RNS Daily Digest

c. 2000 Religion News Service Vatican offers to help return Elian Gonzalez to his father (RNS) The Vatican confirmed Thursday (April 13) that at the request of the United States it has offered its embassy in Washington to serve as a neutral site for the return of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez to his father. “At the […]

c. 2000 Religion News Service

Vatican offers to help return Elian Gonzalez to his father

(RNS) The Vatican confirmed Thursday (April 13) that at the request of the United States it has offered its embassy in Washington to serve as a neutral site for the return of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez to his father.

“At the request of the two interested parties, the Holy See has put its nunciature in Washington at their disposition for the consigning of the child Elian Gonzalez to his father,” chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

It was the Vatican’s first intervention in the case of the boy, who has lived with Miami relatives since being rescued off the Florida coast on Thanksgiving Day. His mother and 10 other refugees drowned while trying to reach the United States in a small boat.

The Vatican’s offer may be put on hold after a federal appeals court issued a temporary stay Thursday afternoon that keeps Elian in the United States while his relatives and the federal government fight over whether he will be returned to his father and sent home to Cuba.

The order came barely an hour after Thursday’s 2 p.m. deadline and was granted by a single judge from the three-judge panel because it was an emergency situation, according to the Associated Press. The government has until Friday morning to respond in court. Until then, the order blocks anyone from taking Elian out of the United States.

Immigration officials and Attorney General Janet Reno have agreed to abide by the order.

Navarro-Valls confirmed a report by State Department sources on Wednesday that President Clinton had suggested the handover take place in the Vatican embassy. Like all embassies, the Vatican nunciature has extra-territorial legal status.

The Vatican spokesman first referred to a “request from the American administration” but then changed his statement to “the two interested parties.” The other party was thought to be Cuban President Fidel Castro rather than the child’s American relatives, who have bitterly resisted turning him over.

Reno held a fruitless meeting Wednesday with Elian’s great uncle Lazaro Gonzalez at the Miami Beach residence of Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, president of Barry University. The nun also opened her house in January for a meeting between the child and his Cuban grandmothers.

House Democrat Decries GOP-sponsored Mass for New Chaplain

(RNS) A Roman Catholic congressman says he is offended by Republican Party sponsorship of a Mass in honor of the new House chaplain.

“For them to use the Catholic church in a continuing attempt to attract Catholic voters is, I think, disgusting,” said Rep. Jerry Kleczka, D-Wis., in a speech on the House floor Wednesday (April 12). “To liken it to a political debate, to a fund-raising dinner, to a political dinner trivializes the Mass.”

Kleczka said he thought it was particularly inappropriate that Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson and former Rep. Bill Paxon, R-N.Y., the one-time head of House Republicans’ campaign arm, were readers during the service Tuesday in Washington.

The Associated Press reported that Mike Collins, RNC spokesman, said the Mass and a reception that followed at St. Peter’s Church on Capitol Hill were not meant to score political points.

Rather, he said, they were held to offer an opportunity to meet the Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin, who was appointed in March as the House’s first Catholic chaplain after a controversy over the chaplain selection process.

“I think his constituents will find it very interesting that Congressman Kleczka will find a Mass disgusting,” said Collins. “He should be ashamed of himself.”

Only members of Congress who were Catholic and Republican were invited to the events, but all lawmakers were provided with news media advisories.

Some Democrats had questioned whether anti-Catholic bigotry on the part of Republicans had led to another priest being passed over in favor of a Protestant for the chaplain position. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., denied those charges.

Hastert appointed Coughlin, the former vicar for priests of the Chicago archdiocese, after the Rev. Charles Wright, a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister, withdrew his name from the process.

Oklahoma Creation Law `Inviting a Lawsuit,’ Group Says

(RNS) A religious liberty watchdog group says Oklahoma lawmakers are “inviting a lawsuit” by passing a bill that requires public school text books to say that there is “one God as the creator of human life in the universe.”

The state’s House of Representatives passed the bill on April 5. The bill’s sponsor, Republican State Rep. Jim Reese, said the measure would send a message to publishers that “the public is not happy with their textbooks,” according to the Associated Press.

Reese also said it would “boggle my mind” if a majority of his constituents did not agree with him on the issue. Reese said people who believe in creationism want equal time with evolution theory.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, however, said the bill is inherently unconstitutional, and a debate on God should not occur in the nation’s schools or legislatures.

“This legislation is outrageous and unconstitutional,” said the group’s executive director, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, in a statement. “This is America, not Iran. Our legislators are not supposed to be judges of religious truth.”

Lynn said if the bill is approved by a legislative conference committee and signed by Gov. Frank Keating, his group will file suit.

The controversy stems from an attempt by the state’s Textbook Committee to add anti-evolution disclaimers to school texts last year. The state’s attorney general, however, said earlier this year that the committee did not have the authority to force disclaimers on publishers.

