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Will the State Budget Invite Young Families to Move Ahead or Move Out?
Timothy Potts, June 25, 2003 -- Like most Pennsylvanians, I have reached an age when I know young people who have young people of their own. Co-workers and friends are beginning to have children and grandchildren. I myself am the grandfather of a three-year-old.
It's pretty clear that young people are not like we were. Most of us assumed (wrongly) when we were in our 20's that we would get a job in Pennsylvania and stay here for the rest of our lives.
Not so for today's generation of young parents. Like it or not, this generation was weaned on mobility. In my generation, the next meal was almost always at home. Today, young people are just as much at home at MacDonald's as at Mom's.
So this generation's loyalty is not to where they grew up but to where they see their future. And unless Pennsylvania's General Assembly cures its addiction to the status quo in education, more and more young people will see their future elsewhere.
What does this mean for our future? It means that Pennsylvania has to become competitive with other states in the range and quality of its publicly funded educational services. For instance, every state that borders Pennsylvania offers parents the choice of state-supported pre-school. But we don't.
Lawmakers should ask themselves how hard it would be for young parents to walk across the border to a better educational system. Then they should do something to make sure that young parents see a brighter future for their children here than in New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, or New Jersey.
In early June, I spent time with about 50 high school and college students who are deciding - right now - where they are going to make their homes and raise their families. They know that Pennsylvania's legislature doesn't support pre-school. They know that Pennsylvania doesn't even give parents the choice of full-day kindergarten in public schools if they want it. They know that on the first day of first grade, most Pennsylvania children are already behind most children in the rest of the nation because our General Assembly, so far, thinks that early childhood education is not important.
More to the point, young people know the way out of Pennsylvania to states that place a higher priority on their children's future.
Right now, we're locked in a political struggle between Gov. Ed Rendell and the General Assembly over the state budget. On one hand, we have a governor who was elected on a platform of change and who has proposed a package of education programs that will give young people a better reason to raise their families in Pennsylvania. The governor's package includes early childhood education, help for students and schools who are falling behind, rewards for improvement, and accountability to ensure that new dollars get better results.
On the other hand, we have a General Assembly, also elected (although often without competition), whose education proposals continue to lose the competition for young families. This plan includes none of what Gov. Rendell has proposed, choosing instead to do more of the same, only more expensively.
Emblematic of the General Assembly's approach is House Bill 113, which is the legislative leadership's counter-proposal to Gov. Rendell's plan. Page 3 of this 36-page bill requires school districts to do four things with any money they receive from the state beyond what they expected to receive. Among those four things is nothing - absolutely nothing - that improves schools and raises student achievement beyond what's already in place in the schools.
Which plan do we think is going to win the loyalty of young parents? The plan that uses proven practices to improve their children's schools, or the plan that ignores proven practices to keep Pennsylvania in the mid-20th Century?
Recently, I helped my step-daughter and her husband move to within a stone's throw of the Maryland border. A year from now, they will decide (along with another 100,000 young families) whether their then-four-year-old is better off in Pennsylvania, where we don't yet support high-quality pre-school programs, or in Maryland, where they do.
Legislators who worry about the cost of providing high-quality public education for every child should worry about something else. They should worry about which state is going to collect the taxes of the next generation.
Then they can decide to support Gov. Rendell's agenda, or they can stick with the status quo and create a state where senior citizens pay all the taxes because the young folks are gone.
Timothy Potts is director of the Pennsylvania School Reform Network, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that advocates for better public schools. For more information please visit www.psrn.org, www.elc-pa.org
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Further fanning of the flames
Ash Pulcifer, YellowTimes.org Columnist, June 8, 2003 -- In December of 2002, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a study titled, "What the World Thinks in 2002." The study, containing poll results from 27 countries around the world, examines how the global community perceives the United States. The results of this study were shocking, as it showed that positive attitudes toward the United States had plummeted since the election of the Bush administration.
The study, discussed in greater detail in "Fanning the flames of resentment," found that in 19 of the 27 countries polled, attitudes toward the United States had shifted dramatically. From Western Europe to Latin America, genuine anger toward the United States was sharply increasing. Most worrying, in Muslim-majority countries, feelings toward the United States had turned dangerously negative; many Muslims believed, and still do, that the "war on terrorism" is actually a "war on Islam."
After this poll was released, the Bush administration launched a propaganda campaign to convince peoples typically leery of the U.S. that the United States is a positive force for world order. Unfortunately for the United States, this propaganda effort has so far failed. A follow-up Pew Research Center poll, released June 3rd, shows that attitudes toward the United States have worsened, mostly due to the invasion of Iraq. The organization stated that attitudes toward the United States had begun to settle down, yet the U.S. invasion of Iraq caused an eruption in negative sentiment toward the United States.
Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, stated, "We have gone from bad to worse over the past year. We [America] have been unable to make the case against bin Laden with Muslims because they see the United States as a threat." The poll also shows that in every Arab country -- except for Kuwait and Lebanon -- Osama bin Laden inspires more "confidence" than U.S. President Bush. Despite this, the study showed no correlation between dislike for President Bush and dislike for American ideas and cultural norms. As Michael Dobbs writes in the Chicago Tribune, "People who expressed a favorable opinion of bin Laden were just as likely to appreciate U.S. technology and cultural products as people opposed to bin Laden, according to [Andrew] Kohut." This fact shows that it is President Bush himself, along with his administration, that is responsible for the massive political fallout taking place in Muslim-majority countries.
Negative attitudes toward the U.S. are increasing in other countries as well. In Britain, Canada, and Russia, for example, opinions toward the United States have turned sharply negative in the last year.
Many Americans could care less what the rest of the world thinks about the U.S. government. After all, it was America that was attacked on September 11, not Germany or France. However, it is important to take into account how others throughout the world feel about the United States. Resentment toward the U.S. can quickly turn into hatred, as it already has throughout most of the Muslim world. And most concernedly, hatred often turns into action, which will mean even more violence committed toward the United States and its interests.
If the Bush administration continues its current interventionist approach, there is no doubt that more radical groups will be created with the sole purpose of hurting the United States government and its people. As stated in a Defense Science Board report released in 1997, "historical data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States." If this Defense Science Board analysis is correct, then Americans may be in for a longer battle with terrorism and anti-Americanism than they realize.
