Down to the wire

kennedy.jpgIf the Supreme Court refuses to touch this morning’s 2-1 ruling from a three-judge panel, Terri Schiavo likely will die of thirst by week’s end. The New York Daily News reports that the subject of so much litigation is “fading fast.”

Two of the three judges wrote that Terri’s parents had “failed to demonstrate a substantial case” for restoring the feeding tube so that they can get on with a determination on a number of legal issues.

Dissenting justice Charles R. Wilson charged foul. He said it was clear that Congress had intended for the case to be given another shot. His point is fairly evident from the text of the bill. Congress authorized Terri’s parents to bring suit, then it added:

In such a suit, the District Court shall determine de novo any claim of a violation of any right of Theresa Marie Schiavo within the scope of this Act, notwithstanding any prior State court determination and regardless of whether such a claim has previously been raised, considered, or decided in State court proceedings. The District Court shall entertain and determine the suit without any delay or abstention in favor of State court proceedings, and regardless of whether remedies available in the State courts have been exhausted.

I’m not a lawyer, but I believe the relevant term there was de novo. The dictionary explains that the term is “Latin for ‘anew,’ which means starting over, as in a trial de novo. For example, a decision in a small claims case may be appealed to a local trial court, which may try the case again, de novo.”

In other words, Congress tried to hand the case over to the federal courts and the federal courts so far have said “No thanks.” The case will now go the Justice Anthony Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court. He can choose to take up the case or query the other justices on where to go from here.

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Inside the new sex stats: Who is who?

online_romance.jpgIt’s time for another quick tmatt and LeBlanc double team effort on a news story.

I first heard about this teen-sex study this past weekend during a lively lunch meeting in New York City with friend of the blog Dawn Eden. I noted that clearly the age-old question of how far is too far is alive and well in church youth groups everywhere, especially in the post-Clinton era.

OK, cheap joke. But he did grow up in a Southern Baptist church youth group.

Back to the story. As a professional copyeditor, Eden said she still could not make sense of many of the statistics in the basic wire service reports on this survey. It was hard to separate the basic groups in the survey, pledgers vs. non-pledgers. Non-pledgers who were virgins vs. those who were not. How large were the samples for these various groups?

Dawn, if you’re out there — chime in.

Here is part of an Associated Press report that gives a hint of what is going on:

The latest study, published in the April issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that teens pledging virginity until marriage are more likely to have oral and anal sex than other teens who have not had intercourse. That behavior, however, “puts you at risk,” said Hannah Brueckner, assistant professor of sociology at Yale and a study author.

Among virgins, boys who have pledged abstinence were four times more likely to have had anal sex, according to the study. Overall, pledgers were six times more likely to have oral sex than teens who have remained abstinent but not as part of a pledge. The pledging group was also less likely to use condoms during their first sexual experience or get tested for STDs, research found.

So the scandal here is that students who take pledges are under a unique form of pressure, in comparison with teens who choose to remain abstinent on their own?

The AP notes that the data were taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The stats came from an in-school questionnaire — public schools? Christian? Homes? — that was given to a nationally sample of students in Grades 7-12. You can read the other details in the report.

Here is another statement from the wire service report that I found confusing:

Last year, the same team found 88 percent of teens who pledge abstinence have sex before marriage, compared with 99 percent of teens who make no pledge.

Now read that again. So precisely how many young people in America are virgins on their wedding day? Is the number really that low?

GetReligion readers are urged to provide us with their favorite sites for statistics on this. I imagine the picture is a bit more complicated than in this particular dash of headlines.

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What part of abstain do you not understand?

VirginityButton.jpgHere’s a roundup of how various media outlets have handled a study on teenagers’ redefinitions of the words abstinence and virginity. It’s amazing how much of a worldview can be packed into a simple headline.

Study: Teens Who Pledge Virginity Try To Bend The Rules (

Virginity Pledges Don’t Work (

Exploit your children for fun and profit (commentary in The Journal Times, Racine, Wisc.)

