CULTURE DIGEST: Student aid forms affected by marriage debate

Baptist Press
Posted: May 17, 2013 5:22 PM

NASHVILLE (BP) -- The U.S. Department of Education has announced that student financial aid forms will begin using the terms "Parent 1" and "Parent 2" rather than the gender-specific terms "mother" and "father."

The 2014-15 federal student aid forms will for the first time collect income and other information from a dependent student's legal parents regardless of the parents' marital status or gender, if those parents live together, according to a recent press release from the department.

In addition to removing "mother" and "father," the new forms will provide an option for applicants to describe their parents' marital status as "unmarried and both parents living together."

"All students should be able to apply for federal student aid within a system that incorporates their unique family dynamics," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.

The secretary added that the changes will allow for more precise calculations of aid eligibility based on what a student's whole family is able to contribute "as well as provide an inclusive form that reflects the diversity of American families."

Traditionally, the federal aid forms have been written to collect information about a student's parents only if the parents are married, thus excluding income and other information from one of the student's legal parents when the parents are unmarried, even if those parents are living together, the department said.

"Gender-specific terms also fail to capture income and other information from one parent when a student's parents are in a same-sex marriage under state law but not federally recognized under the Defense of Marriage Act," the department said.

GRADUATION MOVED TO CHURCH AFTER COMPLAINT ABOUT PRAYER -- Parents will hold their sixth-graders' graduation at a church since the students' school cancelled the ceremony after a complaint about prayer.

Riverside School District in Lake City, Ark., cancelled the ceremonies for East and West Elementary schools after the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint on behalf of a parent whose name was not disclosed.

Other parents have announced they will hold the graduation May 23 at an area church not yet specified, according to ABC affiliate KAIT in Lake City. Kelly Adams, parent of a sixth-grader scheduled to graduate, expressed disappointment with the school's decision.

"As Christians and a mainly Christian town ... there were a lot of people hurt that our rights were taken away," Adams told KAIT. "My daughter graduated last year from sixth grade and my son is graduating this year from sixth grade, and we had a pastor open our ceremony and my daughter actually closed the ceremony in prayer."

FFRF referenced U.S. Supreme Court orders restricting prayer in public schools.

"A prayer taking place at a 'regularly scheduled school-sponsored function conducted on school property' would lead an objective observer to perceive it as state endorsement of religion," the FFRF wrote. "We request written assurances that Riverside Public Schools is taking the appropriate steps to ensure that religious rituals are not part of graduation ceremonies or any other school-sponsored events."

Riverside School District superintendent Tommy Knight told Fox News the district had long considered cancelling the graduation before the controversy over prayer arose.

"Those campuses for the last several years had discussed whether we should continue with sixth-grade graduation or not. The controversy arose out of this ," Knight said, according to Fox News. "When it came to my attention, the board and I decided to go ahead and discontinue sixth-grade graduations."

The church-based ceremony will be open to everyone, Adams said.

"Everyone is invited. We want everyone to come and be a part of it," Adams told KAIT. "We're not trying to be pushy or ugly to anybody, we just want them to know there is a God who loves them."

VERMONT NEARS APPROVAL OF ASSISTED SUICIDE -- Vermont is a step away from becoming the third state to legalize physician-assisted suicide.

The state's House of Representatives voted 75-65 May 13 to permit terminally ill Vermont residents to obtain and use a prescription for a lethal drug dose, the Burlington Free Press reported. The Senate had approved the legislation with a 17-13 vote.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, is expected the sign the bill into law. When he does, Vermont will join Oregon and Washington as the only states to legalize assisted suicide.

Vermont will become the first state to do so through the legislative process. The other states legalized the practice through voter initiatives.

Legislative opponents criticized the measure's elimination of government oversight guidelines after three years and the expansive definition possible for a terminal illness.

Rep. Tom Koch, a Republican, called it a "very dangerous bill," according to the Free Press. "We have facilitated euthanasia."

Rep. Carolyn Branagan, a Republican, said, "There can never be a dignified death using a handful of pills or a lethal cocktail."

