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The politics of posturing

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Whether we like it or not, thanks to our county commissioners, since Sunday all of us in El Paso County have been celebrating "Sanctity of Human Life Week." Last week, the commissioners approved the resolution, officially calling on residents to spend the week of Jan. 18-25 "reaffirm[ing] our commitment to respecting the life and dignity of every human being."

Among the whereases and wherefores of the resolution is this little gem: "Every child is a priority and a blessing, and we believe that all should be welcomed in life and protected by law, and therefore we champion compassionate alternatives to abortion, such as encouraging adoption and promoting abstinence education."

Are we going to start hollering about how the right-wing cabal is in charge and how this type of message coming at us from our county government during the week of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is divisive and offensive?

No. Instead, we will point out that the commissioners' pro-life resolution is irrelevant -- that is, the county has no jurisdiction over whether or not abortion is legal. It does, however, run the Department of Human Services. And, in case our elected officials missed it, we are compelled to draw their attention to a disturbing Denver Post series that detailed, beginning this Sunday, how neglected and abused children in Colorado are dying -- after social services agencies have been warned of the situations.

In El Paso County alone, the Post reported, 12 children died between 1995 and 2000, "despite repeated warnings [to the county] that they or their siblings were in peril," Among the dead: 1-year-old Isaiah Oliva, who had suffered a heartbreaking list of injuries, and who ultimately drowned in a bathtub. Seven-year old Aaren Dunn died in June 2000 after her father slit her throat from ear to ear (the Department of Human Services ignored five previous assertions of child abuse in the Dunn case). In April 1998, 5-month-old Selina Alvarado died of head injuries. The county had been warned about the potential for abuse since the day after Selina was born. In February 2002, 13-year-old Jeremiah Santiago was shot in the head by his father, who was showing him how to use a handgun. His death followed five previous reports of suspected child abuse to the county.

The problems in El Paso County are contained in a recently released state fatality review. But since the Post's series appeared, commissioners have not issued any sort of formal statement -- like, perhaps, that they would order an internal investigation into its Department of Human Services to ensure that more innocent children do not die at the hands of abusers.

Maybe that will be next week's resolution.

Meanwhile, we can take comfort in the fact that up in Denver, under the golden dome, between taking free tickets and other goodies from special interest groups, our lawmakers are studying their Bibles and praying like crazy! And, not surprisingly, our very own lawmakers from El Paso County are setting the standard!

At the start of the legislative session earlier this month, Rep. Dave Schultheis, a Colorado Springs Republican, announced plans for Wednesday-morning Bible studies in Room 217 at the Capitol. For those not familiar with Schultheis, he is, to put it politely, considered one of the more conservative members of El Paso County's 13-member legislative delegation (a pretty impressive feat).

Not to be outdone, this week Michael Merrifield -- the only Democrat of our bunch -- announced he's launching his own four-week long, bipartisan Bible study, to be held on Tuesdays, also in Room 217.

"I was raised a Baptist; my dad was a Baptist preacher, and I know the Bible as well," Merrifield said. "I get frustrated at [my Republican colleagues'] constant reference to the Bible to justify very mean-spirited and narrow-minded pieces of legislation."

Instead of the fire and brimstone of the Old Testament -- which is often cited by the religious right to argue in favor of, for example, the proposed Defense of Marriage Act -- Merrifield says he plans to concentrate on the kindness, compassion and forgiveness in the teachings of Jesus Christ.

"I'm not doing it to make a swipe at the ultra right," Merrifield says. "One of the things I decided when I decided to run for office is that I would not let the Christian right abrogate from me my Christianity or patriotism; those are not owned by the far right."

It's a sad day when politicians have nothing better to do than to pray for us sinners.

--degette@csindy.com

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