More Evidence Of Dangers Of Abstinence Programs (

Virginity Pledge Mere Vanity (China Daily)

Study: Kids who pledge abstinence take risks (Indianapolis Star)

Depends on What You Mean by Abstinence (Concord Monitor)

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Starvation by serendipity

Daniel Schorr made an astonishing remark Monday on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered: “The [Terri Schiavo] case is a triumph of symbolism over substance. She has become the cause celebre of the right to life movement. There is no equally powerful right to death movement.” How is it, then, that Terri Schiavo is now in her fifth day of court-ordered starvation and dehydration?

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Hello Megan O'Matz: A note from Rome

vaticano22.jpgPlease let me dive in here quick with a few thoughts on that South Florida Sun-Sentinel story about Terri Schiavo by reporter Megan O’Matz. I agree with the Rt. Rev. LeBlanc that this sidebar may have broken some kind of record for slanted presentations of basic information.

We appeal to reporters and copy editors out there: It is time to slap a magnifying glass on all copy about this hot-button case. People on both sides are throwing around loaded language and truth claims.

This is no time to go soft. Test both sides. Did Terri speak to her father? Do not leave this to the blogs. Go find out. Listen to the tape and watch the videos. Did she or didn’t she? There is a canyon growing between the language used on left and right and the MSM has to cover this. Want to see a blast from the left? Click here.

But I digress. In addition to cute little shots at African American evangelicals and neo-1950s conservative Presbyterians, O’Matz also noted this reference to the Catholic point of view down here in the tropics:

The Most Rev. John C. Favalora, archbishop of Miami, sent a memo to Catholic churches Saturday, calling upon “all people of good will to join in prayer for Terri Schiavo” and for “a change of heart among those responsible for Terri and for the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit for all our public officials.”

The archbishop asserted that bringing about Schiavo’s death by starvation is not in accord with papal teachings. “Food and water can only be denied if death is imminent or if it proves to worsen the individual’s condition,” he wrote.

Note the presence of the word “asserted” in this statement of papal — the story does not even concede “Roman Catholic” — teachings. I mean, perhaps the archbishop misunderstood the Vatican on this issue. You think?

Then again, maybe the archbishop knows what he is talking about. After all, there is this new Associated Press report on the wires from Vatican City. This seems rather clear to me:

“Who can, before God and humanity, pretend with impunity to claim such a right?” L’Osservatore Romano said. “Who — and on the basis of which criteria — can establish to whom the ‘privilege’ to live should be given?” . . .

“Who can judge the dignity and sacredness of the life of a human being, made in the image and likeness of God? Who can decide to pull the plug as if we were talking about a broken or out of order household appliance?” the paper said.

“. . . (There’s) a woman who is about to die from hunger and thirst. There is the slow dying of a person — not a ‘vegetable’ — which an impotent world is witnessing through TV and newspapers.”

It seems the Roman Catholic hierarchy has tried to assert its teachings quite clearly in this case.

I hope the Sun-Sentinel notes that in some future story.

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Bulletin: Fundies don't cotton to euthanasia

DoctorDeath.jpgIf you oppose Terri Schiavo’s death by starvation and dehydration, you may be a fundamentalist — at least according to an opinion-laden report this morning by Megan O’Matz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

O’Matz, like many other journalists, refers to Schiavo’s case as one of a right to die, as if we all know that Terri Schiavo would choose to die as her husband would have her die. Here’s the graph in which O’Matz drops the F bomb:

A predominantly African-American church that is unusual for its alignment with Christian conservatives, the [Worldwide Christian Center in Pompano Beach] is part of a vocal and influential circle of fundamentalists waging a fierce political battle to keep Schiavo alive.

Then there are these rhetorical choices:

Its members, and those of other South Florida churches, have inundated legislators in Tallahassee and Washington with calls and e-mails since Friday, when Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed by court order at the request of her husband, Michael Schiavo, who says she never wanted to live in a persistent vegetative state.

Whether she’s actually living in a persistent vegetative state is a matter of considerable debate.

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and its social justice arm, the Center for Reclaiming America, are at the center of efforts to keep Schiavo alive. The center spearheaded a massive grassroots lobbying effort last week, urging its supporters and other so-called “pro-family” groups to call and e-mail state senators who defeated a bill that would have stopped the tube’s removal.

Life lesson to would-be polemicists: If you want to convey your disapproval, use the double-barreled method of a sneer quote preceded by the phrase so-called. Even mouth-breathers will understand your hollered point.

