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Religion at the DNC – Potent and Dangerous

On first glance, the DNC’s Interfaith Gathering at the Wells Fargo Theatre in the Convention Center in Denver was underwhelming.  Clumps of churchy looking people wafted towards the entrance, and by the designated starting time of 2pm the large theatre was only about a fifth full.  Booring, I predicted.  Well, religion is almost never boring, and add politics and you produce what may be the the most passionate, unscripted, and politically dangerous event that this convention will see.  The format of the event was simple – four scripture readings from four different traditions followed by four speakers, who addressed the issues of our sacred responsibility to our children, our neighbor, our nation and our world.  While the format may have been simple, what was said was not.



I already posted that the beginning of the service was interrupted by three male protestors shouting that Obama was a baby killer.  These anti-abortion activist might have done better to keep their mouths shut and stick around so they could hear the first major speaker, Bishop Charles E. Blake, announce himself as a pro-life democrat. While he clearly stated his anti-abortion message he went on to pointedly say to our now absent hecklers that those most loudly proclaiming their advocacy for those who have not been born noticeably refuse to speak for those who have been born and about the conditions of poverty which often lead to the choice of abortion, and the reality of those born as a result of unplanned pregnancies. 



The other speakers who followed offered similarly inspired and controversial addresses blending religious beliefs with personal political objectives.


On the subject of our sacred responsibility to our neighbor, Rabbi Tzvi Hesch Weinreb managed, among other things, to advocate somewhat obliquely for school vouchers saying that people have the right to go to a school that taught the specific values of the community.  Again, not a standard line for Democrats.  Sister Helen Prejean of ‘Dead Man Walking’ fame was next and she brought down the house with her impassioned argument against the death penalty as the root of our nation’s challenge of violence that leads to torture and war.  Of all the speakers,, Prejean was most likely to deliver on the YouTube treat that conservatives will be looking for to prove the spiritual dangers of the Democratic party and radicalism of Barack Obama.   The most reasoned voice came from Dr. Ingrid Mattson, President of the Islamic Society of North America, who praised America as being the best place to practice Islam in the world, while urging us to know more about the world, and show the world more about what is best about America. 



By the end of the event their appeared to be close to 3,000 people present and showing their appreciation through repeated standing ovations.  Sister Prejean told us that there had been no restrictions of what the speakers could say and no vetting of their religious freedom of expression.  This made this event far from boring, in fact it was one of the most electric interfaith gatherings I have ever attended.  It showed the religious and political diversity  within the Democratic party and testified to the ability to gather together even with our differences.  However the potency of the event left me wondering if the event will remain so unscripted in the future.  As the power of religion increases, so will the desire to harness it for very specific political goals of the party.  It will be safer, but less powerful, and less religious. 



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Noodle Beach

posted August 24, 2008 at 9:18 pm

You may call it enlightening but I am a cynic and so I will say it is all part of an engineered effort by the Party to appear more outreaching to all faiths. It’s selling time, and the Dems want to sell to everyone. If the Repubs do the same I will say the same about that Party.
Faith is either part of your everyday life or it isn’t. For me, call it a knee-jerk response but I just don’t associate the Dem Party with anything resembling religious faith…and I acknowledge only a modest connection between Republicans and religious faith.
Do you think any of the speakers you mentioned would be welcomed in a public school? Do you think TV networks would cover speeches such as you heard, because they think viewers would be interested? Would the US Congress invite any of these speakers to address them? Would any of these speeeches even be discussed in a public school?
My problem with Dems (and many other politicians also) and faith is twofold 1) they define it so broadly that it loses meaning; and 2) they want you to think they are deeply faithful but don’t ask them to actually demonstrate it in any way with any of their decisions or opinoins. God in a box.
Hillary responded to a faith question once by saying her faith had kept her going. She explained that it was her faith in the knowledge that she was right (I’m not making this up). Is it just me or am I crazy to define one’s faith as a faith in God?
I have to respond to your comment above about the anti-abortion hecklers. So Mr. Blake’s comeback was that anti-abortion people don’t care about poor children? That’s it?
OK, let’s compare. Poor children in the US compared to aborted children. First, poor children are at least alive and breathing. Second, poor children are eligible for food stamps, welfare, public housing, homeless shelters, are visited by social workers and sometimes taken into care from neglegent parents, are normally housed by a court with the parent who can best provide for them, are given free school lunches if they qualify, and are given free health care if they qualify by non-profit organizations and hospitals.
Now let’s see what the aborted baby has.
Mr. Blake couldn’t or didn’t want to address the main issue: why do we kill the weakest and most defenseless in our society? It wasn’t a discussion about poverty; Mr. Blake wanted to change the topic.