Reese and other members of the House fired back with two amendments passed on April 5. One grants the committee the authority to insert a “one-page summary, opinion or disclaimer” and the other says that textbooks used in the state must acknowledge God as creator of life.

“We must not allow our science classes to turn into Sunday school classes,” Lynn said.

American Muslims Object to `Rules of Engagement’

(RNS) Arab-Americans and Muslims are angry about Paramount Pictures’ new Marine Corps drama, “Rules of Engagement.” The film, starring Samuel L. Jackson as an officer facing court martial over shooting Arabs in Yemen, opened April 7 and earned $15.1 million in its opening weekend.

The film shows Arab children pointing weapons at U.S. soldiers,scenes which prompted the 30,000-member, Washington, D.C.-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to deplore the film’s “uniformly negative” depiction of Arabs.

“This film has numerous images of armed children,” said ADC spokesman Hussein Ibish. “The basic plot is not problematic. What’s problematic is the treatment of and depiction of an Arab society. There aren’t any positive images.”

The Council on American Islamic Relations is asking the Pentagon to suspend military cooperation with filmmakers who stereotype Muslims. In an April 11 letter to Secretary of Defense William Cohen, CAIR executive director Nihad Awad wrote that the film, “seems to justify the killing of Muslim men, women and even children. It also offers a very negative and inaccurate image of Muslims and Islamic beliefs.”

In a March 30 letter to the ADC, a Paramount spokesman said, “`Rules of Engagement’ is not anti-Arab but, anti-extremist. This film is not a negative portrayal of any government or people.” The letter noted that government officials in Morocco, where the film’s Yemen sequences were shot, approved the script.

Still, Ibish said because of Arab internal tensions, Moroccans approving a script about Yemenis would not guard against stereotypes, and that racism is viewed differently in the United States than the Arab world. “Moroccan government officials might not have the same concerns as Arab-Americans do,” he said.

Last fall, Arab-Americans were elated at the layered portraits of Arabs in Warner Brothers’ Gulf War drama “Three Kings.” Praise for that film came after years of Arab-Americans complained to Hollywood about Arabs-as-terrorist stereotypes in films such as “The Siege” and “Executive Decision.”

Ibish said that since January, the ADC has made repeated requests for meetings with Paramount executives over “Rules of Engagement,” but no meeting occurred before the film opened.

Sex-Trafficking Bill Introduced

(RNS) Taking aim at those who bring an estimated 50,000 women and children each year into the United States for forced sexual slavery, two Senators introduced legislation this week aimed at stopping the international sell of women and children into sexual slavery.

“It’s time to change this evil practice known as trafficking,” said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., whose anti-sex trafficking bill will be introduced into the Senate on Thursday (April 13). “Our estimates are that 700,000 primarily young girls are trafficked a year. It’s one of the most awful aspects of the new global economy.”

Brownback’s proposal calls for a review process that would let the president impose sanctions on countries that do not make “a good faith effort” to stop the selling of women and children for sex within their own borders, though sanctions could be waived under some conditions.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., introduced similar legislation on Wednesday, according to his office.

“Trafficking in human beings is not just some problem over there _ it’s a problem over here,” said Wellstone, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Brownback. “This gross human rights abuse _ and we must acknowledge trafficking in persons as the horrific abuse that it is _ is a worldwide problem that must be confronted here in our country even as we continue to fight it on the international front. We too must do our part. We need this bill enacted into law this year.”

Both bills call for life imprisonment for those who force children under the age of 14 into the sex trade, according to the Associated Press, and mandate as many as 20 years in prison in such cases involving people 14 and older. The two proposals also allow victims to remain in the United States under a temporary visa even if they have been brought into the country illegally.

Wellstone’s legislation permits the president to impose sanctions on a case-by-case basis instead of calling for mandatory sanctions.

“If you have too broad a reach, it can be counterproductive,” said Wellstone, noting political support for the legislation could be jeopardized if sanctions were made mandatory. “I’m trying to get as much of this passed as possible.”

Wellstone and Brownback said they will support whichever bill is approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and hope the committee will vote before the congressional session ends.

The two bills were lauded in a statement issued by the associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

“Human trafficking destroys someone’s spirit, displaces them from their community, and creates wounds that will never heal,” said Mark J. Pelavin. “We join senators Wellstone and Brownback in working to end these ongoing injustices.”

Quote of the Day: Focus on the Family President James Dobson

(RNS) “Never again, as long as I live, will I cast a single vote for anyone who would kill an innocent child. And that commitment is (resolute).”

_ Focus on the Family President and religious broadcaster James Dobson, countering a prediction by pollster John Zogby that Dobson and other conservatives would accept a Republican ticket with a pro-choice vice presidential candidate.


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