DISABLED MOTHER GIVES BIRTH AFTER THREAT OF FORCED ABORTION -- A mentally disabled Nevada woman who faced a possible court-forced abortion last year has given birth to a girl.

Elisa Bauer, 32, gave birth May 2 to Cierra Marie, who weighed 5 pounds, 7 ounces and was 17 inches long, according to LifeSite News.

Judge Egan Walker appeared prepared in early November to order an abortion and sterilization for Bauer, who also has epilepsy, after it was learned she was pregnant under unknown circumstances.

A doctor called by Walker recommended an abortion because of Bauer's medication to prevent epileptic seizures, her health condition and her risky behavior that apparently led to her pregnancy, LifeSite reported.

A doctor representing Bauer's adoptive parents said it would be safe for her to continue the pregnancy.

The parents, William and Amy Bauer, and their daughter are Roman Catholics and opposed an abortion. The Bauers, who adopted Elisa and her five siblings from Costa Rica, contended their daughter wanted to give birth and make an adoption plan for her child. Elisa had been living at a group home for the disabled when she became pregnant.

In mid-November, Walker decided against requiring an abortion.

Cierra "is sweet and good natured. By all measures, she is perfectly healthy and sublimely beautiful," Bauer family lawyer Jason Guinasso told LifeSite.

Adoptive parents have been chosen for her, Guinasso said.

DOCTOR WON'T REFER FOR SEX-SELECTION ABORTION; SANCTIONS POSSIBLE -- An Australian doctor faces possible penalties for refusing to refer a couple for a sex-selection abortion.

The couple asked Mark Hobart of Melbourne to refer them to a doctor for an abortion after they learned 19 weeks into pregnancy their unborn child was a female, The Melbourne Herald Sun reported April 28. They wanted a boy.

Hobart, who declined on conscience grounds, acknowledged he violated a Victoria state law and could face such sanctions as a suspension of his license.

"But just because it's the law doesn't mean it's right," he said, according to the Herald Sun.

A 2008 Victorian law requires a doctor with a "conscientious objection" to refer a woman seeking an abortion to a physician who will perform the procedure.

Wesley Smith, an American bioethics specialist, said in a blog post, "In other words, the cost of being a licensed doctor is being complicit in the taking of human life.

"Here's the bottom line: The culture of death permits no dissent -- even from something as odious as killing a gestating baby because of her sex."

INDIAN IVF DOCTORS PERFORM ABORTION BECAUSE BABY IS FEMALE -- Officials in India closed a fertility clinic after doctors performed an abortion in the fifth month of gestation because the unborn child was a girl.

Doctors at the clinic in Kothapet, a suburb of Hyderabad, reportedly had promised a couple with three daughters they would provide them with a boy by means of in vitro fertilization and embryo screening, according to The Times of India.

When they discovered last year the mother was carrying a girl, the doctors urged an abortion, saying the mother's health was at risk. The parents agreed to an abortion in June. The mother became critically ill after the abortion and required months to recover, The Times reported.

The clinic's cover-up became known April 30 when the parents went to local government authorities with their complaint.

NEARLY 800 UNBORN BABIES SPARED IN LATEST 40 DAYS CAMPAIGN -- Nearly 800 unborn children were spared from abortion during the latest 40 Days for Life campaign, according to reports to the pro-life organization.

Leaders of 40 Days said 787 babies reportedly were rescued during the latest semi-annual campaign, which ended March 24. Two days after the campaign closed, 40 Days staff reported 601 children were spared.

The semi-annual outreaches -- which focus on peaceful, pro-life prayer vigils outside abortion clinics -- have resulted in reports of more than 7,500 unborn babies spared since they began as a nationwide effort in 2007.

Reports from the latest campaign also showed seven abortion centers closed and seven clinic workers quit. Since its 2007 beginning, 40 Days has reported 33 centers have closed and 83 employees have quit.

The next 40 Days campaign will be Sept. 25 to Nov. 3.

Compiled by Tom Strode, Erin Roach and Diana Chandler of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook ( ) and in your email (

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