Taking all of this into account, it becomes clear that the "war on terrorism" needs to be fought with different weapons. Rather than fanning the flames of resentment by intervening all across the globe, the Bush administration should instead be working to heal the rift between the United States, the Muslim world, and other countries where hatred toward the United States is increasing. This can be done by actually listening to the desires and wants in the Muslim world and elsewhere, and not simply forcing a model of life upon them. If the Bush administration fails to do this, they will only be exacerbating the very problems that have caused this deadly backlash against U.S. interests.
Ash Pulcifer is a U.S. based analyst of international conflicts and is also a human rights activist. While he does not justify or accept the killing of civilians in warfare, he attempts to understand why groups or governments resort to such means in order to achieve their strategic objectives. Ash Pulcifer encourages your comments: apulcifer@YellowTimes.org YellowTimes.org is an international news and opinion publication. YellowTimes.org encourages its material to be reproduced, reprinted, or broadcast provided that any such reproduction identifies the original source, http://www.yellowtimes.org/article.php?sid=1406
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Churches do about-faces and learn the price of supporting peace
Roger Buchanan, June 2, 2003 -- When the church supports war, governments find ways to show their appreciation. It has been that way for the past 2,000 years.
For the first three centuries, the Christian church was a peace movement. Soldiers could not join the church without first renouncing the sword. One persecution after another produced countless numbers of martyrs, as Christians chose to die rather than betray their faith.
In the 16th century, the Baptists and the Mennonites reclaimed the ancient church's opposition to war. These peace-professing Christians were killed by the thousands.
Persecutions ended in the fourth century when the church gave the political establishment the doctrine of the "just war." This doctrine facilitated the savage slaughter of Jews, Muslims and Protestants.
Today the 16 million-member Southern Baptists have done an about-face. They dusted off the ancient Catholic doctrine of the just war and gave President Bush the blessing he wanted. Today's infidels can be slaughtered, collateral damage tolerated.
The Baptists have been rewarded. The president has persisted in sending to the Senate Judiciary Committee nominees for judges who oppose abortion. Faith-based initiatives, a favorable nod for school vouchers, abstinence-only sex education, and a number of very favorable contracts awarded to church organizations are all visible reminders that religious influence has completely shifted from the Puritan Eastern Elite to the Conservative Bible Belt.
The Roman Catholic Church is also engaged in an about-face. The pope found no grounds for a just war and steadfastly refused to give his blessing to the invasion of Iraq. He should be careful as the forces of imperialism prepare to conquer today's evil empires. The 16th-century Baptists and the early church fathers would not have us forget that there is a price to be paid for following the Prince of Peace.
Roger Buchanan is the State Coordinator of the Freedom to Learn Network.
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Justice Department Secretly Drafts Legislation to Strengthen the Patriot Act
Democracy NOW! February 10, 2003 -- The Justice Department is drafting legislation that would strengthen the already sweeping powers granted by the USA Patriot Act.
Under the bill, the government could strip people of their citizenship and expatriate them if they provide material support to a group the government decides is a "terrorist organization."
All municipal and state laws that regulate police spying on domestic groups would become invalid.
The bill would automatically deny bail for anyone accused of terrorist-related crimes.
All governmental agencies would be barred from releasing any information about individuals detained in terrorism investigations.
A DNA database would be set up to include suspects not convicted of any crimes.
The bill is entitled the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003. A draft copy was obtained and released on Friday by the watchdog group Center for Public Integrity.
Guests: Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity; and David Cole, Georgetown University Law professor and author of "Terrorism and the Constitution: Sacrificing Civil Liberties in the Name of National Security." To listen to Democracy NOW! radio broadcast, click here. (You may download the free RealOne® Player software by clicking here. If you would like help with installing the free software, click here to view the instructions. You may wish to print the instructions to refer to as you go through the process.)
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Will Pennsylvania Avoid Executing Persons with Mental Retardation?
Larry Frankel & Malia Brink, February 9, 2003 -- Recently, the United States Supreme Court determined that it is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on a person with mental retardation. The decision in Atkins v. Virginia invalidated the practice in some 20 states that had allowed the execution of a person with mental retardation. Pennsylvania was one of those 20 states.
Now it is up to our state courts and legislators to consider how to implement this decision and determine what procedures will be used to decide if someone has mental retardation, and therefore is ineligible for the death penalty. In making these choices, Pennsylvania should pay attention not only to the result in Atkins, but also to the reasoning of that decision.
The Supreme Court looked not only to the growing national and international consensus opposing the execution of individuals with mental retardation, but also to certain factual bases for concluding that it is cruel to expose a person with mental retardation to a trial that could result in a death sentence.
Justice Stevens wrote about the considerable risk that persons with mental retardation might give false confessions. This conclusion is supported by many academic studies that have shown that a person with mental retardation is more likely than the average person to confess to a crime that he did not commit. Persons with mental retardation often give incriminating, but untrue, 'confessions' in order to mask their disability and to please authority figures.
Justice Stevens also discussed the inability of a person with mental retardation to give meaningful assistance to his lawyer and the fact that the demeanor of a person with mental retardation can create a misleading impression of lack of remorse for his crime.
The Supreme Court recognized that there is a real danger that a person with mental retardation could be wrongfully executed. To avoid such a tragic mistake, Pennsylvania should adopt laws and procedures that focus on whether a defendant meets the criteria for mental retardation that have been adopted by the American Association of Mental Retardation. These criteria are used in almost all of the states that already have made a person with mental retardation ineligible for the death penalty.
Our courts and legislators should also create a fair method identifying those persons who have mental retardation. Consideration should be given to the risk of false confessions and the inability of a person with mental retardation to fully participate in the presentation of his own case. A defendant should not be forced to jump over an endless series of hurdles to prove that he is ineligible for the death penalty.
Pennsylvania should establish procedures that implement, and not undermine, the Atkins decision. Let's be clear. As the Supreme Court said in Atkins, people with mental retardation should be held accountable for their actions. In Pennsylvania, a person who is determined to have mental retardation and is convicted of first-degree murder will receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole. That person will not be going to a mental hospital or a group home.
Finally, to fully implement the constitutional imperative to prevent people with mental retardation from being subject to the death penalty, Pennsylvania's policy makers must also address the systemic problems that could undermine the Atkins decision. Pennsylvania must take steps to provide competent lawyers to poor capital defendants and to root out racial bias, if it is to be successful in protecting people with mental retardation from capital trials.