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posted August 24, 2008 at 10:50 pm

“Now let’s see what the aborted baby has.”
Some of us would believe eternal life in heaven.

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posted August 25, 2008 at 12:35 am

“Now let’s see what the aborted baby has.”
Some of us would believe eternal life in heaven.

So let’s just abort all babies then. True Christians should want to help them get to Heaven quicker and the babies will be grateful for the opportunity to experience eternal life in Heaven rather than hardship here on earth.
*sarcasm off*

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posted August 25, 2008 at 7:48 am

I find it sadly ironic that Christians can be so obsessed with abortion, yet fail to see that abortion as a practice arose at least in part because of the Church. Young, unmarried women who found themselves pregnant faced the stigma of being ostracized as a “fornicator,” and their child the shame of being called a “bastard.” Most times the male involved was not held to the same exacting standard. We can thank the Church for wonderful, life-affirming, forgiving concepts like “illegitimate child.” I know it’s a complicated matter, but the Church has at least some culpability in this area. And maybe if more Christians would spend their efforts in trying to provide alternatives to women who feel abortion is their only choice, and less time screaming and holding up signs with pictures of aborted fetuses on them, there might actually be fewer abortions.

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Dudley Sharp

posted August 25, 2008 at 9:31 am

” . . .makes you realize the Dead Man Walking truly belongs on the shelf in the library in the Fiction category.”
Dead Man Walking and Sr. Prejean’s Death Penalty Disinformation
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
I. Dead Family Walking: The Bourque Family Story of Dead Man Walking , by D. D. deVinci, Goldlamp Publishing, 2006
” . . .makes you realize the Dead Man Walking truly belongs on the shelf in the library in the Fiction category.”
“Being devout Catholics, ‘the norm’ would be to look to the church for support and healing. Again, this need for spiritual stability was stolen by Sister Prejean.”
The book alleges whole cloth fabrications by Sister Prejean within her book “Dead Man Walking”.
“On November 5, 1977, the Bourque’s teenage daughter, Loretta, was found murdered in a trash pile near the city of New Iberia, Louisiana lying side by side near her boyfriend–with three well-placed bullet holes behind each head. ”
contact T.J. Edler, 337-967-0840, infogoldlamp(at)
II. The Victims of Dead Man Walking
by Michael L. Varnado, Daniel P. Smith
comment — A very different story than that written by Sister Helen Prejean. Detective Varnado was the investigating officer in the murder of Faith Hathaway. 2003
III. Death Of Truth: Sister Prejean’s new book Death Of Innocents
For some years, there has existed a consistent pattern, from death penalty opponents, to declare certain death row inmates to be actually innocent. Those claims have, consistently, been 70-83% in error. (“ALL INNOCENCE ISSUES — THE DEATH PENALTY”)
Keep that in mind with “Death of Innocents”.
Readers should be very careful, as they have no way of knowing if any of the fact issues in either of the two cases, as presented by Sister Prejean, are true. Readers would have to conduct their own thorough, independent examination to make that determination. You can start here.
Four articles
quote: “The DNA report commissioned by O’Dell and his lawyers actually corroborates O’Dell’s guilt. There is a three-probe DNA match indicating that the bloodstains on O’Dell’s clothing is indeed consistent with the victim Helen Schartner’s DNA as well as her blood type and enzyme factors.” “There is certainly no truth to O’Dell’s accusation that evidence was suppressed or witnesses intimidated by the prosecution.”
(b) “Sabine district attorney disputes author’s claims in book”
quote: “I don’t know whether she is deliberately trying to mislead the public or if she’s being mislead by others. But she’s wrong,”
District Atty. Burkett, dburkett(AT)
(c) Book Review: “Sister Prejean’s Lack of Credibility: Review of “The Death of Innocents”, by Thomas M. McKenna (New Oxford Review, 12/05).
“The book is moreover riddled with factual errors and misrepresentations.”
