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LESSONS WORTH LEARNING



Published: Wed, July 4, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Surgeon General David Satcher is under attack for trying to bring sex education into the 21st century. The nation's top doctor has once again dared to urge Americans to talk honestly about sex, and that has some people sounding alarms.

In a report last week, Dr. Satcher called for ongoing discussions by families, educators and community leaders about sexuality. Dr. Satcher was deliberate in his recommendations, stressing the importance of abstaining from sex until individuals are involved in "a committed, enduring and mutually monogamous relationship."

To some people, that was tantamount to a cardinal sin because it acknowledges that people have sex outside of marriage. The opponents further took issue with Dr. Satcher's recommendation that people be taught the "best ways" to protect against sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies.

Diversity: Dr. Satcher also called for respect for diversity in sexual orientation, saying he found little scientific support for the belief that people have a choice in the matter. A coalition of conservative, pro-family groups said the surgeon general was promoting sexual disease and irresponsible, immoral behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What he was doing was urging people to learn how to protect themselves, while stressing that no protection is guaranteed.

Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders lost her job in 1994 for talking frankly about sexuality. Now, some conservatives are urging President George W. Bush to send Dr. Satcher packing. So far, the president has wisely taken no action. Dr. Satcher's four-year term ends in February.

In real life, many unmarried adults and teens engage in sexual activity. With the continued problems associated with unplanned pregnancies, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, people still have a lot to learn.

The good news is that nationally, as well as in Missouri and Illinois, the numbers of teens giving birth are down. Dr. John Lumpkin, Illinois's public health director, cited pro-abstinence messages and sex education programs in the schools among the reasons for the decline in teen births.

Parents absolutely should lead the way in teaching their children what they believe is morally right and wrong. They should explain how human bodies work, about protection, risks and consequences. They should also be willing to work with their schools and religious institutions to fashion frank, factual, judgment-free sex education materials to reinforce or supplement what is taught in the home.

In the case of Dr. Satcher, we shouldn't shoot the messenger.

COURT'S UNFORGETTABLE YEAR

Los Angeles Times: In years past, the U.S. Supreme Court saved its most controversial decisions for the final week of the term, just before the justices retreated to summer homes and private lives. This term, the court's defining moment came early, in December, when the justices elbowed their way into the Florida election standoff.

The court's breathless monster of a ruling in Bush vs. Gore stopped the ballot recounts in Florida and handed the White House to George W. Bush. The high court's rulings this year were, overall, unpredictable, often inconsistent and surprisingly hard to pigeonhole. Bush vs. Gore, however, is the story that sticks in the mind, forever putting to rest the notion that conservative judges cannot be activist judges.

Lasting legacy: The odd, disjointed group of decisions that make up the Bush-Gore case may be the lasting legacy of William H. Rehnquist's tenure as chief justice. The conservative majority he has led since 1986 eagerly asserted its jurisdiction in a dispute over how Florida courts interpreted Florida law. The majority's finding that a recount would violate Bush's equal-protection guarantees under the Constitution is at odds with a string of rulings by this same court giving states increasingly broad latitude to act as sovereign governments. It also conflicted with the court's denial of nearly all equal-protection claims brought by minorities, women and the disabled.

The court dishonored itself as a fair, consistent and apolitical umpire of the American democracy. The justices bobbed back and forth on the rights of criminal defendants. The majority held that police cannot use heat detectors to peer into private homes without a search warrant. Yet it also allowed police in Texas to arrest and jail a driver simply because she was not wearing her seat belt and let Illinois police keep a homeowner out of his own house while officers waited for a search warrant. A string of free-speech decisions generally expanded liberty in this area.

Late last month, the court said that growers cannot be forced to pay for farm product advertising and states cannot ban tobacco advertising near schools. The court also upheld campaign spending limits, a decision that may augur well for judicial review of the campaign reform bill now pending in Congress.

On civil rights, however, a good decision requiring the PGA Tour to allow a disabled golfer to ride a cart between holes is so narrow as to affect possibly only the plaintiff, Casey Martin. At the same time, the court dramatically shrank the definition of a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act.




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