The Supreme Court's decision in Atkins and the heightened awareness of wrongful convictions should spur our legislators to study Pennsylvania's use of the death penalty. They might even consider a moratorium. At a minimum, they should contemplate what changes in the law are necessary to protect people with mental retardation. If we are going to have a death penalty, then we must take every step possible to assure that it is not imposed on those who should not face that punishment.
Larry Frankel is the Legislative Director of ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Malia Brink is a Shestack Fellow, ACLU of Pennsylvania. Visit the ACLU of PA website here: http://www.aclupa.org/
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ACLU Blasts Bush Executive Order Allowing Discrimination in Workplace
The American Civil Liberties Union , December 12, 2002 -- In response to President Bush's new executive order that imposes by White House fiat much of his plan for government-funded religion, the American Civil Liberties Union said the sure result of the move will be blatant discrimination by religious groups in how they hire and to whom they provide taxpayer-funded services. The ACLU also suggested that the President's decision to circumvent a solidly Republican Congress is further evidence of the complete lack of popular support for the plan.
"Congress wouldn't accept taxpayer-funded religious discrimination last year - and President Bush knew it wouldn't in 2003 either," said Christopher Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. "But rather than compromise and work within the political process, the President has decided to circumvent public and congressional opinion in his quest to allow religious discrimination in the workplace."
President Bush traveled to Philadelphia today to make the announcement. According to media reports, the executive order gives the federal government a freer hand to funnel public money for social services to religiously based providers. The ACLU and other civil rights groups object strongly to the plan because it would allow these religious groups to use taxpayer dollars to discriminate in hiring and the provision of services.
As an example of the behavior that would be validated by the President's plan, the ACLU pointed to a Georgia lawsuit, filed by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund against the United Methodist Children's Home in Decatur. In it, a Jewish psychotherapist named Alan Yorker is demanding damages because the home explicitly denied him employment based on his religion -- even after it admitted that he was the most qualified candidate. In fact, an administrator freely told Yorker that he was rejected because he is Jewish and told another applicant that resumes with Jewish names are automatically thrown out.
Ironically, Yorker's grandfather had, a century before, faced similar discrimination by the New York Central Railroad, which laid off dozens of Jewish and African-American workers during a national recession. In response to being fired, his grandfather actually changed his name to Yorker in the hope that such discrimination would never visit itself on his children or grandchildren.
The ACLU said that despite the Administration's inclusion of the faith-based initiative among its top priorities for the last two years, charities and the American public have shown a remarkable lack of enthusiasm for the program.
"The President should listen to the real concerns of America's charities," Anders said. "The wide consensus is that what's needed is more money and better training - not the ability to refuse to help or to fire people because they happen not to agree with one's religious beliefs."
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Homeland Security Act: The Rise of the American Police State
(Part 1 of a Three Part Series)
Jennifer Van Bergen, t r u t h o u t, December 2, 2002 -- "It is far more dangerous and threatening to our few remaining civil liberties than he appears willing to suggest," writes Professor E. Nathaniel Gates of Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law about William Safire's recent article on the Homeland Security Act. "I had the rather grim and unfortunate duty of reviewing the legislation to which Safire refers in some detail," says Gates.1
The Act, sponsored by Representative Dick Armey (R-TX) (whom the ACLU just astonishingly recruited as a consultant), and criticized by nearly every source on the internet, nonetheless passed the House 299-121. Why? Was it the continuing fear of terrorism?
I do not think so.
Although Bush apparently did not seriously consider the Homeland Security Act (HSA) provisions until after the attacks, its provisions were, like those of the USA PATRIOT Act, in the works long before September 11.
The Act, furthermore, promotes the creation of what one senator once called "a global security system" controlled by the United States, not to mention a budding police state in America. This agenda falls neatly in line with the plan for American global dominance endorsed by Cheney, Wolfowitz, Powell, and Rumsfeld.
Finally, the Homeland Security Act was structured on the recommendations of a special commission that was closely connected to, if not derived from, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which one author notes "has had its hand in every major twentieth century conflict."
Homeland Security, the Hart-Rudman Commission, and the Council on Foreign Relations2
"[T]he proposal for a Homeland Security Department originated in 1998 with the launching of the so-called Hart-Rudman Commission," officially called the United States Commission on National Security/21st Century, according to William F. Jasper.3
The report issued by the Hart-Rudman Commission ("the Commission"), "Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change," is dated January 31, 2001.
The "Executive Summary"4 of the Commission Report ("the Summary") declares: "In the new era, sharp distinctions between 'foreign' and 'domestic' no longer apply." The Commission does "not equate security with 'defense.'" However, they "do believe in the centrality of strategy, and of seizing opportunities as well as confronting dangers."
"The risk," says the Summary, "is not only death and destruction but also a demoralization that could undermine U.S. global leadership." (Emphasis added.)
The Commission recommended "the creation of a new independent National Homeland Security Agency (NHSA) with responsibility for planning, coordinating, and integrating various U.S. government activities involved in homeland security. NHSA would be built upon the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with the three organizations currently on the front line of border security - the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, and the Border Patrol - transferred to it. NHSA would not only protect American lives, but also assume responsibility for overseeing the protection of the nation's critical infrastructure, including information technology."
This is indeed the basic blueprint of the Homeland Security Act.
Of the "twelve" Hart-Rudman commissioners, Jasper writes, nine were members of the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR or "the Council"), which Jasper calls "the semi-secret, private organization that serves as the most visible element of the Internationalist Power Elite."
According to the CFR, the bipartisan 14-member panel was put together in 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga), to make strategic recommendations on how the United States could ensure its security in the 21st century.
The Council states that it is a "non-governmental, non-partisan organization" that "is dedicated to increasing America's understanding of the world and contributing ideas to U.S. foreign policy." Its stated goals are "to add value to the public debate on international affairs, energize foreign policy discussions nationwide by making the Council a truly national organization with membership across the country, identify and nurture the next generation of foreign policy leaders, and make the Council the source for ideas and clear and accurate information on key international issues for the interested public."
Membership to the Council is limited and based on recommendations by other members.
"[T]he 'conservatives' who populate the Bush administration - Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Robert Zoellick, George Tenet, Paul Wolfowitz, et al. - are drawn from the CFR stable," says Jasper. He also states that Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Representative Dick Gephardt are both CFR.
Bi-partisan? Lieberman sponsored S. 2452, an earlier version of the Homeland Security Act, which was absorbed into HR 5710, the final version that passed the House.