“Williams had confessed to repeatedly stabbing his victim, Sonya Knippers.”
“This DNA test was performed by an independent lab in Dallas, which concluded that there was a one in nearly four billion chance that the blood could have been someone’s other than Williams’s.”
” . . . despite repeated claims that (Prejean) cares about crime victims, implies that the victim’s husband was a more likely suspect but was overlooked because the authorities wanted to convict a black man.”
” . . . a Federal District Court . . . stated that ‘the evidence against Williams was overwhelming.’ ” “The same court also did “not find any evidence of racial bias specific to this case.”
“(Prejean’s) broad brush strokes paint individual jurors, prosecutors, and judges with the term “racist” with no facts, no evidence, and, in most cases, without so much as having spoken with the people she accuses.”
“Sr. Prejean also claims that Dobie Williams was mentally retarded. But the same federal judge who thought he deserved a new sentencing hearing also upheld the finding of the state Sanity Commission report on Williams, which concluded that he had a “low-average I.Q.,” and did not suffer from schizophrenia or other major affective disorders. Indeed, Williams’s own expert at trial concluded that Williams’s intelligence fell within the “normal” range. Prejean mentions none of these facts.”
“In addition to lying to the police about how he came to have blood on his clothes, the best evidence of O’Dell’s guilt was that Schartner’s (the rape/murder vicitim’s) blood was on his jacket. Testing showed that only three of every thousand people share the same blood characteristics as Schartner. Also, a cellmate of O’Dell’s testified that O’Dell told him he killed Schartner because she would not have sex with him.”
“After the trial, LifeCodes, a DNA lab that O’Dell himself praised as having “an impeccable reputation,” tested the blood on O’Dell’s jacket — and found that it was a genetic match to Schartner. When the results were not to his liking, O’Dell, and of course Sr. Prejean, attacked the reliability of the lab O’Dell had earlier praised. Again, as with Williams’s conviction, the federal court reviewing the case characterized the evidence against O’Dell as ‘vast’ and
‘overwhelming.’ ”
Sr. Prejean again sees nefarious forces at work. Not racism this time, for O’Dell was white. Rather, she charges that the prosecutors were motivated to convict by desire for advancement and judgeships. Yet she never contacted the prosecutors to interview them or anyone who might substantiate such a charge.
“(Prejean) omits the most damning portion of (O’Dell’s criminal) record: an abduction charge in Florida where O’Dell struck the victim on the head with a gun and told her that he was going to rape her. This very similar crime helped the jury conclude that O’Dell would be a future threat to society. It supports the other evidence of his guilt and thus undermines Prejean’s claim of innocence.”
“There is thus a moral equivalence for Prejean between the family of an innocent victim and the newfound girlfriend of a convicted rapist and murderer.”
“This curious definition of “the victims” suggests that her concern for “victims” seems to be more window-dressing for her cause than true concern.”
(d) Hardly The Death Of Innocents: Sister Prejean tells it like it wasn’t — Joseph O’Dell
by Anonymous, at author’s request
In lionizing convicted murderer Joseph O’Dell as being an innocent man railroaded to his 1997 execution by Virginia prosecutors, Sister Helen Prejean presents a skewed summary of the case to bolster her anti-death penalty agenda. While she is a gifted speaker, she is out of her element when it comes to “telling it as it was” in these cases.
Prejean got to walk with O’Dell into the death chamber at Greensville Correctional Center on July 22, 1997. However, she wasn’t in Virginia Beach some 12 years earlier when he committed the crime for which he was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death. That is where the real demon was evident, not the sweet talking condemned con-man that she met behind bars. O’Dell was, in the words of then Virginia Beach Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Albert Alberi (case prosecutor), one of the most savage, dangerous criminals he had encountered in a two decade career.
