nationally, 54 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal "in all or most cases," while 40 percent say it should be illegal.
The South Central region in Pew's survey consists of Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.
PLANNED PARENTHOOD FRAUD SETTLEMENT ACTUALLY $4.3 MILLION --
Planned Parenthood's settlement in a Medicaid fraud case was three times what was first reported, it turns out.
Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC) agreed to an out-of-court settlement of $4.3 million after an investigation by the Texas government alleged it fraudulently overbilled the Medicaid program, the Houston Chronicle reported July 30. Only the week before, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced a settlement of $1.4 million.
The previously announced amount was only part of Planned Parenthood's settlement with not only Texas but the federal government and whistleblower Karen Reynolds, a former PPGC employee.
The latest settlement brings to at least $12.5 million the amount of "waste, abuse and 'fraudulent overbilling' of taxpayers" by Planned Parenthood affiliates in publicly revealed audits, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). ADF has charged Planned Parenthood with misusing millions of dollars in government funds in a report to Congress.
A Planned Parenthood spokeswoman described the latest charges against the abortion chain as "baseless."
ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox responded by saying, "If you believe Planned Parenthood would voluntarily pay $4.3 million if it thought the claims were truly 'baseless' then I have appreciating property to sell you in Detroit."
PAKISTANI TV HOST GIVES AWAY ABANDONED BABIES ON AIR -- A Pakistani television host has begun giving abandoned babies to childless couples on air in what is reportedly an effort to boost ratings.
Aamir Liaquat Hussain gave two infant girls to couples in July on live television and planned to give a baby boy to another couple, according to Reuters News Service Aug. 1.
"If we didn't find this baby, a cat or a dog would have eaten it," Hussain said before giving one of the girls to her adoptive parents.
One of the new fathers, Riaz Uddin, said, "We were told that we had passed all the interviews and had been selected to adopt a baby. We got our baby on live TV."
The Chhipa Welfare Association, which found the babies, searches trash dumps and other locations for abandoned children. Hussain also has asked parents who cannot afford their newborns to give them to him instead of killing them, Reuters reported.
Hussain's show is one of many on Pakistani TV that sometimes use controversial programming to increase ratings.
PRO-LIFE FAMILY BUSINESS SEEKS FULL COURT'S REVIEW -- A Pennsylvania family business that objects to the Obama administration's abortion/contraception mandate has asked the full Third Circuit Court of Appeals to consider its case.
The Hahns, a Mennonite family that owns Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., appealed to the Third Circuit after a divided, three-judge panel of the court denied their request for a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the controversial rule, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) said July 31. The appeals court panel announced its decision July 26.
The panel ruled "for-profit, secular organizations cannot engage in religious exercise."
The mandate requires employers to pay for health insurance coverage of contraceptives, including ones that can cause abortions. The Hahns object to the mandate because they believe life begins at conception.
The Third Circuit's opinion conflicts with one issued in June by the 10th Circuit, which ruled corporations "can be 'persons' exercising religion" under federal law.
The split decisions at the appeals court level increase the likelihood the Supreme Court will grant a review in one of the cases.
ONE BRAND OF 'MORNING-AFTER' PILL TO BE SOLD WITHOUT AGE RESTRICTIONS --Plan B One-step, a "morning-after" pill that has abortion-causing qualities, will have the exclusive right to be sold on store shelves without age limitations for nearly three years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced July 22. The exclusive agreement will end at the close of April 2016.
The announcement means generic versions of Plan B One-step may be stocked on store shelves but only women 17 and older may purchase them with identification. Two-step generic versions will be for sale without a prescription but will continue to be stocked behind the pharmacy counter, according to The Boston Globe.
Plan B and other "morning-after" pills can prevent the implantation of tiny embryos. That secondary, post-fertilization mechanism of the pill causes an abortion.
Compiled by Tom Strode and Erin Roach of Baptist Press.