According to it's website, the Commission "was chartered to review in a comprehensive way U.S. national security requirements for the next century." The Addendum "provided a 'baseline' of the national security apparatus, and was completed in draft form by the summer of 2000 as the Commission's main Phase III effort began in earnest."
The Commission claims: "To our knowledge no product has been previously produced that describes the national security structures and processes of the U.S. government in such detail."
Those recommendations ultimately were followed closely by the Homeland Security Act, although Bush appears to have been reluctant to follow them before 9/11.5
Jasper's conclusion about the connection between the Hart-Rudman Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations seems sound. There is a significant amount of information about the Commission on the Council on Foreign Relations' website, including a report by a "Council-Sponsored Independent Task Force on Homeland Security Imperatives, Co-Chaired by Gary Hart and Warren B. Rudman, Directed by Stephen E. Flynn (2002)" which concludes that "America Is Still At Risk" and "Recommends Providing Federal Funds, Recalibrating Transportation Security Agenda; Strengthening Local, State, and Federal Public Health and Agricultural Agencies, Empowering Front Line Agents, and Supporting National Guard Units."
The Council states that the Independent Task Force "which makes recommendations for emergency action, included two former secretaries of state, three Nobel laureates, two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a former director of the CIA and FBI, and some of the nation's most distinguished financial, legal, and medical experts. One of the country's leading authorities on homeland security, Council Senior Fellow Stephen Flynn, directed the Task Force."
The Task Force "does not seek to apportion blame about what has not been done or not done quickly enough. The report is aimed, rather, at closing the gap between our intelligence estimates and analysis-which acknowledge immediate danger on the one hand-and our capacity to prevent, mitigate and respond to these attacks on the other."
According to Jasper, Bush's homeland security proposal, announced nine days after September 11th,"follows the Hart-Rudman outline perfectly."
Jim Marrs wrote in his book, RULE BY SECRECY, that critics of the Council have noted "that the CFR has had its hand in every major twentieth century conflict." Marrs quotes one CFR insider, Admiral Chester Ward, retired judge advocate general of the U.S. Navy and a longtime CFR member, as saying that the one common objective of CFR members is "to bring about the surrender of sovereignty and the national independence of the United States ... Primarily, they want the world banking monopoly from whatever power ends up in the control of global government."6
According to Marrs: "Nearly every CIA director since Allen Dulles has been a CFR member, including Richard Helms, William Colby, George Bush, William Webster, James Woolsey, John Deutsch, and William Casey." Noting that Article II of the CFR's bylaws state that anyone revealing details of CFR meetings in contravention of the CFR's rules could be dropped from membership, Marrs concludes that the Council qualifies as "a secret society."
Sounds a little like the Bush administration.
1 Email to author, November 20, 2002 (quote used with permission). See Gates' bio at: http://www.cardozo.yu.edu/faculty/index.html#gates
Jennifer Van Bergen is a regular contributor to TruthOut. She has a J.D. from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is a contributing editor of Criminal Defense Weekly, an adjunct faculty member of the New School Online University, a division of the New School for Social Research, and an active member of the ACLU.
Ultra-Conservatives Winning War against Sex Ed
Janice M. Irvine, reposted with permission from WOMENSENEWS, November 21, 2002 -- Recent news reports about the organized campaign to lay legal traps for reproductive health clinics and then alarm school boards about supposed liabilities call to mind the portrayal of a world in which the forces wishing to suppress sexual autonomy prevailed.
In her 1985 novel "The Handmaid's Tale," Margaret Atwood depicts the chilling aftermath of a conservative coup in which sexuality, gender and reproduction are under complete control by religious extremists.
Atwood's fictional theocracy, where fertile women are breeders for the state and abortionists are publicly hung, forced us to think about what was possible given the political goals of the right. Almost 20 years later, the topics of recent Women's Enews stories about the unremitting attacks on reproductive rights and comprehensive sexuality education show that we do indeed contend with the forces about which Atwood darkly warned.
Conservative and right-wing religious organizations are waging a systematic campaign to regulate everyone's sexual morality in accordance with their own vision of a "traditional," heterosexual, nuclear family. There is much in this campaign that is profoundly, even dangerously misleading, as proponents manipulate people's concern for the health and well-being of their children. Their attacks on comprehensive sex education represent a significant front in this culture war. By portraying sex education as dangerous and immoral, conservatives have successfully curtailed such programs nationwide.
Right-Wingers Spreading Sexual Disinformation since the 1960s
Bush Administration and Congress Pulling Farther to the Right
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The Battle for New Ideas
September 25, 2002, Reynaldo Forte Lacaba -- Old ideas kill. And they are killing the future of this state. Pennsylvania is 2nd out of the 50 states with the oldest population in the country. It is 48th out of the 50 states in population growth.
These are not good signs.
A generation of young people across the Commonwealth have abandoned their communities and many continue to leave.
They have given up on their communities. Given up on the hope that Pennsylvania will ever provide the level of cultural and intellectual vitality, open-minds, and celebration of diversity that other states freely provide.
While other states can boast both a growing and more diverse population, Pennsylvania is host to a "diversity" of hate groups, and continues its notoriety as the state with one of the highest concentrations of hate groups in the country.
Like weed killing new growth, old ideas about gender, about race, and about what makes a full and fulfilling life continue to suffocate the hopes of a new generation of Pennsylvanians and with it, the future of the Commonwealth.
And for gay, lesbian, bi, and transgendered citizens, old ideas have meant unenlightened laws. Laws that do not protect us from acts of hate.
Sending the message that in Pennsylvania, queers are not welcome. That our lives and our contributions are not valued.
And many have left the state, just like their straight brothers and sisters, taking their talents, passions, and ideas with them.
But there are those of you who have not given up on Pennsylvania. Those of you who continue here to fight the battle for new ideas.
We have heard about what happened to Gene. And we also heard that it was another young man, not much younger than Gene, who attacked him.
It was a cruel act of hate, of closed-minded ignorance, of baseless fears. The hate, ignorance, and fear of a young mind fed by old ideas about gays, and old ideas about race.
But Gene is not a victim. He is a hero. A hero in the battle of ideas. He carries not the wounds of a victim, but the scars of that battle.
And yesterday, he went to the Capitol carrying our signatures in support of House Bill 1493. Support for a more enlightened set of laws for Pennsylvania. And he bore each and every one of our signatures as his own medal of honor.
