WASHINGTON (BP)–President Clinton briefly addressed several ethical, religious liberty and family issues in the State of the Union address beginning his final year of a tumultuous, two-term administration.
During a one-hour-and-50-minute speech filled with policy proposals and including a declaration “the state of the union is the strongest it has ever been,” the president:
— reiterated his call for Congress to pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would expand a 1969 law that bans the use of force or threat of force against a person “because of his race, color, religion or national origin” to include homosexuality and other practices covered by “sexual orientation.”
— asked again for adoption of another homosexual-rights measure, the Employment Non-discrimination Act, which would add “sexual orientation” to the classifications now receiving protection in the workplace.
— endorsed legislation prohibiting “genetic discrimination” by employers and insurance companies against Americans with certain genetic traits.
— requested a single, easier-to-understand voluntary ratings system for children’s entertainment on television and in video and computer games.
— called for more help for faith-based organizations that work to combat such social ills as poverty and drug abuse.
— supported new incentives that would permit low- and middle-income people who do not itemize on their income tax forms to receive a deduction for their tithes and contributions.
— repeated his request for support of an administration agreement to bring China into the World Trade Organization and to give the communist giant permanent normal trade relations status, formerly known as most favored nation status.
— endorsed a reduction in the marriage penalty and an increase in the tax credit of a maximum of $1,100 for families with three or more children.
In his education proposals, Clinton did not refer to education-choice plans, such as vouchers, that include religious and other private schools. His sole reference to education choice was a call for a further increase in charter schools, which he said offer “real public school choice.”
Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics agency, voiced disapproval of the president’s homosexual rights endorsements but applauded some of his other recommendations.
On adding homosexuality to protected classes for hate crimes, Land said a “crime is a crime” and the government should not become “thought police.” He also said the country should not “afford sexual preference the same protected status under law” as race, ethnicity, religion and gender.
“I believe most Southern Baptists are adamantly opposed to ENDA and to the hate-crimes legislation,” said Land, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s president.
On Clinton’s proposal to prevent “genetic discrimination,” Land agreed “we need to put every hedge and every legal protection we can construct around the privacy of a person’s genetic information.”
He also called the plan to allow non-itemizing taxpayers to receive a deduction for tithes and contributions a “way of encouraging those millions of Americans to give generously to that which they wish to give.”
The Family Research Council, a conservative, Washington-based public-policy organization, described the president’s tax-relief proposal for married couples as “too little, too late.”
“Waiting for Clinton’s so-called marriage tax relief would be like waiting for food in a Russian bread line,” said FRC chief spokesperson Janet Parshall in a written statement. Congress should pass a bill that would “take the marriage penalty seriously and provide real, immediate tax relief for both single- and dual-earner couples.”
Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer criticized Clinton’s foreign policy, especially his continued call for enhanced trade status for China. Bauer has been one of the leading conservative voices in a diverse coalition that has opposed the Clinton administration’s China policy because of, among other things, that government’s persecution of Christians, Buddhists and other religious adherents, as well as a coercive abortion policy and other human rights abuses.
“Virtually since his first day in office, President Clinton has allowed trade to trump national security and basic human rights in the formulation of his foreign policy,” Bauer said in a written statement.
“America’s new foreign policy should place national security above the almighty dollar and basic human rights above the next trade deal.
“The next president should end business as usual with China while engaging the communist leaders of that country by sitting down at the negotiating table and laying out a foreign policy consistent with our national security goals, not corporate America’s trade goals.”
In his Jan. 27 speech, Clinton said, “Never before has our nation enjoyed, at once, so much prosperity and social progress with so little internal crisis and so few external threats. Never before have we had such a blessed opportunity, and therefore such a profound obligation, to build the more perfect union of our founders’ dreams.”
The Cato Institute, a libertarian, free-market research group in Washington, called the speech a reversal of Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union address in which he said, “The era of big government is over.”
The president’s “words tonight make it clear he’s changed his mind,” the institute said in a written release. “Tonight he proposed at least 100 new or expanded initiatives, often calling for the doubling or tripling of funding for previous programs.”
Sen. Bill Frist, R.-Tenn., gave part of the Republican response to the State of the Union address. He called the president’s new health-care proposal “just as bad as the first” Clinton introduced in 1993. Congress rejected the earlier version. The new plan “makes government even bigger and more bloated,” Frist said.
During a surgical fellowship in England, Frist said he saw “firsthand the rationing, the lack of choice, the long waits and the denial of care for seniors” of nationalized health service. “I learned that socialized medicine — whether in England or in Canada, where patients are fleeing to the U.S. for treatment — just does not work,” Frist said.
Frist said he has received assurances from Majority Leader Trent Lott a bipartisan proposal focusing on choice and security in health care will be prepared for consideration on the Senate floor within two weeks.
Land, who was a patient in England’s system for three years while doing doctoral work, said, “Contrary to the president’s proposal on health care, the last thing we need is to unleash an army of liability lawyers on the American health-care system.”