Lawmakers Okay
'Choose Life'
License Plate

April 29, 1998

Tallahassee, Florida (Reuters) -- Florida lawmakers voted Wednesday that opponents of abortion rights in Florida could have special license plates for their cars like those available to fans of manatees, sports teams and teachers.

The state House approved a bill to create a tag with the slogan "Choose Life" by a 77-41 vote, following the lead of the state Senate, which approved it Tuesday 28-12.

If signed by Gov. Lawton Chiles, the bill, which was backed by abortion opponents, would allow Florida car owners to spend an extra fee to receive a license plate with pictures of smiling children and the slogan "Choose Life."

The state already has 39 other special plate options, including one reading "Save the Manatee," another expressing support for education and one memorializing the space shuttle Challenger, which exploded over Florida in 1986, killing six astronauts and teacher Christa McAuliffe.

The new tag was approved after heated debate, with supporters calling it a generic affirmation of life and opponents calling it an inappropriate political statement, especially in a state where two doctors who performed abortions have been gunned down by abortion opponents.

"To me it's a positive, pro-active message," John Dowless, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida, said. "I personally think the state of Florida should have a policy that favors adoption over abortion."

The most heated debate came during debate over a proposal to change the license plate slogan to "Adopt a Child," which was defeated on a 65-51 vote.

State Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Weston, said: "The real issue here is that this organization does not want to support adoption. They want to promote their political message."

Lobbyists said Florida would be the first state to create a license plate touching on the controversial abortion issue, in which supporters of abortion rights call themselves "pro-choice" and opponents say they are "pro-life."

Proceeds from the sale of the new tag will be earmarked for services for pregnant women and to promote adoption.

A spokesman for Chiles said it was not yet known whether the governor would sign the measure or veto it.

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Broom Confiscated

Cleaning Woman
Charged with 'Witchcraft'
by Cliff Walker
from wire reports

May 6, 1998

Bucharest -- A cleaning woman working in a remote village hall in northeastern Romania will be brought to court on charges of witchcraft by the mayor, said the independent Evenimentul Zilei daily newspaper. The mayor fired her and also confiscated her broom.

The newspaper said the woman was found during office hours "burning candles on a stone" inside the village hall and "cursing hall leaders." The mayor plans to bring the stone to court as evidence.

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Rep. Barr, Religious Right
Misunderstand First Amendment

Army Should Reject Call
For Ban On Wiccans
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State

June 28, 1999

Military officials should reject a congressman's demand that practice of the Wiccan faith be banned on military bases, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) says Wicca, the modern name for witchcraft, is not a bona fide religion and that military officials do not have to permit its practice on bases. Barr recently sent a letter to military leaders demanding an end to Wiccan rituals at Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas, and sought to introduce an amendment to a $290 billion defense bill that would forbid Wiccan worship on military bases.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn charged that Barr has a poor understanding of religious liberty and urged military officials to reject his demands.

"Rep. Barr's comments reflect an appalling intolerance and a lack of understanding about the fundamental principles upon which this nation was founded," Lynn wrote Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

"The Constitution forbids government discrimination against any religious group," observed Lynn, in the letter. "No government official may single out a religious minority group for unfavorable treatment or suppression. In other words, if some military personnel are free to exercise their religious beliefs on base, people of all religious faiths must be extended the same opportunity."

Following Barr's complaint, a number of Religious Right groups took up his crusade. Led by Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, the organizations called on Christians to boycott the Army until Wicca is banned.

Weyrich mistakenly accused the Army of sponsoring "satanic rituals." In fact, Wiccans practice a pre-Christian, nature-based faith and do not worship Satan.

Lynn accused the Religious Right groups of hypocrisy. "Religious Right activists claim to be for religious freedom," observed Lynn, "but here they are trying to squelch the rights of a group just because they don't like what it preaches. It's positively un-American.

"Thankfully," concluded Lynn, "the First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans, including Wiccans. No amount of Religious Right bigotry can change that."

Americans United is a public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.
Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members in all 50 states.

Contact: Joseph Conn or Rob Boston
202-466-2587 fax

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Religious Right Makes
Stand Against GOP
by Joseph Schuman
Associated Press Writer

May 9, 1998

Washington (AP) -- An influential Christian broadcaster said Saturday that while GOP leaders have calmed tensions with religious conservatives, he'll be watching to be sure Republicans stay true to right wing voters that helped elect them.

James Dobson, who threatened to leave the GOP over conservative issues, said "there isn't any question" that Republicans have insulted Americans who care about family values and stopping abortion.

"Now maybe that's about to change," he said in an interview on CNN's "Evans and Novak" broadcast Saturday.

"I want them to listen to the people who put them in power," said Dobson, founder and president of Focus on the Family, a ministry in Colorado Springs, Colo. "I want them to pay attention to the issues that burn within the hearts of the primary constituency of the Republican Party.... If they won't do that, then they ought to lose."