For behind each name lie the hopes and dreams of every straight, gay, lesbian, bi and transgendered, young citizen who has not given up on Pennsylvania.
The hope and dream of living out a full life here.
A safe, fulfilling, vital life here in our own home state.
These, these are the hopes and dreams of a new generation of Pennsylvanians. Queers and straights. Born and nurtured by new ideas.
The above is the text of a speech given by Rey at The Speakout rally at the PA College of Technology in Williamsport. The rally was hosted by the gay student group BGLAD and generated around 200 signatures in support of HB 1493.
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New York Times Will Publish Same-Sex Wedding Announcements
August 27, 2002, Rey Lacaba --The New York Times announced Sunday that it will finally allow same-sex wedding announcements. This is a reversal of its discriminatory policy, one which was expressed in a published statement just a few years ago arguing that New York City was just not ready for this.
While The New York Times enjoys an academic and liberal reputation, much of it deserved, this did not translate to its weddings pages. With wedding announcements that have an emphasis on a couple's social pedigrees, its weddings pages were an extension of its society pages, and promoted and preserved the bourgeois values that are very much a part of the paper.
The timing of this policy reversal is very telling of the paper's conservative position on this issue: it came only after the city of New York voted to recognize domestic partnerships and civil unions from other states, and gay marriages from other countries.
About the author: Shortly after moving from the Manhattan area to live in Harrisburg, Rey Lacaba and Eric Miller were wed in a civil union in Vermont. Before leaving for their May 10th ceremony, they sent a letter to Harrisburg's Patriot-News requesting that the paper publish their wedding announcement as a recognition of the diversity of its readership and the diversity of the communities that live in this region. The paper published its very first same-sex wedding announcement on May 12th. The Philadelphia Gay News ran their announcement in its May 24th issue.
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Standing Tall, Proud and Often Alone: The ACLU’s Role In the Aftermath of the September 11th Terrorist Attacks
Vic Walczak, January 14, 2002 -- We in the ACLU must be most vigilant to guard our liberty and dedication to individual rights at times like these, when there is a national crisis and frightened people seek security and demand government protection. Historically, and again today, government leaders exploit the climate of fear and insecurity to enhance their power at the expense of long-cherished freedoms that make this country wonderfully unique.
It is government’s responsibility to protect our security; It is the ACLU’s job to protect our liberty. We are proud that ours is an open society, one that protects individual rights. Our challenge is to emerge from this crisis as a society that is both secure and free. Some say that in crisis times we cannot have both. They are wrong.
Clearly, the September 11 hijackings demonstrated that we need increased security at airports and other strategic places. Many recently-enacted airport security measures are warranted and don’t unduly intrude on our liberties. And expanded government surveillance powers may also be appropriate.
But such expanded wiretapping and search capabilities must be subject to appropriate and necessary checks, most importantly meaningful judicial review. Unfortunately, the recently-passed USA-PATRIOT anti-terrorism law gives law enforcement far too much unchecked power to invade our liberties.
And the Bush Administration’s more recent orders allowing government to eavesdrop on conversations between attorneys and their clients, questioning 5000 recently-arrived Middle Eastern, Muslim males without any individualized suspicion of wrongdoing, and setting up military tribunals that fail to provide basic due process rights, including habeas corpus were enacted without crucial Congressional scrutiny, probably because most people recognize that they run rough-shod over time-tested civil liberties principles!
Laws passed during crisis-times must be carefully scrutinized to ensure that we do not irreparably harm the hallmarks of American life. Liberty and justice for all can and must endure even in times like these.
Historically, it is times like these that government has overreacted, and overextended its reach for power under the guise of providing "security". During WWI and in its aftermath we sent people to prison simply for criticizing the war effort. Demonstrators were subjected to the infamous Palmer raids where labor organizers and dissenters were systematically rounded up and jailed without arraignments, hearings, or access to attorneys. In WWII we sent 110,000 Japanese-Americans to detention camps. Our fear of communism created Senator Joseph McCarthy, the "Red Scare" and "guilt by association." More recently, the Oklahoma City bombing resurrected anti?terrorism legislation that had been shelved by the Congress as too draconian for serious consideration. Yet, it became law within months of that tragedy, allowing for secret trials and use of secret evidence. Those laws are still being challenged in the courts.
During these time of crisis, the ACLU has played a crucial role in challenging government overreaction. Indeed, the organization was founded largely around the Palmer-raid abuses. Very often the ACLU has stood alone -- or virtually alone -- among national and local groups in defending freedom and human rights during national emergencies, and was abused and vilified for it’s positions. Eventually, however, we’ve been vindicated for playing a courageous role in challenging and often ending the abuses.
We are now in that "crisis time" again. We have suffered a national tragedy and we are at war. Once again the government is overreacting, rushing ill?conceived legislation into law, passing presidential executive orders without Congressional review, and seeking power that will not make us more secure, but will certainly make us a less free and just society.
Many are depending on the ACLU to once again play that courageous role of challenging government excess in a time of crisis and super patriotism. We are ready and we have been busy.
Immediately after the September 11 attacks, the ACLU mourned, observed and reflected. Our national headquarters, which is located less than a mile from the World Trade Center in Manhattan’s financial district, lost telephone and Internet communications for two weeks. National operations were directed from our D.C. office. Within a couple of weeks, the ACLU emerged as a voice of reason to protect our liberties against increasing hysteria.
* Our Congressional lobbyists worked night and day to modify over-reactive and repressive provisions in proposed laws (they largely failed, but not for lack of trying);
* ACLU staffers across the country encouraged law enforcement agencies to protect the Arab, Islamic, and Sikh communities from hate crimes and acts of discrimination;
* ACLU lawyers in Pittsburgh and elsewhere reached out to Arab and Muslim groups to answer questions about their rights when approached by federal law enforcement and immigration officials, eventually putting out a specially-created know-your-rights brochure translated into seven languages, including Arabic and Hindi;
* And we spoke out against attempts to eliminate dissent and silence government critics in our communities, on our campuses, and in the media.
The ACLU’s mettle will be sorely tested in the weeks and months ahead as we challenge government’s knee-jerk responses to seek security at the expense of civil liberties. But this is our time; this is why the ACLU exists. We are in the crucible now just as we were during the Palmer raids, just as we were in the McCarthy era, just as we were through the Vietnam crisis and Oklahoma City. We met the test then. We will meet it now. If we work hard, we may emerge as a society that is both secure ... and still free.
