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Ethics, church-state bills await action in Congress

WASHINGTON (BP)–Congress will reconvene Labor Day week with several bills involving ethical or church-state issues awaiting final resolution. The Senate and House of Representatives will resume business after their traditional month-long recess in August.

One of the priorities for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s public-policy agency, is an effort to ban all human cloning. The House adopted the Human Cloning Prohibition Act a few days before the August recess. It awaits action in the Senate, where Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D.-S.D., has demonstrated some reluctance to bring it to the floor.

The ERLC strongly supports this bill, which would bar both reproductive and research cloning, as opposed to a version that would prevent only cloning for reproductive reasons. An attempt to adopt the alternative, which would permit the cloning of human embryos for research only for them to be destroyed, was rejected in the House.

The House-approved bill “is about whether or not we will create cloned human beings for the purposes of experimentation. It’s about time our elected officials said, ‘No,'” said Ben Mitchell, a biomedical consultant for the ERLC.

There also may be attempts to liberalize President Bush’s stem cell decision announced after Congress recessed. The president said he would limit federal funding of research to those stem cell lines, or colonies, already in existence, thereby preventing further destruction of embryos. Some members of Congress have expressed a desire to fund research involving embryos that have yet to be destroyed in order to procure their stem cells.

In addition to other sanctity of life issues, bills are pending in Congress on such matters as the president’s faith-based initiative to aid religious groups that help the needy, campaign finance reform, the oppression of Christians in Sudan and sports gambling.

Citizens who desire to express their opinions to their senators or representatives may do so through the ERLC’s web site at www.erlc.com/capitolhill or by calling the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Here is an update on some of the legislation already introduced in Congress.

— Human Cloning Prohibition Act (H.R. 2505/S. 790): The House of Representatives adopted the ban on all human cloning July 31 with a 265-162 vote. Supporters of the ban are hopeful it will pass if it reaches the Senate floor. The president has endorsed the measure. The bill would prohibit cloning for the purposes of reproducing a child and creating an embryo for research. It also would ban the importation of cloned embryos, as well as any products derived from such embryos.

— Born Alive Infants Protection Act (H.R. 2175/S. 1050): Both houses have adopted this measure as part of the Patients’ Bill of Rights. The bill would provide federal protection to a newborn fully outside his mother’s womb. It is targeted primarily at a method known as live-birth abortion in which children who survive the procedure are allowed to die without medical care. The House approved its version of the Patients’ Bill of Rights, which included the pro-life language, in a 226-203 vote Aug. 2. The Senate earlier voted 98-0 to add the measure to its version. A conference committee will have to work out differences in the two bills.

— Unborn Victims of Violence Act (H.R. 503/S. 480): This proposal to extend legal protection to unborn children awaits a Senate vote. The House passed the bill 252-172 in late April. The president supports the bill. The measure would recognize an unborn baby as a crime victim when he is injured or slain during a federal offense against his mother.

— Mexico City Policy: Senators are attempting to overturn a pro-life policy reinstated early this year by the president. In January, Bush issued an order re-establishing a ban on funds to organizations that perform or promote abortions in foreign countries or lobby those governments to liberalize their pro-life policies. In so doing, he reinstituted the Mexico City Policy, so named for the city where its implementation by President Reagan was announced at a population conference in 1984. President Clinton rescinded the policy in 1993. The Senate Foreign Relations and Appropriations committees approved a bill overturning Bush’s policy shortly before the August recess. Earlier however, the House removed such language from a State Department authorization bill in a 218-210 vote after Bush threatened a veto.

— Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (H.R. 2356/S. 27): This legislation includes provisions restricting the free-speech rights of organizations and has elicited the opposition of such groups as the National Right to Life Committee and the ACLU. It would bar such organizations from funding an ad that mentions the name of a senator or representative 30 days before a congressional primary election and 60 days before a general election, even if the ad is related to legislation rather than the election. The Senate passed the bill with a 59-41 vote in April. The bill’s supporters in the House are nearing enough signatures on a discharge petition to bring the measure to the floor.

— Community Solutions Act (H.R. 7): The House approved a version of the president’s faith-based initiative in July with a 233-198 vote. The Senate has yet to act on the legislation, and it appears the House version is unacceptable to the majority of senators. Sen. Rick Santorum, R.-Pa., a leading sponsor of the legislation, has said he will drop a provision in the House bill that would protect religious charities from local laws banning discrimination based on “sexual orientation,” which includes homosexuality. The House measure would increase government support of efforts by religious groups to provide social services to the needy. It includes a provision allowing the grants to be in the form of vouchers, with the recipients able to choose whether to use a religious agency.

— Sudan Peace Act (H.R. 2052/S. 180): Versions of this effort to relieve the oppression of Christians and other Sudanese at the hands of a militant Islamic regime have passed both the House and Senate. The House voted 422-2 for the bill in June. The Senate adopted its version by unanimous consent in mid-July. The House version condemns human rights abuses in the East African country, urges the Bush administration to help in delivering humanitarian aid that is being blocked by the government and bars foreign governments from being listed on U.S. stock exchanges if they participate in oil development in Sudan. The Senate bill does not include the restriction on foreign involvement on stock exchanges. The bills will go to a conference committee.

— Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (S. 625): The Senate Judiciary Committee passed this bill, which would expand hate-crimes laws to include “sexual orientation” among the protected categories. “Sexual orientation” is a classification in the law that can include not only homosexuality but bisexuality and transsexuality, thereby equating sexual behavior with unchangeable characteristics such as race and gender.

— Amateur Sports Integrity Act (S. 718): Included among this bill’s provisions is a prohibition in all states on sports gambling on high school, college and Olympic events. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the measure, but it has not been considered on the Senate floor. The Student Athlete Protection Act (H.R. 1110) is a more narrowly drawn bill that also bans such sports gambling. No action has been taken on it.

— Education Savings Accounts: This measure establishing accounts for the education of elementary and secondary school students was adopted by Congress as part of the tax-cut legislation and signed into law by the president. It allows education IRAs of up to $2,000 per child for students in public and private schools, including religious ones. There is some debate as to whether it will apply to home schools. The funds may be used for tuition, tutoring, after-school programs, home computers, school supplies and uniforms.

Other bills introduced with no action taken so far include:

— Employment Nondiscrimination Act (H.R. 2692/S. 1284), which would ban job discrimination based on a person’s “sexual orientation.”

— Child Custody Protection Act (H.R. 476), which would make it a crime for an adult to transport a minor to another state for an abortion without a parent’s involvement when the state in which the girl lives requires either parental notification or consent before such a procedure.

— RU 486 Patient Health and Safety Protection Act (H.R. 482/S. 251), which would increase requirements for physicians who prescribe RU 486 in order to help protect women who take the abortion drug.

— Tribal and Local Communities Relationship Improvement Act (H.R. 2244), which would require the approval by a state’s legislature before new gambling facilities are added on tribal lands.
Compiled by Tom Strode.

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