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CULTURE DIGEST: Tenn. lawmakers seek tougher divorce laws; study highlights teens’ views of God; conservative’s free speech faces double standard at Univ. of Colorado

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–In an effort to strengthen the institution of marriage, two lawmakers in Tennessee have proposed a bill to allow spouses who have been cheated on, abused or abandoned to receive more than half of the marital assets rather than the typical 50 percent.

Two Republicans, part of a new majority in the state Senate, introduced the bill, which is quickly gaining bipartisan support, according to The Tennessean newspaper.

“The hope is that we will be able to reintroduce some teeth into the divorce law and discourage some of the more egregious behaviors that lead to the breakup of marriages and the destruction of children that they leave in their wake,” Sen. David Fowler, a sponsor of the bill, said.

Some say it’s ironic that someone who fails to keep a business contract can be required to pay damages but a spouse who violates a marriage contract is not held accountable, The Tennessean reported.

Under the law, a spouse would have to present clear and convincing evidence that the other partner committed adultery, abuse or abandonment in the year before the divorce was filed, and the person claiming to be the victim cannot be guilty of the same behavior.

“The institution of marriage has been diminished and it is not taken as seriously as it ought to be taken,” Fowler said. “There are no longer any repercussions for entering into a marriage lightly and not working to maintain the marriage.”

Tennessee’s divorce rate ranked third in the nation in 1999 and 2000, and in 2001 it moved to ninth place — still far too high for some lawmakers.

But the proposed law is receiving some negative attention as well; mainly from attorneys who say the divorce process already is complicated enough.

“Our viewpoint is that these are already difficult enough situations and already lots of emotions involved and lots of feelings involved, and the more of these kinds of opportunities for disputes, then the more messy it’s going to be,” Allan Ramsaur, executive director of the Tennessee Bar Association, told The Tennessean.

The Nashville newspaper editorialized against the proposal April 10.

“Fowler spoke of changing attitudes by forcing adulterers to pay for their sins. That’s work for a power higher than the Tennessee General Assembly,” the paper said.

MANY TEENS VIEW GOD AS ‘PRIVATE BUTLER’ — American teenagers have combined the concept of Christianity with principles of postmodernism and the ideology of individualism to create what a recent study terms “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” where God is there to solve their problems but stays at a safe distance when they don’t want Him around.

Researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have released a book titled, “Soul Searching,” after interviewing more than 3,000 American adolescents about their religious beliefs.

R. Albert Mohler Jr. addressed the study in his April 11 commentary on Crosswalk.com, saying teenagers’ proclivity to dismiss religious absolutes with a casual “whatever” is a substitute for serious and responsible thinking and a verbal cover for an embrace of relativism.

The study found that teenagers widely practice and accept religion — particularly Christianity — but their version of it is far from its roots. Mohler said Moralistic Therapeutic Deism reflects the culture as a whole, which through subtle shifts has “produced a context in which belief in such an undemanding deity makes sense.”

Such a transformation replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the self, Mohler said, making self-improvement the one great moral imperative to which all are accountable.

“This research project demands the attention of every thinking Christian. Those who are prone to dismiss sociological analysis as irrelevant will miss the point,” Mohler said. “We must now look at the United States of America as missiologists once viewed nations that had never heard the Gospel. Indeed, our missiological challenge may be even greater than the confrontation with paganism, for we face a succession of generations who have transformed Christianity into something that bears no resemblance to the faith revealed in the Bible.”

FREE SPEECH DOUBLE STANDARD RISES AT COLORADO — Ward Churchill has been in the news as the left-wing professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado who said the victims of 9/11 got what they deserved. Now the school is investigating him for falsely claiming to be an American Indian, plagiarizing, grading down students who disagree with him and publicly advocating violence and law breaking, but his colleagues are standing solidly in support of him and his right to free speech.

At the same school, an evangelical Christian professor of history, Phil Mitchell, was informed his contract would not be renewed because he quoted black critics of affirmative action in class. In the past, Mitchell was criticized for using a book on liberal Protestantism in an American history class that mentioned “God” and offended some.

In the April 2 issue of World magazine, Gene Edward Veith examined the disparity between the cases of Churchill and Mitchell, noting the former is tenured and the latter is not. Another major difference, he said, is that Churchill is being investigated for issues other than his speech while Mitchell appears to have been penalized only for what he has said.

School officials, Veith said, seem to be OK with a liberal professor speaking out against victims of a terrorist attack but are uncomfortable with a conservative teacher expressing his views. Veith also mentioned the backlash against Harvard University President Laurence Summers after he said innate differences between the sexes could be a reason for why women as a group do not exceed as much as men in mathematics.

“Even the president of Harvard has no academic freedom or freedom of speech,” Veith said.

‘DAY OF TRUTH’ IS APRIL 14 — Christian students nationwide are encouraged to observe the “Day of Truth” April 14 by wearing T-shirts that read, “The Truth Cannot Be Silenced” and by distributing cards to their classmates expressing their beliefs.

The pro-family legal group Alliance Defense Fund is sponsoring the day as a counterpart to the pro-homosexual “Day of Silence” April 13. The Day of Silence began in 1996 with students vowing to keep quiet as a way to protest what homosexual activists describe as discrimination against homosexuals, lesbians and “transsexuals.”

The Alliance Defense Fund has pledged free legal representation to any student who is discriminated against because of their Day of Truth participation.

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  • Erin Curry