Vic Witold is the Executive Director of Pittsburgh ACLU, http://www.pgh.aclu.org/aclu.html
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Bigotry Makes Its Home in Pa.: What We Can Do
Floyd Cochran, January 13, 2002, -- Recently, I was speaking with some friends about a bearded religious extremist who is hiding in the mountains and has declared war against the United States. This bearded religious extremist claims that God calls for the killing of infidels and Jews. He belongs to an organization that has bombed and killed Americans and has engaged in shootouts with law enforcement.
But this religious extremist -- terrorist if you will -- isn't hiding out in the mountains of Afghanistan. No, he lives in the mountains of Potter County, Pennsylvania, and his mission is a mission of racism and death in the name of God.
Waving racist flags, holding neo-Nazi skinhead concerts, hosting conferences featuring criminals and declaring he has an "ideological oneness with Osama Bin Laden," it appears that racist August Kreis is attempting to emulate the violent neo-Nazi Aryan Nation of Idaho by building a compound in Potter County. Calling the place "The Last Outpost," Kreis has embarked on a mission that will eventually lead to violence.
Kreis operates out of a 10-acre plot of land. In 1993, he held a neo-Nazi skinhead concert in Potter County. In 1995, Kreis and his people were photograph with guard dogs and people marching around armed to the teeth. Kreis maintains a Web site, appears on TV talk shows and calls himself "pastor," along with boasting that he is recruiting Pennsylvania children. Kreis is a violent-sounding anti-Semite and believer in the racist religion, "Christian Identity."
Christian Identity teaches that people of color have no souls and that Jews are the "children of Satan" and should be killed. Christian Identity followers and believers in various parts of the United States have engaged in armed standoffs with police, robbed banks, vandalized places of worship and attacked people of color. Here in Pennsylvania during the mid-1990s, Aryan Nation followers killed their parents, attacked synagogues and engaged in bank robberies.
This Potter County Aryan Nations compound will become a haven and hostel for racists who are fleeing from law enforcement or their imaginary enemies. Generally speaking, individual racists are emotionally unbalanced and in most cases heavily armed. Paranoia and fear fuel the modern-day racist movement, looking for scapegoats and then striking out at those very fears and scapegoats with deadly consequences.
It will only be a matter of time before we here in Pennsylvania feel the effects of August Kreis and his Aryans. But August Kreis isn't the only bigot finding fertile ground in the Commonwealth. Recently, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (a state agency) reported that between July 1999 and July 2001 there was organized racist activity in 70 Pennsylvania communities. The Commonwealth is home to not only Aryan Nations but also the Ku Klux Klan, racist skinheads and the upscale bigots such as the American Nationalist Union.
So, while the Aryan Nation in north-central Pennsylvania may be the most visible and prominent, the racist movement is active all across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is time that we here in Pennsylvania admit that organized racism has found a home. Aryan Nations didn't move to Pennsylvania by chance, nor is organized racism created in a vacuum; organized racism is the by-product of everyday racism. If left unchecked, the racist movement will continue to grow and expand. We need to start addressing the organized racist movement in the Commonwealth.
Below we have listed just some of the things that we feel need to be done:
* Strengthening the existing anti-intimidation laws.
* Strengthen the existing anti-paramilitary law.
* Give public and immediate support to anyone or any community that has been targeted by hate groups and hate crimes.
* Add sexual orientation to the current anti-intimidation law.
* Engage mainstream elected leaders, religious leaders, teachers and parents in taking a strong stand against bigotry.
* Incorporate an honest discussion of the history of bigotry and racism into the school curriculum.
* Support your local grassroots unity coalitions.
We need to find creative ways to not only deal with organized racism but also with everyday racism. We must challenge ourselves and our neighbors to rise above hatred and bigotry.
(Also published in theCentre Daily Times.) Floyd Cochran is director of the Education and Vigilance Network, a Pennsylvania based anti-racist information center. He will be a guest on the public-affairs special "Race Matters," 7 p.m. Thursday January 17, 2002, on WPSU-FM and WPSX Channel 3.
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For Allegiance, Teach Values Behind Pledge
Jane Eisner, The Inquirer, October 21, 2001 -- Last week, you could see the bandwagon draped in red, white and blue bunting pull up before city halls and state capitols where the politicians eagerly waited to climb aboard.
It stopped in Wisconsin, where a new state law calls for a daily display of patriotism, and in Nebraska, where an old state law was quickly resurrected. It entered New York City, where the Board of Education mandated that all public schools lead students in the Pledge of Allegiance every morning.
And the bandwagon made its way to Harrisburg, where all but one member of the state House voted to require public, private and parochial schools to set aside a time for the pledge or play the national anthem on each school day. It takes a brave public servant - or one with a seat as safe as Fort Knox - to stay on the sidelines at a time like this.
Political bandwagons get rolling for a reason, of course, and this is no exception. Schools across the nation are grappling with how to display and teach patriotism, and many are dusting off traditional rituals that fell out of favor in the last go-go decade or two.
I have no problem with encouraging children to recite those 31 special words. Students and teachers who wish to refrain may do so - a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court ruling enshrined that right. Those who participate may feel a momentary sense of unity and focus.
But let's not pretend this is a recipe for breeding budding patriots. "I don't know what you gain by forcing a 16-year-old to say the pledge if he doesn't want to say it," said State Rep. Greg Vitali, a Havertown Democrat who voted for the bill despite his reservations.
"There's a certain irony in the government mandating an allegiance to it."
Worse would be if public officials, educators and parents confuse these forced, superficial displays of allegiance with the real thing: engaged, informed citizenship. A song is not a vote.
A pledge cannot substitute for civic participation.
"Saying the pledge, I believe, is important," said Melvin Garrison, social studies coordinator for the Philadelphia public schools, where the requirement to recite the pledge is followed sporadically.
"But saying the pledge and not connecting it to anything is just as bad as not saying it at all."
And, my fellow Americans, those connections are discouragingly weak. Too many students don't know the first thing about U.S. history and government, leading to ignorance and apathy among adults. Which survey should I use to prove the point?
Twenty-two percent of American teenagers don't know that the Revolutionary War was fought against England. Fourteen percent think the enemy was France. (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation survey, July 2001.)
Only 5 percent of Americans can correctly answer 10 rudimentary questions about the Constitution. (National Constitution Center poll, 1997.)