But the most troubling passage comes here:

Like most national discourses that involve abortion or euthanasia, the drama unfolding around Schiavo is full of passion, vitriol, half-truths and untruths.

At the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, the Rev. D. James Kennedy, the church’s senior minister and a nationally known evangelical leader, told parishioners Sunday that he read that Schiavo can eat and swallow food and water on her own, without the aid of feeding tubes, “but the judge will not allow it.”

Some in the congregation gasped.

After the service, church leaders said Kennedy was ensconced in his office preparing for another sermon and was not available for further comment.

The claim that Schiavo can swallow is “an outrageous thing to say,” Bill Allen, professor of bioethics, law and medical professionalism at the University of Florida, said in an interview Sunday. Schiavo has had swallowing tests in recent years and has been found not to be able to swallow, he said.

Kennedy’s concern is not new, and CNN reported similar remarks by David Gibbs, the attorney for Terri Schiavo’s parents, on March 18:

In addition, Gibbs said he filed a petition in federal court in the Middle District of Florida. The petition asks the court to review the state court process, he said.

“Terri is not terminal,” he said. “If we feed Terri . . . she will live another 30 to 40 years.”

He described Schiavo as “responsive” although he acknowledged she functions at the level of a 6- to 11-month-old child. She recognizes her family, he said. “She teases. She plays. She smiles. She tries to talk.” Schiavo also can breathe and swallow on her own, he said.

Asked why, if she can swallow, a feeding tube is necessary, Gibbs said he has inquired whether Schiavo could receive food by mouth, and “courts in Florida have said no. The order is to stop all food and water.”

World magazine, in this report, describes the Catch-22 in which Terri Schiavo lives, for now. And it makes clear that, if swallow tests have occurred in recent years — to use O’Matz’s broad paraphrase — recent must be understood as more than five years ago:

Over the past two weeks, the Schindlers have rained paperwork on the court. They charged that the judge made an evidentiary error in a crucial earlier ruling, appealed for new medical tests, asked to file a petition for divorce on their daughter’s behalf, and requested that if her feeding tube is removed, their daughter be orally fed and hydrated.

Judge Greer denied every motion, including the feeding request. This though at least two health-care workers in 2003 filed affidavits saying they had given Ms. Schiavo ice water and small spoonfuls of Jello while they cared for her at a nursing home in the late 1990s. In 2000, three doctors filed affidavits saying Ms. Schiavo could swallow on her own. [A sidebar timeline in World elaborates: "Feb. 2000: Circuit Court Judge George Greer rules to remove Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube. Three doctors file affidavits saying Ms. Schiavo can swallow, but the judge denies requests for swallowing tests."]

Mr. Weldon, who is a physician, characterized Judge Greer’s oral-feeding denial as “an outrage,” while Stephen Drake of the Illinois-based anti-euthanasia group Not Dead Yet said the ruling “fits in with Greer’s pattern,” and noted that the judge’s order regarding March 18 doesn’t just allow the removal of Ms. Schiavo’s feeding tube, it orders removal. “This whole issue has been horribly distorted into a question of who should be the decision-maker about her life. The real question is, what are Terri Schiavo’s rights under the law? In the absence of any compelling evidence to the contrary, the presumption should be that she should continue to get food and water.”

Mr. Schiavo has allowed only tube-feeding and has refused repeatedly to allow doctors to administer “swallow tests” to determine whether Ms. Schiavo can eat and drink. The circular sound of that — Mr. Schiavo’s confining of his wife to a feeding tube, but contending that she wouldn’t want to live that way — mirrors the circular rut in which the case has crawled through the Florida courts.

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The New Yorker probes a curse word — "proselytizing"

Washington-icon.jpgI have been on the road again, doing a seminar or two at the National College Media Convention in New York City (home of Brendan’s Bar & Grill). As usual, I munched my way through a stack of newspapers and magazines while stalled in airports, etc.

This led me to the March 21 issue of The New Yorker, pulled to the news rack by the big headline: “Jesus in the classroom.” I wish I could link to Peter J. Boyer’s story, but that is not up on the site. I think there are times when we forget there is valid content out there in the MSM to which we cannot link. Blogs are amazing things, but we cannot — at this point — link to everything.