He added that he will personally campaign for someone outside the GOP who represents his values if the party fails to support conservative points of view.

Republicans hold a narrow advantage in the House and cannot afford to have conservatives -- their most active voters -- boycott the polls. At the same time, they don't want to alienate moderate voters in November.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other GOP congressional leaders met Friday with Dobson and other Christian conservatives to try and heal the rift.

In the sometimes contentious meeting, each side aired complaints but left with a common agenda that included eliminating a tax penalty for married couples, scrapping federal funding for the arts and enacting anti-abortion and religious freedom legislation.

House leaders also established a working group, to be led by Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., to meet weekly with religious right leaders to forward their agenda.

Most social conservative leaders who were there, including Gary Bauer, president of the Family Research Council, said afterwards that the two groups made progress in working together.

Dobson said Saturday he was "still uneasy, but I'm hopeful."

"I am very interested in the Republicans knowing that there are millions and millions and millions of pro-family, pro-life, pro-moral voters out there who are agitated, concerned and watching very closely," he said.

He started feuding with the Republican leadership earlier this year in a speech to the Council on National Policy, warning that unless the issues conservatives find important -- abortion, euthanasia, family values, tax equity -- are addressed, he would bolt from the GOP and take as many of his supporters with him as he could.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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Mormons Concerned
Over GOP Link
by Mike Carter
Associated Press Writer

May 9, 1998

Salt Lake City (AP) -- Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada -- a Mormon and a Democrat -- did two things after learning his church had expressed dismay over being perceived as hand and glove with the Republican Party.

"First, I picked myself up off the floor," Reid said. "Then I got a copy of the story and sent it along to my close friend Al Gore to make sure it gets to the president."

Reid's ecstatic reaction typified that of Mormon Democrats tired of having their faith questioned and politics ridiculed by their overwhelmingly conservative brethren and sisters in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Those few Mormons who affiliate with the Democrats are often seen as living on the dark fringes of the faith, as having traded doctrinal orthodoxy for heresies such as abortion rights and the women's movement.

The one-sided political landscape has been a source of worry for leaders of the 10 million-member faith.

So late last month, in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, a high-ranking church official disavowed any GOP link to Mormonism and urged political diversity in what is arguably the most Republican of states.

"I know that there is sort of a division along Mormon/non-Mormon, Republican/Democratic lines," Elder Marlin K. Jensen told the newspaper. "I think we regret that more than anything, that there would become a church party and a non-church party. That would be the last thing that we would want to have happen."

Jensen said Mormon leaders are concerned that "it's not in the best interest to be known as a one-party church."

The idea that Mormonism and the Democratic Party are incompatible traces back to the early 1970s, when ultraconservative Apostle Ezra Taft Benson -- a former U.S. agriculture secretary and later a church president -- said it would be difficult for a member to be a liberal Democrat.

Jensen, a member of the church's First Quorum of the Seventy and a Democrat, was careful to maintain the church's longstanding claim of political neutrality, even if his remarks weren't seen that way by some Republicans.

"There is a rule about talking against the anointed," said Ron Fox, a Republican consultant and Mormon. "There's another rule that says if you don't understand a pronouncement that you should just scratch your head and await further enlightenment.

"Well, we're scratching our heads."

Democrats have found the statement no less stunning.

"That is an earthshaker," said Ted Wilson, a Democrat, Mormon and director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics who has long criticized the GOP's ties to the church.

"Mormon Democrats have been praying for this.... We have beseeched the divinity over this," Wilson told the Tribune.

Utah politics has not always been so one-sided.

Before the turn of the century, when Utah was courting statehood, church members were mostly Democratic. The Republican Party supported the persecutions that forced the Mormons West, said Brigham Young University historian Thomas Alexander.

To appease Congress, church leaders ordered the membership divided into two parties, often splitting congregations down the middle.

Alexander sees Jensen's statements as perhaps the most significant pronouncement on the issue of political diversity since that time.

"Obviously, the brethren are very concerned and I think they have reason to be, since for the first time since the 19th century there is a real danger of active Mormons being Republicans and everybody else being Democrat," Alexander said. "That is unhealthy."

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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Israel Textbook
Erases Palestinians

January 27, 1998

Jerusalem (AP) -- Israeli schoolchildren will be studying a special textbook put out to commemorate the country's 50th anniversary this year -- but they won't learn anything there about the Palestinians.

"Israel's Jubilee," purchased by schools around the country, includes a survey of major events in the country's history, including the Arab-Israeli wars and the absorption of immigrants. But the book makes almost no mention of the Palestinians, although the two peoples' histories are intertwined.

The authors said Tuesday they had too many other subjects to cover. But Israeli historian Ilan Pappe said ignoring the Palestinians will make it harder to achieve peace.