Indeed,O’Dell had spent most of his adult life incarcerated for various crimes since the age of 13 in the mid-1950’s. At the time of the Schartner murder in Virginia, O’Dell had been recently paroled from Florida where he had been serving a 99 year sentence for a 1976 Jacksonville abduction that almost ended in a murder of the female victim (had not police arrived) in the back of his car.
The circumstances of that crime were almost identical to those surrounding Schartner’s murder. The victim of the Florida case even showed up in Virginia to testify at the trial. Scarcely a mention of this case is made in the Prejean book.
Briefly, let me outline some of the facts about the case: Victim Helen Schartner’s blood was found on the passenger seat of Joseph O’Dell’s vehicle. Tire tracks matching those on O’Dell’s vehicle were found at the scene where Miss Schartner’s body was found. The tire tread design on O’Dell’s vehicle wheels were so unique, an expert in tire design couldn’t match them in a manual of thousands of other tire treads. The seminal fluids found on the victim’s body matched those of Mr. O’Dell and pubic hairs of the victim were found on the floor of his car.
The claims that O’Dell was “denied” his opportunity to present new DNA evidence on appeals were frivolous. In fact, he had every opportunity to come forward with this evidence, but his lawyers refused to reveal to the court the full findings of the tests which they had arranged to be done on a shirt with blood stains, which O’Dell’s counsel claimed might show did not have the blood marks from the defendant or the victim.
Manipulative defense lawyer tactics were overlooked by Prejean in her narrative. O’Dell was far from a victim of poor counsel. As matter of fact, the city of Virginia Beach and state government gave O’Dell an estimated $100,000 for his defense team at trial. This unprecedented amount nearly bankrupted the entire indigent defense fund for the state. He had great lawyers, expert forensic investigators and every point at the trial was contested two to five times.
There was no “rush to justice” in this case.
O’Dell’s alibi for the night of Schartner’s murder was that he had gotten thrown out of the bar where he encountered Schartner following a brawl. However, none of the several dozen individuals supported his contention – there weren’t any fights that night. Rather, several saw Miss Schartner getting into O’Dell’s car on what would be her last ride.
But Prejean would want us to believe the claims of felon Joseph O’Dell.He had three trips to the United States Supreme Court and the “procedural error” which Prejean claims ultimately doomed him was the result of simple ignorance of basic appeals rules by his lawyers.
Nothing in the record ever suggested that Joseph O’Dell, two time killer and rapist, was anything but guilty of the murder of Helen Schartner.
Justice was properly served.
IV. Sister Helen Prejean on the death penalty
“It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical ‘proof text’ in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this. Even Jesus’ admonition ‘Let him without sin cast the first stone,’ when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) – the Mosaic Law prescribed death – should be read in its proper context. This passage is an ‘entrapment’ story, which sought to show Jesus’ wisdom in besting His adversaries. It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment .” Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking.
The sister’s analysis is consistent with much theological scholarship. Also, much scholarship questions the authenticity of John 8:7.
From here, the sister states that “ . . . more and more I find myself steering away from such futile discussions (of Biblical text). Instead, I try to articulate what I personally believe . . . ” The sister has never shied away from any argument, futile or otherwise, which opposed the death penalty. She has abandoned biblical text for only one reason: the text conflicts with her personal beliefs.
Sister Prejean rightly cautions: “Many people sift through the Scriptures and select truth according to their own templates.” (Progressive, 1/96). Sadly, Sister Prejean appears to do much worse. The sister now uses that very same biblical text “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone” as proof of Jesus’ “unequivocal” rejection of capital punishment as “revenge and unholy retribution”! (see Sister Prejean’s 12/12/96 fundraising letter on behalf of the Saga Of Shame book project for Quixote Center/Equal Justice USA)