Nearly half the voting-age population did not even attempt to cast a ballot during last year's presidential election. In 1998, a non-presidential year, 63.6 percent stayed home.
And according to the latest findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 35 percent of high school seniors did not know the basic facts of citizenship. Only about 25 percent of fourth, eighth and 12th graders were proficient in civics.
"What we learned from NAEP is that most of the students surveyed did not have an adequate knowledge of the values and workings of a constitutional democracy," said Margaret Branson, associate director of the Center for Civic Education, a California-based organization that has developed civics curriculum for 30 years.
"Yet that is what creates a sense of belonging," she said. "We Americans are not bound together by race, religion, ethnicity. We are bound by our common values and principles. There's no other way that we cohere."
Branson believes that civic literacy, and not simply rote gestures, leads to patriotic acts and feelings. Her bias is obvious - promoting civic education is her life's work - but there's evidence on her side. For instance, the center surveyed alumni from one of its programs and found that 82 percent reported voting in November. The turnout nationwide for that age group was 48 percent.
Yet the national obsession with standards and testing may be draining resources from teaching history, civics and social science. The alphabet soup of assessment tests concentrates on reading, math and science; in Pennsylvania, for instance, there's no state-mandated exam for social studies.
In Philadelphia, Garrison said the message seems to be: We don't test it, we don't value it. "Here, when we're trying to unite as a nation, we don't value the one thing that is most important - our understanding of civic ideas and civic values."
Here, also, is an opportunity. The elected officials who've ordered schools to say the pledge and wave the flag now have the chance to ensure that there's money and time for solid civic education. And the voters who cheer on superficial actions ought to press for substantive ones. As historian Diane Ravitch wrote last week:
"What schools must do is teach young people the virtues and blessings of our democratic system of government. Our ability to defend what we hold dear depends on our knowledge and understanding of it."
Jane Eisner's editoral was originally posted to philly.com, and is reposted here with permission.
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Sexual Orientation Diversity is an Intentional and Sanctified Part of Creation
National Religious Leadership Roundtable May 24, 2001 -- The National Religious Leadership Roundtable (NRLR), representing leaders from 40 faith-based traditions, released the following statement against so-called "conversion" therapy. The controversial practice, disavowed by mental health professionals, attempts to "convert" or "repair" the sexual orientation of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.
The statement reads:
The National Religious Leadership Roundtable (NRLR) affirms that gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) individuals are an intentional and blessed part of Creation. Therapies to "convert" or "repair" a person's orientation are misguided and should end. Such therapies deny the inherent holiness of GLB people.
Proponents of so-called conversion therapy rely on a premise rejected by millions of individuals and entire denominations. They declare that homosexuality and bisexuality are unhealthy and that a good relationship with God requires a heterosexual orientation. Among the many traditions that counter this inaccurate assessment and uplift the presence of God in GLBT people's loving relationships are:
The United Methodist Church says, "Homosexuals no less than heterosexuals are persons of sacred worth..."
The Episcopal Church says, "...Homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all others upon the love, acceptance and pastoral concerns and care of the Church."
The Union of American Hebrew Congregations says, "In accordance with the teaching of Reform Judaism that all human beings are created 'betzelem elohim', (in the divine image), Reform Judaism has strongly condemned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."
We concur. We honor and hold sacred mutual loving relationships, regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of the participants. Therefore, we reject efforts to induce or shame anyone into changing their sexual orientation since they are devoid of spiritual grounding.
Is Change Possible?
Much of the debate about conversion therapy has centered on the question of whether GLB people can become heterosexual. This is question irrelevant. Sexual orientation is intrinsic, powerful and sacred. As such it should be honored as a gift from God to be celebrated, not a problem to be "fixed." In fact, research has shown that trying to force change can cause serious harm.
Research has demonstrated that sexual orientation exists on a spectrum from absolute homosexuality to absolute heterosexuality. Some people live on the polar ends of that spectrum and are likely to be immune to change. Others - some studies say the vast majority - live between the poles. Those who embrace this blessing often identify as bisexual. Those who live in this place of possibility but aren't supported in its holiness may well be those most vulnerable to "conversion" attempts.
As people of faith, we understand and rejoice in our knowing that sex and gender cannot be reduced to biological "givens," but are fluid social, cultural, and spiritual constructs that can change in the lives of many (but not all) individuals and peoples over time. We welcome the blessings and learnings conferred upon us by this beautiful variety and complexity.
There are political implications of the research race to prove whether one is born gay or can "change." A recent study claims a high "success rate" of so-called conversion therapies and insist that if anyone CAN "become heterosexual," then everyone MUST. This false argument has been used to undermine non-discrimination and hate crimes laws that cover lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
We offer an alternative view and suggest that an analogy between sexual orientation and religion helps illuminate the spiritual violence inherent in the thinking described above.
We are free and unfettered in our religious affiliations and must be similarly so in our intimate and significant relationships. Just as our right to religiously affiliate does not require that our faith practice be biological or life-long, our sexual orientation does not need to be biological or life-long. Those who are called to love others of the same gender, whether as gay, lesbian or bisexual, should be honored and protected, for these are paths full of grace, integrity and loving kindness.
We have hope that those who fear the grace inherent in same-sex loving can themselves seek change, and come to accept and appreciate our blessing.
For all who believe that gay, lesbian and bisexual orientations and transgender identities are sanctified, we ask that you join us in creating welcoming and affirming beloved communities in all faith traditions. Together we can ensure that our holy GLBT brothers and sisters will never again feel the pain and condemnation of the call to "convert."
The National Religious Leadership Roundtable members are leaders of over 40 faith-based organizations including Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Mormon, Black church, and other religious and spiritual traditions. Together they work in partnership with other justice-seeking groups to: amplify the voice of pro-GLBT faith organizations in public discourse; promote understanding of and respect for GLBT people within society at large and in communities of faith; promote understanding and respect within GLBT communities for a variety of faith paths and for religious liberty; achieve commonly held goals that promote equality, spirituality and justice. It is convened by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and was founded with Equal Partners in Faith. For more information, visit www.ngltf.org/pi/nrlr.
