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CULTURE DIGEST: Government stops funding ‘Silver Ring Thing’; covenant marriages on the rise in Arkansas

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The government funding for a faith-based abstinence program called Silver Ring Thing was suspended last August but now it will be ended altogether, due to a persistent attack by the American Civil Liberties Union. The program can be eligible to compete for federal grants in the future only if it ensures that the money will not be used for religious purposes.

The agreement between the Department of Health and Human Services and the ACLU was reached Feb. 22, according to the Associated Press.

In August, when funding for the program was temporarily lifted pending further investigation, Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said, “These programs have been proved not only ineffective, but also dangerous to the health and well-being of teens.”

Joel Oster, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, the group representing Silver Ring Thing in the lawsuit, wondered if Rose could possibly be serious in her assessment.

“Programs like Silver Ring Thing have been proven to be effective,” he said. “Leave it to the ACLU to come to the absurd conclusion that abstinence programs are dangerous to the health of teens.”

Silver Ring Thing received more than $1 million in federal funding during the past three years, but the ACLU complained that the rings teenagers receive when they pledge to remain sexually abstinent until marriage are inscribed with a Bible verse and the potential for Jesus to improve their lives is too often touted.

COVENANT MARRIAGES ON THE RISE IN ARKANSAS — More Arkansas couples entered covenant marriages in the first 10 months of 2005 than in the three previous years combined, according to new data released about the popularity of the agreements aimed at curbing the divorce rate. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee credited the promotion of covenant marriages with the marked increase, according to the Associated Press.

Huckabee and his wife led a celebration at Little Rock’s Alltel Arena on Valentine’s Day last year, when 6,400 people watched them renew their vows and enter a covenant marriage.

Five years ago, the Arkansas state government gave citizens the option of covenant marriages, which require premarital counseling and can be ended only after counseling and only on grounds of adultery, criminal activity, physical or sexual abuse or a two-year separation.

The overall goal of covenant marriage is to lower the state’s divorce rate, which is among the highest in the nation.

“It puts some speed bumps on the divorce process,” Huckabee told AP. “Every marriage isn’t going to survive, but this at least doesn’t make it as easy to give up on marriage.”

By the end of October last year, AP reported, 1,123 couples had either begun marriages as covenant marriages or converted their already existent marriages to covenant marriages, compared to 768 total covenant marriages in Arkansas from 2002 to 2004.

Covenant marriages are not limited to the state of Arkansas. For more information, visit www.covenantmarriage.com.

MICHAEL W. SMITH’S ACTING LESSONS — In “The Second Chance,” Christian music legend Michael W. Smith plays an arrogant associate pastor at his father’s successful megachurch who is required to minister among the less fortunate at an inner-city church. Smith said his acting debut taught him some valuable lessons about real life that he has carried with him off the set. In fact, he calls the film “life-changing.”

“… I feel like I have a heart for the poor and I really care what goes on in Africa and there’s all these things I’m involved in,” Smith told The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, “but I got on the set and I found out, ‘… I can do better.’ It’s easy to write a check. It’s a completely different story to get your hands dirty and get in the thick of it.”

In the film, Smith’s character must step out of his comfort zone of flashy church choirs into the grime of the inner city in order to learn about his true strengths and weaknesses.

The movie, which debuted in theaters nationwide Feb. 17, was shot in Nashville, and Smith was humbled by scenes such as working in a soup kitchen downtown, where he was one-on-one with homeless people who had nothing.

While many mainstream film critics have said The Second Chance leaves something to be desired in the way of professional moviemaking, Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel said “it does send a positive message in a pretty polished movie, a message aimed at regular churchgoers.”

“The Second Chance has something to say,” he wrote in a review Feb. 20. “The smart way that message is packaged in a story with real-world relevance, with flawed people making bad decisions and then making right, means that these filmmakers deserve their own second chance.”

AFA TAKES AIM AT ‘DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES’ — After victories over NBC’s “The Book of Daniel” and an offensive segment of “Will & Grace,” the American Family Association is targeting what it considers “the worst of the worst” in broadcast television — ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.”

Through its affiliated websites OneMillionMoms.com and OneMillionDads.com, AFA will be monitoring weekly episodes of the popular show during the months of April, May and June, making a list of advertisers in order to launch a year-long boycott against those who support “one of the trashiest shows on television.”

ABC says Desperate Housewives is viewed by 15 million people each week, and AFA’s Don Wildmon says that means the 265 million people who do not watch the show still end up paying for it by purchasing its sponsors’ products.

ISRAELI PROTESTS OSCAR-NOMINATED ‘PARADISE NOW’ — Yossi Zur, an Israeli whose 17-year-old son was killed in a suicide bombing in March 2003, has sent a petition signed by 30,000 people to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, asking that “Paradise Now” be removed from the list of Oscar nominations for best foreign film this year.

Paradise Now, which won a Golden Globe for best foreign language film, chronicles 48 hours in the lives of two young men who are sent on a suicide mission to Israel, according to The Jerusalem Post. One of the terrorists decides at the last minute not to proceed with the plan, but the movie ends with the other man sitting on a Tel Aviv bus moments before an explosion.

“Hundreds of innocent men, women and children have been murdered by ‘Palestinian’ suicide-murderers in the past few years,” the petition reads. “Giving an Oscar to this movie will glorify these murderers and the groups that have sent them. It may even encourage more murders of this type.”

A letter from Zur enclosed with the petition says in part, “What makes this movie award-worthy? Would the people that awarded this movie the Golden Globe do the same if the movie was about young people from Saudi Arabia who learn how to fly airplanes in the USA and then use Islamic rituals to prepare themselves for their holy mission, crashing their airplanes into the Twin Towers in New York City? Would this movie get an award then?”

The Oscars are scheduled for March 5.

    About the Author

  • Erin Curry Roach