CULTURE DIGEST: Alaska Airlines discontinues prayer cards; Down syndrome kids in ads
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- Alaska Airlines is discontinuing a 30-year-old tradition of placing prayer cards on meal trays in order to "respect the diverse religious beliefs and cultural attitudes" of their customers and employees.
The cards, which featured verses from the Book of Psalms printed over serene landscapes, were meant to put passengers at ease, Reuters reported, and for the past six years were distributed only to first class passengers because meal service was halted in coach.
In a letter to customers, the airline's CEO, Bill Ayer, and president, Brad Tilden, said the "difficult" decision was not made lightly.
"Religious beliefs are deeply personal and sharing them with others is an individual choice," the officials wrote.
Bobbie Egan, a spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines, told Reuters the company's leaders decided that eliminating the cards was "simply the right thing to do."
"Over the years, we've received comments from customers who were comforted by the card, but many others felt as though religion was not appropriate on an airplane and preferred not to receive one," Egan said. "We've seen an uptick in the number of passengers who just simply don't appreciate getting a prayer card on the meal tray."
One of the airline's most notable customers, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, was among those who objected to the prayer cards decision.
"It feels so odd that some may be offended by a little card with an encouraging non-denominational verse from the Psalms, but how often do we hear complaints about tawdry ads or billboard images flashing at us everywhere we turn?" Palin wrote on her Facebook page.
"People of faith and common decency just shrug and move on from the constant assault on their sensibilities; we don't call for censorship -- at least I don't," Palin added. "So, why in this day and age must every reference to faith in God be censored from the public square? Why must a private company buckle under pressure from a handful of people who find a little card saying 'the Lord is my shepherd' offensive? I'm sure there are many more people who appreciate the cards, or at least are ambivalent about them."
RETAILERS LAUDED FOR FEATURING CHILD WITH DOWN SYNDROME -- Two major retailers, Target and Nordstrom, have been commended by pro-lifers and advocates for special needs children for featuring a model who was born with Down syndrome.
Target included Ryan Langston, 6, alongside other children in an early January ad. Ryan, who lives in New Jersey, also was featured beside other child models in a Nordstrom catalog last year.
Parents of children with Down syndrome expressed appreciation, especially for the retailers' decision not to bring attention to Ryan's condition.
"The greatest thing that Nordstrom and Target are doing is that they're not making any reference to his disability. He's just another cute kid," said Jim Langston, Ryan's father, according to Disability Scoop, a website that reports on developmental disability news.
Rick Smith of Dallas has a 1-year-old son, Noah, with Down syndrome. His blog, titled Noah's Dad, is a chronicle of his family's experience in rearing a child with Down syndrome. In a Jan. 2 post, Smith cited some points Target, like Nordstrom before it, made by having Ryan in its ad, including:
-- "They said that people born with Down syndrome deserve to be treated the same as every other person on this planet.
-- "They said that it's time for organizations to be intentional about seeking creative ways to help promote inclusion, not exclusion. (It's no accident that Target used a model with Down syndrome in this ad; it was an intentional decision. If [we] want the world to be a place where everyone is treated equal we can't just sit around and watch the days tick away. We have to be intentional. We have to do something.)
-- "They said that companies don't have to call attention to the fact that they choose to be inclusive in order for people to notice their support for people with disabilities. In fact, by not making a big deal out of it they are doing a better job of showing their support for the special needs community.
-- "They said it's important for the world to see people born with disabilities with a fresh set of eyes. That it's time for us to lay down all the inaccurate stereotypes from the past and move forward embracing the future with true and accurate ones."
The retailers' embrace of a child model with Down syndrome comes at a time when an estimated 90 percent of unborn children in the United States diagnosed with the condition are aborted.
Down syndrome normally results when a person has three copies, rather than two, of chromosome 21.
PEDIATRICIAN CAUTIONS SUPERINTENDENT OVER GAY ADOPTIONS -- The president of the American College of Pediatricians sent a cautionary letter to a Wisconsin school superintendent who disciplined a student for writing a column in opposition to adoptions by homosexual couples.
According to Liberty Counsel, the 15-year-old was ordered to the superintendent's office where he was subjected to hours of meetings and was accused of violating the school's bullying policy.
Den Trumbull, president of the college of pediatricians, told the superintendent in his letter, "The topic of same-sex adoption is not as decided as some professionals would have the public believe. There is no clear evidence that children reared in same-sex-led households fare as well as those reared by their biological heterosexual parents.
"In fact, there is evidence of relative risk to the child within this non biological setting," Trumbull wrote Jan. 30. "It appears that this is the point that this student was trying to make."
Trumbull advised the superintendent to consider all of the evidence rather than crafting policies "influenced by social or political pressures."
ILL. RESUMES INSPECTIONS; 2 ABORTION CLINICS CLOSE -- Some Illinois abortion clinics have not received state inspections in as many as 16 years, but renewed scrutiny has resulted in the permanent shutdown of two centers in recent months.
The report came as a result of information received by the Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Northern Illinois Women's Center, which opened in 1973, announced its closure Jan. 13. It had been closed since Sept. 30, when the state suspended the clinic's license for health and safety violations found during inspections in June and September.
The Women's Aid Clinic in Lincolnwood, a Chicago suburb, closed in October when the owner chose to forfeit its license instead of paying a $36,000 fine or initiating a battle in court, AP reported Jan. 20. The state's inspection of the clinic last year -- which uncovered health and safety violations -- was the first in 15 years.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said the lag in inspections is based on a shortage of funding and inspectors, according to AP. The department began an effort to inspect abortion clinics last year, visiting all nine that are considered pregnancy termination centers.
The state has not inspected other clinics that perform abortions but are categorized as ambulatory surgery centers. In addition, a third type of medical facility that performs abortions -- and includes Planned Parenthood clinics -- is not licensed by the state and is not the subject of inspections, AP reported.
Even Sharon Levin, vice president of the National Abortion Federation, told AP 15 years between state inspections is "too long."
Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-life Action League, said the state should regulate all abortion clinics and should strengthen its inspections.
Illinois has demonstrated "a systematic unwillingness to step away from the ideology and look at these facilities objectively," he told AP.
STATES REPORT ABORTION DECREASES FOR 2010 -- Illinois, Missouri and Pennsylvania all recently reported decreases in abortions in 2010.
Illinois' total dropped from 2009 by 4,218 abortions, a decline of 9 percent, LifeNews.com reported. It is the lowest total since 1973, according to the report.
Missouri reported a decline of 1,019 abortions, a 9.4 percent drop, according to LifeNews.
Pennsylvania's abortion total fell by 506, a decrease of 1.4 percent, according to The Patriot-News, a central Pennsylvania newspaper.
PPFA PURCHASES OWN OFFICE SPACE FOR $34.8 MILLION -- The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) has purchased the office space it previously leased as its national headquarters for $34.8 million.
The organization, which is the country's largest abortion provider, bought the 104,000-square-foot office that it had leased in New York City reportedly since 2002, The Real Deal reported Jan. 24. The office is in a 200,000-square-foot building. The Real Deal is a magazine that covers real estate news in New York City.
PPFA and its affiliates received government grants, contracts and reimbursements that totaled $487.4 million in 2009-10. PPFA's affiliates reported their clinics did 329,445 abortions in 2010, their first drop in 15 years.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach and Washington bureau chief Tom Strode. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).