Participants in the National Religious Leadership Roundtable include, in alphabetical order:
Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons
Affirmation: United Methodists
American Friends Service Committee
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State
Bretheren Mennonite Council
Christian Lesbians OUT
Christians for Justice Action
Disciples Justice Action Network
Ecumenical Catholic Church
Equal Partners in Faith
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Gay, Lesbian and Affirming Disciples
Human Rights Campaign
Inner Light Unity Fellowship Church
The Interfaith Working Group
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
Lutherans Concerned/North America
Methodist Federation for Social Action
More Light Presbyterians
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
New Ways Ministry
People For the American Way
Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians and Gays
Reconstructionist Jewish Federation
Sacramento Grove of the Oak
SDA Kinship International
That All May Freely Serve
Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Church Coalition for LGBT Concerns
United Methodist Reconciling Ministries Network
Women's Alliance for Theology Ethics and Ritual
World Congress of GLB Jewish Organizations
To read the report Calculated Compassion, please visit www.ngltf.org/downloads/calccomp.pdf. The report documents the links between the ex-gay movement and the religious right's retooled assault on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. It was published by NGLTF, Political Research Associates, and Equal Partners in Faith in 1998.
Roundtable Contact: frank morris susa, Q Spirit Roundtable Steering Committee spokesperson email@example.com
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Director of Commission for Women Should Support Women's Rights
Liz Hrenda, December 13, 2000 -- Governor Ridge has named the first Executive Director of the Commission for Women who is openly hostile to a woman's most fundamental right, that of when and whether to bear a child. As chair of the Legislative Pro-Life Caucus, Representative Katie True has opposed providing preventive contraceptive services to low income women, as well as opposing abortion rights. The real-life consequence of these actions are that uninsured women have less access to health care and the services that prevent unintended pregnancy. These actions contradict the mission of the Commission for Women, which seeks to "serve as a strong advocate for women's rights and work to ensure that women and girls have equal opportunity and treatment in all aspects of life." As a former commissioner, I must object strenuously to this appointment.
As it depends on the Governor's office for funding, the Commission for Women operates in an advisory capacity. When I served on the commission, under Governors Shapp and Thornburgh, we observed wryly that while our mandate was to represent the concerns of women to the governor, we more often seemed to be representing the concerns of the governor to women. Working in a low key way, the commission has made modest gains for women in the areas of non-traditional occupations, insurance, divorce law, child care, and recognition of women's history. Generally the commission avoids controversial issues, choosing to focus on those areas where gains can be made by consensus.
During my tenure, the commission discussed abortion only once. Governor Thornburgh invited us to a luncheon for the purpose of giving him our views on abortion rights. On the morning of that luncheon, I took the opportunity to ask my co-workers in the machine shop how they felt about abortion. With the exception of one man, the father of four daughters, each said he was against abortion. Then I asked what they thought I should do if I were considering having an abortion. The unanimous response was surprising - they all said that it should be my decision. I dutifully reported the results of my research at the luncheon. Of the ten commissioners present at that luncheon, only two advised the Governor to oppose a woman's right to choose abortion. As events transpired, Thornburgh chose not to heed the advice of the majority of his commissioners and cast his lot with those opposed to abortion rights.
A few years ago, Ridge briefly did away with the Commission for Women altogether by eliminating its funding. An heroic effort by women across the state, with the support of many current and former commissioners and legislators, forced him to reinstate the commission.
By appointing a director who has no track record on the issues that the commission is charged with monitoring, including pay equity, employment opportunity, educational equality, and promoting women in business and government, Ridge has found another way to accomplish the same goal.
In the area of women's health, True has championed allowing taxpayers to donate their own money for breast cancer research, but this is scant leadership. It has never been difficult to get our overwhelmingly male legislature to care about women's breasts. Getting them to respect women's rights has been a different matter altogether. Rather than provide leadership to improve the status of women, True has promoted the view that women lack the wisdom and moral capacity to decide for themselves whether to bear children.
Surely the Governor could have found another way to reward True for her service to her party. Perhaps a position in youth drug and alcohol prevention and education, a field in which she has done extensive work and been nationally recognized, or a position on the Governor's executive staff. Just ask yourself whether a man with similar experience would have been offered this position. It is because she is a woman, not because of her expertise, that True has gotten this job.
Ridge passed over many qualified women in business, in the non-profit sector, in government and in academia who have extensive experience in working for equality for women and girls. It is an insult that he chose instead to use the only governmental position charged with promoting women's equality as a reward for loyal party service. The women of Pennsylvania - indeed all Pennsylvanians - deserve better.
Liz Hrenda is Executive Director of Pennsylvania Alliance for Democracy. This commentary also appeared in the December 13,2000 edition of the Harrisburg Patriot-News.
Constitution Bars Public Funds for Sectarian Schools
Larry Frankel, T.J. Tu, April 5, 1999 -- [Memo to all members of the General Assembly] During the coming weeks you may be asked to vote on one or more proposals that would establish a program of tuition vouchers in this Commonwealth. The legislation may call vouchers education opportunity grants. You may see legislation regarding academically distressed school districts that has a "super voucher" component. There may be yet another scheme for using public funds to pay for tuition at private and religious elementary and secondary schools. No matter what form they take, all of the voucher proposals must be weighed against the words contained in the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Please bear in mind that the Pennsylvania Constitution does not impose on the General Assembly a duty to support private or religious schools. In fact, the ACLU believes that our state constitution contains clear prohibitions on the kinds of voucher programs being proposed.
The Pennsylvania Constitution specifically bars using public funds to support religious institutions or sectarian schools. The Pennsylvania Constitution also specifically bars using public funds to indirectly support sectarian educational institutions. The relevant provisions (the complete text of these provisions is set forth on the attached sheet) are clear and unambiguous. Those who wrote and ratified our state constitution did not intend for public funds to be diverted from public schools for the benefit or sectarian schools.
The Pennsylvania Constitution does contain a positive obligation to maintain and support a thorough and efficient system of public education. We understand this to mean that it is the duty of the General Assembly to assure adequate funding for all of the public schools in this Commonwealth.
The ACLU hopes that the General Assembly will devote its time, energy and talent to determining how public education can be better supported and improved without violating the Pennsylvania Constitution. Passing a voucher proposal that is later struck down by the courts will not provide any help to the children in our public schools. Addressing the needs of our schools through other efforts can make a difference for all of the children in our public schools.
attachment: Constitutional Provisions Violated by Tuition Vouchers
Article III, Section 15: Public school money not available to sectarian schools.
No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.
Section 29: Appropriation for public assistance,
military service, scholarships.
Article III, Section 30: Charitable and
Article I, Section 3:
Article 3, Section 14 is also relevant.:
UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION