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CULTURE DIGEST: ‘I believe’ plates face suit; FBI cracks down on child exploitation

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Specialty license plates on cars can signal the driver’s support of an array of topics from the environment to animals to college sports teams, but those that support belief in God have faced scrutiny in at least two states recently.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a federal lawsuit in June seeking an injunction to prevent South Carolina from producing a license plate with a design that features a cross superimposed over a stained-glass window along with the words “I Believe.”

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said approval of the plate “was a clear signal that Christianity is the preferred religion of South Carolina,” according to The New York Times. He added that the Constitution doesn’t allow for what he calls a violation of the separation of church and state. Americans United filed the suit on behalf of three South Carolina pastors, a rabbi and the Hindu American Foundation.

South Carolina’s lieutenant governor, Andre Bauer, got the idea for the plate from Florida, where a similar proposal failed in the legislature this spring. That state faced opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which said the “I Believe” plate gave the impression that Florida endorses a particular religion.

The bill moved through the South Carolina legislature with little discussion earlier this year, the Associated Press said, and Gov. Mark Sanford “let it become law without his signature because the state already allows private groups to create license plates for any cause.”

Bobby Harrell, the Republican House Speaker in South Carolina, expressed doubt about Americans United’s motive for filing the lawsuit.

“I think this has less to do with the First Amendment and more to do with their disdain for religion generally,” Harrell said, according to AP.

Joe Mack, director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s office of public policy, told the Baptist Courier newspaper he is opposed to the Americans United lawsuit and hopes it fails.

“Christians have a right to express their belief,” Mack said. “Secular humanists have a tag; we should be entitled to a tag.”

South Carolina’s “Secular Humanists of the Low Country” license plate features an American flag and the slogan “In Reason We Trust.”

FBI CRACKS DOWN ON CHILD EXPLOITATION — The Federal Bureau of Investigation saved 21 sexually exploited children from danger and arrested 389 people on charges of trafficking children for prostitution in what the bureau is calling the largest such multistate sweep ever.

The five-day operation in June spanned 16 cities and involved hundreds of local, state and federal authorities working together to rescue missing children who turned out to be involved in exploitation, The New York Times reported. The sweep marked the fifth anniversary of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, which has led to the conviction of more than 300 people and the rescue of more than 400 children since its inception.

“Child trafficking for the purpose of prostitution is organized criminal activity using kids as commodities for sale and trade,” said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “… This is 21st century slavery.”

The Times quoted Sandra Berchtold, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Detroit office, who said investigators in Michigan saw girls as young as 12 forced into the sex trade after being abducted or falsely recruited for what they thought were modeling, dancing or acting jobs.

“A lot of times the individuals come from broken homes,” Berchtold said. “At a certain point, they seem to accept their lives. They’ve been out there for years. The subculture brought them in, trained them and made them believe there’s nothing else.”

‘PARENTS FOR TRUTH’ LAUNCHES — The National Abstinence Education Association has launched a national campaign called Parents for Truth to educate parents about the harmful information often shared with students in so-called “comprehensive” sex education classes in schools.

The campaign aims at enlisting 1 million parents within three years to fight groups like Planned Parenthood that sometimes have a monopoly on sex education curriculum in public schools. Parents for Truth provides resources to help parents take an active role in ensuring that abstinence education is taught in their children’s schools.

“There are powerful special interest groups who can far outspend what parents can in terms of promoting their agenda. But we recognize that parents can more than make up for that by their determination and motivation to protect their own children,” Valerie Huber, executive director of the NAEA, said.

Recent criticism of abstinence education has caused at least 17 states to refuse federal funding for such programs, The Washington Post reported. In Iowa, a policy adviser for Gov. Chet Culver said Title V, which teaches “the social, psychological and health gains of abstaining from sexuality” was “just too strict,” according to the Associated Press.

A federal tally shows that participation in Title V is down 40 percent over two years, AP said, but many states still find it valuable and have adopted it as their approach to addressing sexual activity among teens. Georgia is one of 28 states that still utilize Title V funds for abstinence education, and that state has seen almost a 50 percent drop in teen pregnancy rates since the mid-90s.

“We really see abstinence education as a clear, concise and positive message,” said Jen Bennecke, executive director of the governor’s office for children and families in Georgia. “We’ve presented it as a healthy lifestyle choice.”

In other states, parents are being misled and would be shocked to learn what’s really being taught, Huber said.

“They are told the content of the curricula in their children’s classrooms stress abstinence and just have information to make decisions in case they become sexually active,” Huber said of comprehensive sex education, according to The Post. “But most of these programs provide explicit how-to information that give teens a green light for activities that put them at risk.”

More information is available at parentsfortruth.org.

ADULTS SUPPLY TEENS WITH ALCOHOL — Of the nation’s estimated 10.8 million underage drinkers, more than 40 percent said they obtained free alcohol from an adult during the past month, according to a federal survey.

“In far too many instances, parents directly enable their children’s underage drinking — in essence encouraging them to risk their health and well-being,” said Steven Galson, acting U.S. surgeon general. “Proper parental guidance alone may not be the complete solution to this devastating public health problem, but it is a critical part.”

One in four underage drinkers said they obtained alcohol from an unrelated adult while one in 16 got it from a parent or guardian and one in 12 got it from a family member, according to the survey “Underage Alcohol Use: Findings From the 2002-2006 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health.” The research included a random sample of 158,000 people 12 to 20 years old, according to The Washington Post June 26.

The report said underage drinking is responsible for more than 5,000 deaths of people under 21 each year in the United States. It also said about 7.2 million underage drinkers admitted to binge drinking, which means consuming five or more drinks in a short time span. The rate of drinking was higher for girls than boys, analysts said, and about 3.5 million youth meet the criteria for alcohol dependence or abuse each year.

“Its findings strongly indicate that parents and other adults can play an important role in helping influence — for better or for worse — young people’s behavior with regard to underage drinking,” said Terry Cline, an administrator with the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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