"It's a very falsified picture," Pappe said. "If you ignore the Palestinians, it means that you dehumanize them. Wiping them out of the collective memory is a very dangerous act."

Israel's Education Ministry recommended the 50th anniversary as the "central subject" for all schools in 1998. According to the Haaretz newspaper, the curriculum is supposed to include "soul-searching" on unresolved dilemmas and conflicts.

That apparently doesn't include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which stems from Israel's establishment on land claimed by both peoples.

A version of "Israel's Jubilee" intended for first-and second-graders makes no mention of the Palestinians. Versions for students in third through sixth grades make just one mention in 80 pages -- a suggestion that the students listen and read news reports about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The Education Ministry, controlled by Israel's right-wing National Religious Party, noted Tuesday that the textbook was published independently and purchased by individual schools at their own discretion. It had not been reviewed by the ministry, spokesman Benny Shukrun said.

The book's authors and publisher defended the book, saying it was intended to be used in conjunction with another textbook, "Toward Peace," which covers all aspects of the Mideast peace process, including the Palestinians.

"We did not include the Palestinians in this textbook because we gave them a very, very important place" in the earlier book, said co-author Dalia Korah-Segev. "We aren't shying away from the subject."

Also, the book did not address the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in any detail because it is constantly changing, she said. Korah-Segev added that some teachers were uncomfortable teaching students about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in school because Israeli opinion is so bitterly divided on the subject.

The Jubilee book was supposed "to emphasize the things of which we can be proud and happy and a family," Korah-Segev said.

But Pappe, a political science professor at Haifa University, said the book was "projecting a fanatic vision of Israel without any Arabs."

"You can't separate them, and nobody in his right mind would," he said. "It has a far-reaching effect on the ability of the Israeli public to come to terms with peace when that day will come."

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Jewish Extremist Arrested

May 10, 1998

Jerusalem (AP) -- Police detained a member of the outlawed anti-Arab Kach movement Sunday for allegedly posting doctored photos of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the nude.

Itamar Ben-Gvir was taken in for questioning after police collected evidence backing up suspicions that he had posted the manufactured pictures of Rabin last month, police said.

The four manufactured images of Rabin's head plastered onto a naked body were posted at the entrance of the Dor Shalom center founded by Yuval Rabin after his father's assassination by a Jewish extremist at a November 1995 peace rally.

Rabin outlawed Kach after one of its members massacred dozens of Muslim worshipers at a Hebron mosque in 1994.

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Hizbollah Blesses
1983 Bombing of U.S. Marines

June 4, 1998

Beirut (Reuters) -- The leader of the Iranian-backed Hizbollah said on Wednesday he supported a 1983 bombing that killed 241 U.S. servicemen in Beirut, although his organisation did not carry out the suicide attack.

"What happened was a great Jihad (holy war) operation. I support it and bless it and agree to it. But Hizbollah did not do it. We wish Hizbollah had done it," Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview with Murr Television network.

"We consider this to be a blessed act you can say (against) the Great Satan," he said, referring to the United States.

Early on the Sunday morning of October 23, 1983 a lone guerrilla drove a large truck packed with TNT into a four-storey concrete building that served at the time as the headquarters of the U.S. Marine Corps battalion landing team in Beirut.

Despite sentries, sandbagged guard posts, steel stakes and thousands of metres of barbed wire as well as a sewer pipe laid across the front of the building, the driver managed to smash his truck into the central atrium and detonate the explosive while most of the American marines and sailors there were still asleep.

Seconds later, a second suicide bomber killed scores of French paratroopers at a nearby base in a similar operation.

"The issue was an issue of occupation. The Marines were coming within the framework of an American-Israeli project to enforce Israel's hegemony on Lebanon. There was absolutely no difference between the American troops in Beirut and the Israeli forces in Beirut," said Nasrallah.

"They could stop a war but not security operations. A group could every one or two or three months carry out an operation. They could do that now and any 15 men with experience could do that," he said.

The United States has accused Hizbollah of playing a role in the kidnappings of Westerners off the streets of Beirut and in "terrorist" acts during the dark days of the Lebanese civil war.

Hizbollah has always denied the charges but has maintained a hard line against the United States and its ally Israel, which the Moslem Shi'ite group is trying to drive out of an occupation zone in south Lebanon.

In 1983 the Americans were taking part in a multinational effort to halt Lebanon's civil war, although many Lebanese saw the U.S. forces as actively shoring up a pro-Israel, right-wing Christian presidency. U.S. artillery and warships had engaged Palestinian as well as both left-wing and Moslem Lebanese forces.

The United States cast a vote of confidence in Lebanon last July when it lifted a 10-year ban on U.S. citizens visiting the country.

But U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Lebanon remained a dangerous place and urged Americans not to travel to the country, still recovering from the 1975-1990 civil war.

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