However, The New Yorker‘s crew has backed up the piece with an online Q&A that offers insights into some of the strengths of the piece. The feature focuses on the church-state war inside the ultra-elite Cupertino, Calif., public schools, which focused on all of those headlines that screamed “DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE BANNED AT CALIFORNIA SCHOOL!” The man at the center of the fight was born-again elementary school teacher Stephen Williams, backed by a legal team from the Alliance Defense Fund.

This could have been one of those Religious Right vandals sacking Blue State Paradise stories, but Boyer digs in deeper than that.

Yes, there is ample evidence that some conservative Christians still want to turn the Founding Fathers (and Mothers, I suppose) into megachurch Sunday school teachers. The story also mentions a few bobbles by school officials and times when supposedly tolerant parents lose their cool.

But more than anything else, this is a very nuanced, complicated look at one of GetReligion’s pet subjects — offensive free speech and the tensions inside the First Amendment. It certainly does appear that the teacher in this case was attempting to follow the guidelines in the state laws about religious content.

But was he being too fervent? Were his motives bad?

Boyer talks about this in that Q&A, noting that the nuclear weapon in all of this is the dreaded term “proselytizing”:

Was Stephen Williams proselytizing in the classroom — which is strictly forbidden, all sides agree — or was he merely misunderstood to be proselytizing because he had openly expressed his own born-again Christianity? It’s a terribly difficult matter to work out. One of the complaining parents told me that the problem with Stephen Williams is that he made it known that he was a Christian, that his faith mattered more to him than anything in his life. And that reality sort of changed the dynamic in the classroom. When Stephen Williams, Christian, was teaching about the faith of the Founders, did it have the effect on an eleven-year-old’s mind of proselytizing? Perhaps, but how do you stop a teacher from being open about his own faith, outside the classroom, without infringing upon his right of free expression?

What if some of the people on the right do want to bend the rules? What if people on the left really do want to practice viewpoint discrimination? What if folks on both sides have visions of fundraising letters dancing in their heads?

What if media hotheads on both sides want to blow the whole thing up for the sales and ratings?

This is tricky stuff. One of my favorite sections of Boyer’s piece notes that the natives did not grow restless and start hurling the P-word when Williams had his students dig into primary sources on Hanukkah, Ramadan or the Hindu festival of lights. But his discussion of the origins and history of Easter sent some students scampering home to their parents.

Once again, we see people in positions of power hitting the wall on free speech, which is always a story worth covering. I’ve seen major stories in big-city Bible Belt newspapers that were not as balanced as this feature in, of all places, one of the holy texts of the blue elites. Check it out.

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All Schiavo all the time

justice.jpg As many readers now know, the stop-gap measure of issuing a congressional subpoena to prevent the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube failed to stop anything. Judge George Greer ordered the authorities and doctors to proceed as planned and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the House’s appeal.

So the House and Senate worked a bit of procedural magic to a) bring the House bill in line with the Senate bill; and b) allow a handful of House members to pass the compromise legislation either Sunday night or very early Monday morning.

President Bush will return to D.C. to sign the bill. The upshot of the legislation will be to strip jurisdiction in this case from the Florida courts and give Terri Schiavo’s parents — and, by extension, Terri Schiavo — another chance to break custody away from Michael Schiavo, who is madder than a hornet that Congress would dare to interfere in, and I quote, “somebody’s private judicial matter.”

What I think this means is, the feeding tube is about to be reinserted for the third time — though a lot of supporters believe that Terri Schiavo might not actually need the tube to survive.

Several protesters were arrested yesterday trying to bring her bread and water to see if she might be able to swallow them. Randall Terry, the former Operation Rescue big who is acting as the spokesman for Terri’s parents complained about the tight security around her. According to ABC News,

He said the parents also were concerned about the tight security in their daughter’s room, which includes a police officer standing guard.

“They are so determined to kill her that they don’t want mom or dad to even put an ice chip in her mouth,” Terry said.

Judge Greer — who looks likely to be stripped of jurisdiction in the case — had refused to allow a swallow test. For what it’s worth, the Baptist Press reports that Greer withdrew his membership from his Southern Baptist church over the controversy.

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