V. Redemption and the death penalty
The movie Dead Man Walking reveals a perfect example of how just punishment and redemption can work together. Had rapist/murderer Matthew Poncelet not been properly sentenced to death by the civil authority, he would not have met Sister Prejean, he would not have received spiritual instruction, he would not have taken responsibility for his crimes and he would not have reconciled with God. Had Poncelet never been caught or had he only been given a prison sentence, his character makes it VERY clear that those elements would not have come together. Indeed, for the entire film and up until those last moments, prior to his execution, Poncelet was not truthful with Sister Prejean. His lying and manipulative nature was fully exposed at that crucial time. It was not at all surprising, then, that it was just prior to his execution that all of the spiritual elements may have come together for his salvation. It was now, or never. Truly, just as St. Aquinas stated, it was Poncelet’s pending execution which may have led to his repentance. For Christians, the most crucial concerns of Dead Man Walking must be and are redemption and eternal salvation. And, for that reason, it may well be, for Christians, the most important pro-death penalty movie ever made.
A real life example of this may be the case of Dennis Gentry, executed April 16, 1997, for the premeditated murder of his friend Jimmy Don Ham. During his final statement, Gentry said, “I’d like to thank the Lord for the past 14 years (on death row) to grow as a man and mature enough to accept what’s happening here tonight. To my family, I’m happy. I’m going home to Jesus.” As the lethal drugs began to flow, Gentry cried out, “Sweet Jesus, here I come. Take me home. I’m going that way to see the Lord.” (Michael Gracyk, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, 4/17/97). We cannot know if Gentry or the fictitious Poncelet or the two real murderers from the DMW book really did repent and receive salvation.
But, we do know that St. Aquinas advises us that murderers should not be given the benefit of the doubt. We should err on the side of caution and not give murderers the opportunity to harm again.
“The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgement that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers.” St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146.
VI. On God and the death penalty
It is not uncommon for persons of faith to create a god in their own image, to give to that god their values, instead of accepting those values which are inherent to the deity. For example, death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walking) states, in reference to the death penalty, that “I couldn’t worship a god who is less compassionate than I am.”(Progressive, 1/96). She has, thereby, established her standard of compassion as the basis for God’s being deserving of her devotion. If God’s level of compassion does not rise to the level of her own, God couldn’t receive her worship. Director Tim Robbins (Death Man Walking) follows that same path: “(I) don’t believe in that kind of (g)od (that would support capital punishment and, therefore, would be the kind of god who tortures people into their redemption).” (“Opposing The Death Penalty”, AMERICA, 11/9/96, p 12). Robbins, hereby, establishes his standard for his God’s deserving of his belief. God’s standards do not seem to be relevant. His sophomoric comparison of capital punishment and torture is typical of the ignorance in this debate and such comments reflect no biblical relevancy. Perhaps they should review Matthew 5:17-22 and 15:1-9. Be cautious, for as the ancient rabbis warned, “Do not seek to be more righteous than your creator.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.33)
Detective Varnado writes: “For those who believe in the teachings of Sister Helen Prejean as her journey continues in her effort to abolish the death penalty. ‘For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And, no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 2 Corinthians 11:13 & 14′ ” — From Detective Varnado’s new book Soft Targets; A Women’s Guide To Survival
Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail,  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O’Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
Pro death penalty sites 
www(dot) (Sweden)

