- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

Senator casts corrections to fishing article

It may come as a shock to The Washington Times, judging from your July 27 article "Court halts fishing in sea lions' habitat," but Alaska is in North America, not Europe, and Steller sea lions live in the Bering Sea. Geography, however, was the least of the problems in your article. In fact, there has been no finding that Steller sea lions are the "victims" of fishing, and the primary fishery involved in the lawsuit in question is a pollock fishery. Salmon fishing, for your information, is not done with trawl nets. The pollock fishery, moreover, uses a technique called "midwater" trawling the nets are not "drag[ged] … along the sea bottom."

The trawl fisheries for pollock off the coast of Alaska are widely considered among the best-managed fisheries in the world, accounting year after year for almost half of the entire U.S. harvest, and the pollock resource is considered to be in very good shape. Unhappily, sea lions have declined in numbers, while pollock numbers have been growing.

To the discerning mind, this might imply that a scarcity of pollock is not the problem. Under the Endangered Species Act, this was not an option. Instead, because the federal fishery agency could not prove that fishing did not interfere with sea lions in any way imaginable (how does one prove a negative, anyway?), the agency had to make a finding of "jeopardy." Translating that into layman's terms, it means the agency didn't know if fishing was a problem but couldn't prove that it wasn't. That, unfortunately, is still the state of the art.

The court case, incidentally, has not tested whether sea lions are endangered by fishing. Its focus has been simply on whether the federal agency dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's in its documentation.

All that aside, the only true crime in this entire case is found in the last paragraph of your article, which says, "Since the total trawler catch is expected to remain about the same, the overall impact on the fishing industry is expected to be slight." That would come as a great surprise to the many people who depend on fishing with small vessels that cannot simply move farther offshore, as the reporter suggested. If they try, they will needlessly risk their lives in an area where gales of "Perfect Storm" proportions are regular events. If they don't, their families will go hungry and their communities will wither.

That is the real tragedy and the real injustice.

FRANK H. MURKOWSKI

U.S. Senate

Washington

D.C. Council, contraceptives and the Catholic Church

Out here in the Midwest, the doings of the D.C. Council usually are nothing more than an occasional source of humor. We expect Congress to keep the council under control and not let it ruin the federal city. Once in a while, though, the council acts so irresponsibly that it essentially begs Congress to reassert direct control.

An example is the D.C. Council requiring Roman Catholic health care facilities to provide artificial contraception ("Cover birth control," Op-Ed, July 31). Council member Jim Graham's argument in favor of this obvious infringement on the First Amendment rights of religious health care providers proves too much. Mr. Graham gives us a detailed explication of Catholic moral teaching (arguing that Catholic providers will not be violating the Church's beliefs). The evidence to which he refers what Catholic doctrine holds and what Catholic providers are actually doing in their interpretation of doctrine violates the fundamental precepts of religious liberty. The Supreme Court in cases such as Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese vs. Milivojevich has made clear that the government is not permitted to "delve" into church constitutions, canons or doctrines because the very process of doing so constitutes a usurpation of the church's prerogative to be the sole interpreter of its own doctrine.

Thus, the fact that some city council member thinks he knows the meaning of the Catholic canonical doctrine of cooperation, or that he can cite the approval of a "Catholic" group that is actually an opponent of the Catholic Church (Catholics for a Free Choice) only proves more emphatically the need to prohibit such an exercise. Mr. Graham's law would be unenforceable against religious organizations. Indeed, it might even violate directly the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment, as in other cases where "neutral" and "generally applicable" laws actually were directed at the practices or beliefs of a particular religious group.

This is a country where even so vital an interest as defense against military invasion is not sufficient to outweigh an individual's right to conscientious objection. It would, therefore, be sad to see the D.C. Council waste its time trying to force religious health care providers to provide services that violate their consciences. Some silly ideas are harmless. This one is dangerous. Keep on this path, denying fundamental rights of religious liberty, and people outside the Beltway will begin to wonder whether the District can be trusted to govern itself.

JAMES C. GEOLY

Chicago

Mr. Geoly is a lawyer.

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D.C. Council member Jim Graham wants to impose the views of the secular state on the Catholic Church by forcing Catholic health care facilities to provide services contrary to the teachings of the church. Not only does Mr. Graham seek to vitiate the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, he tries to justify his position by citing reports issued by Catholics for a Free Choice.

Catholics for a Free Choice is one of the nation's most notoriously anti-Catholic organizations. Its leader, Frances Kissling, has said: "I spent 20 years looking for a government that I could overthrow without being thrown in jail. I finally found one in the Catholic church."

It is no surprise, then, that the Catholic bishops denounced Ms. Kissling's group in 1993 and 2000. What is surprising is that Mr. Graham would lean on such a discredited source to back his position.

Separation of church and state cuts both ways, and that is why attempts to create a "one size fits all" public policy should be resisted. Whatever happened to the much-vaunted virtue of diversity?

WILLIAM A. DONOHUE

President

Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights

New York

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D.C. Council member Jim Graham is frightening. He actually believes government has the right to determine matters of theology for a church and it necessarily follows use its inherent right to force compliance.

Mr. Graham claims his constituents overwhelming support him. I hope he is wrong, because if not, their silence will not save them. This same power could, and will, be used to enforce certain "reasonable" interpretations of the Bible, the Koran and the Talmud. According to Mr. Graham, a religious organization may not define itself or its policies. Government determines how an issue is framed and the range of permissible beliefs and compromises. That range will only grow narrower if such governmental arrogance goes unchecked.

STEVE FOWLER

Rockville

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The debate on whether insurance companies must include contraceptive coverage has many nuances. The brouhaha centers around the question of whether organizations affiliated with a religious group must follow the rules and procedures that they find abhorrent and immoral.

Columnist Adrienne Washington, in "Men lend a deaf ear to the debate on women's issues" (Metropolitan, July 25), views the issue only through the hard lens of narcissistic feminism. A woman's "right to choose" is not just the paramount consideration; it's the only consideration. When men (and women) of faith respectfully disagree, she denigrates and belittles them.

Observers of the debate in the D.C. Council chambers characterized women's attacks on their opponents as bigotry. After reading Miss Washington's column, I know what they mean.

EDWARD E. BARTLETT

Rockville

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Why are contraceptives and even morning-after pills, which act after conception, covered in health care plans? What connection do they have with health? Are they prescribed to treat an illness? Are they prescribed to prevent an illness? Is their use comparable to getting a flu shot to keep from getting the flu that is, are they used to keep from getting pregnant? Is pregnancy, then, a disease?

Health insurers should take advantage of the present confusion and drop coverage for contraceptives as well as for devices that destroy a conceived human being. Indeed, it is ironic that the latter, which produce death, should be considered health measures.

KATHRYN E. RIEDEL

Hyattsville

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