- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2000

Columnist wrong to contrast police cases

I am baffled by Armstrong Williams' July 29 Commentary column, "Is this brutality?" and astounded that The Washington Times would print it. Mr. Williams took the virtually identical cases of Rodney King in Los Angeles and Thomas Jones in Philadelphia and represented them as opposites: police brutality in the King case vs. necessary police restraint in the Jones case.

To call Mr. King's apprehension a "routine traffic stop" is absurd, given that it ended a long chase at high speeds. In the course of that chase, not only police officers, but others "confronted the most terrifying thing in the world: death.". A "swarm of officers" were involved because it took several chasing cars to corral Mr. King and bring him to a stop. In the much-played tape of officers beating Mr. King, he was located a considerable distance from his car. He fought off officers over that distance and continued to resist violently after being taken down. He never voluntarily stopped resisting.

Mr. Williams does not mention a fact that quickly disappeared from reports of the King case, namely that there were two black passengers in Mr. King's car. They remained in the car. If the King beating had racial overtones, why did the police not beat Mr. King's companions as well?

The most certain instance of "racial overtones" occurred during the rioting that followed the officers' first trial. A white truck driver, Reginald Denny, was pulled from his truck and beaten by black rioters. A circling news helicopter recorded a black man, Damian Williams, beating Mr. Denny's head with a brick, injuring Mr. Denny far more severely than Mr. King had been beaten. Williams was never found guilty of felonious assault. He was, at least, found guilty of felonious mayhem. Three other co-defendants were put on probation.

Our zealous Justice Department rushed in to retry the police officers for violating Mr. King's civil rights. Somehow, "justice" did not extend to the civil rights of the truck driver, who was guilty only of being white.

Armstrong Williams violated truth and logic, presumably to condone the ill treatment of the police officers in the King case while arguing the opposite in the Jones case. I am greatly disappointed at this revision of important history.



D.C. Council, contraceptives and the Catholic Church (continued)

Although D.C. Council member Jim Graham tries to defend the D.C. Council's decision to force employers with prescription drug plans, including Catholic churches and schools, to provide contraceptives to their employees, he simply ends up confirming what the Roman Catholic Church has said all along: Bill 13-399 was an attempt by government to infringe upon our constitutionally protected religious liberty, and the D.C. Council took on the role of arbiter of Catholic doctrine ("Cover birth control," Op-Ed, July 31).

The essence of Mr. Graham's argument seems to be that because some Catholics don't follow Catholic Church teaching on contraception, it somehow is a violation of their individual consciences for the church to follow its own teaching. Therefore, if the church won't voluntarily abandon its moral beliefs, Mr. Graham feels the government should force it to do so. This clearly is not the legitimate role of government.

In making his argument, Mr. Graham relies on a flawed survey and an erroneous interpretation of the Catholic principle of legitimate cooperation by a group called Catholics for a Free Choice. This organization, in fact, is not Catholic, is funded primarily by secular foundations and has been denounced by the bishops of the United States. But that doesn't stop Mr. Graham from using its information to try to interpret Catholic Church doctrine to justify his position that the Archdiocese of Washington and Catholic organizations should make contraception, including Norplant, Depo-Provera and the so-called "morning-after pill," available to all employees and employees' children.

When the Catholic bishops, and not Mr. Graham, interpret Catholic doctrine, the picture is very different. The "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services," issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, unambiguously states, "Catholic health institutions may not promote or condone contraceptive practices."

Mr. Graham also claims that self-insured Catholic organizations are not subject to the District's insurance regulations and so would be exempt from complying with the contraceptive law. For this claim, Mr. Graham apparently relies on the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the federal law that protects self-insured plans from state insurance regulations. However, ERISA explicitly does not apply to church plans. That means organizations such as the Archdiocese of Washington and the U.S. Catholic Conference could be forced, under a bill such as 13-399, to provide contraceptives in their prescription drug plans even if they are self-insured. On the other hand, self-insured, nonreligious companies would not have to provide contraceptives.

Finally, Mr. Graham states this is about a "woman's right of choice in terms of birth control." We disagree. The fact is, contraceptives already are available to individuals of all income levels in the District. The real issue remains whether or not the government has a right to violate our constitutionally protected religious freedom.


Director of communications

Archdiocese of Washington


Radon study should not be minimized

Michael Fumento's column "Radon study and science games" (Commentary, June 19) tries to undermine the findings of the Iowa Radon Lung Cancer Study by making personal attacks on the authors. Mr. Fumento provides little substantive criticism of the study.

The Iowa Radon Lung Cancer Study was a five-year study funded by the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences that estimated the lung cancer risk posed by residential radon exposure. The study found a significant association between residential radon exposure and lung cancer. The study, which was published in the June issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, has received praise from internationally known scientists and public health agencies. (See www.cheec.uiowa.edu/misc/ radon.html.)

For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently posted the following statement on its Web site (www.epa.gov/ iaq/radon/index.html): "[T]he Iowa study is exceptionally well designed and well executed. It adds to the body of knowledge, which designates residential radon as the second leading cause of lung cancer. It supports EPA's position and the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine's 1999 report that radon exposure in homes is a public health problem. It confirms EPA's, the Center for Disease Control's and the Surgeon General's positions that all homes should be tested for radon, and all homes testing over 4 [picocuries per liter of air] should be fixed. In terms of scientific advancements, the study breaks new ground in estimating total individual radon exposure."

We can understand Mr. Fumento's low perception of the risk of radon. Involuntary, uncontrollable or catastrophic health risks often are deemed more serious and receive greater public emphasis. Radon has few characteristics that intensify public fear. Radon poses a voluntary and controllable hazard; therefore, most people consider radon less serious. Radon's colorless and odorless nature provides no sensory stimuli to remind us to think about its putative potential. No short-term symptoms indicate radon's presence: Lung cancer victims show up one at a time after many years of radon exposure, preventing one from concluding absolutely that radon caused the death. The absence of clearly identified radon victims allows the risk posed by radon exposure to be trivialized incorrectly.

Lung cancer will account for one of every four cancer deaths in the United States in 2000, maintaining its position as the leading cause of cancer-related death for both men and women. While the majority of the 161,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States this year will be caused by smoking, the importance of the estimated 19,000 lung cancer deaths caused by radon should not be minimized.

Information on radon testing and mitigation is available by calling the National Safety Council's toll free line at 800/SOS-RADON.




College of Public Health

University of Iowa

Iowa City, Iowa


Department of Physics

St. John's University

Collegeville, Minn.

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