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posted August 25, 2008 at 9:46 am

“If the Repubs do the same I will say the same about that Party.”
Where the hades have you been the past quarter century?

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posted August 25, 2008 at 10:39 am

Four to five times more people will die of malnutrition, HIV/AIDS and war in the world this year than fetuses will be aborted. From a policy perspective, that means that while abortion may be important, there are other pressing issues that also deserve attention and our moral outrage. We have to stop pretending that abortion is the only moral and political question facing the country and realize that the culture war is preventing us from addressing other more profoundly pressing issues.

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posted August 25, 2008 at 1:17 pm

“I find it sadly ironic that Christians can be so obsessed with abortion, yet fail to see that abortion as a practice arose at least in part because of the Church. Young, unmarried women who found themselves pregnant faced the stigma of being ostracized as a “fornicator,” and their child the shame of being called a “bastard.” Most times the male involved was not held to the same exacting standard. We can thank the Church for wonderful, life-affirming, forgiving concepts like “illegitimate child.” I know it’s a complicated matter, but the Church has at least some culpability in this area. And maybe if more Christians would spend their efforts in trying to provide alternatives to women who feel abortion is their only choice, and less time screaming and holding up signs with pictures of aborted fetuses on them, there might actually be fewer abortions.”
I completely agree with these sentiments. Many (but not all) pro-life people are so judgemental of women who get pregnant out of wedlock (denouncing them as fornicators and whores) that it doesn’t occur to them to actually HELP the pregnant women to deliver a healthy baby to term, and keep both mother and baby afterwards. Randall Terry, the anti-abortion protester at the DNC interfaith gathering, actually kicked his own daughter out of his house because she became pregnant out of wedlock and converted to Islam. He also kicked his own adopted son out because he turned out to be a homosexual. That is the absolute height of hypocrisy…a prominent pro-life activist turning his back on HIS OWN CHILDREN. Randall Terry is the slimiest scumbag of the highest order. When babies are in the mother’s womb, he fights vigorously FOR their rights, but after they are born and turn out to be gay, he fights vigorously AGAINST their rights…what a jerk. Really gives meaning to the phrase “If the fetus you save is gay, will you still fight for its rights?”

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posted August 25, 2008 at 4:48 pm

We need to change the law so that a man can’t walk away so easily from a child he has fathered. Determination of the father of a child should be made mandatory so that he can be made legally liable to support the child.

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posted August 25, 2008 at 7:02 pm

Bishop Charles E. Blake, announce himself as a pro-life democrat.
You named the church affiliation of every other speaker in this article except for Charles E. Blake whom you address with the title “Bishop”. Blake is affiliated with the West Angeles Church of God In Christ. He is not an Anglican, Episcopalian, or Roman Catholic bishop. It’s misleading to not note the bishop’s affiliation since most people associate this title with the liturgical churches.

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Rebecca Lomas

posted August 26, 2008 at 2:54 pm

No matter how much we try and justify abortion, abortion is still a human atrocity. The Democratic Party that used to ally itself with organizations as United Farmworkers and denounced birth defects caused by agricultural pesticides, now goes to the brink of ensuring that it remains legal to abort babies. How can this party claim, credibly,to be against human exploitation when it continues to blatantly support and endorse pro-abortion justices of the Supreme Court? Let’s call a spade a spade. How many more former Democrats does the Party want to produce, until it is evident that many Democrats are against abortion, out of common sense alone and not religion?

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posted September 25, 2008 at 10:32 am

Poverty is a tragedy. Abortion is murder. One is has situational causes, the other has intentional causes. A child who is poor has the opportunity to go to school, recieve lunches, live, play, work, try, fail. A child who is killed in the womb has no opportunity.
You cannot compare the problems of society with abortion any more than we can say that Slavery is a problem, but King Georges Taxes are a more pressing issue.
Life is always the number one issue. Thank you Charles Blake for giving the innocent a voice.

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