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Thursday, March 2, 2000

Religious controversy
could hurt Republicans

Bullet The issue: George W. Bush and John McCain have become embroiled in a controversy over religious conservatism.

Bullet Our view: The dispute could hurt Republicans in the general election.

RELIGION has emerged as an issue in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination. The effects could be disastrous for the GOP cause in the general election.

George W. Bush's visit to Bob Jones University prior to the South Carolina primary provoked charges that he was pandering to religious and racial intolerance.

The institution lost its tax-exempt status in the 1970s for refusing to admit blacks. Currently it accepts black students but forbids them to date or marry whites. The university's founding family once portrayed the pope as the "anti-Christ."

Bush subsequently said he did not support a ban on interracial dating or marriage and apologized for failing to speak out to make it clear during his visit that he was not anti-Catholic. But his statements came too late to repair the damage.

Meanwhile some religious conservatives conducted a smear campaign against McCain in South Carolina, prompting the candidate to denounce Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as "agents of intolerance" and linking Bush with Robertson. But McCain also has links to Bob Jones University through some of his conservative South Carolina supporters, including his state campaign co-chairman, a Bob Jones graduate -- who resigned to protest McCain's attacks on the school.

McCain said he wasn't attacking religious conservative voters, only "a few of their self-appointed leaders." But that distinction seemed to have been lost on some voters in the Virginia primary, which McCain lost Tuesday to Bush.

By contrast, the religious issue may have helped McCain last week in the Michigan primary. Catholic voters received phone calls reminding them of the company Bush kept in South Carolina. McCain initially denied his campaign aides had anything to do with the calls, but then admitted they did.

None of this can do the Republicans any good. Politicians generally avoid discussing religion because it is such an explosively divisive subject. Despite his visit to Bob Jones University, Bush is a religious moderate, as is McCain.

Bush was not the original candidate of the religious right in this campaign. But when Steve Forbes withdrew, Bush appeared preferable to McCain to its leaders, apparently because of McCain's emphasis on campaign finance reform.

The religion issue threatens to destroy the uneasy alliance between economic conservatives and religious conservatives that has been the foundation of the Republican Party's strength.

By attacking the leaders of the religious right, McCain may have lost any chance of winning a primary election in the South. By being identified with religious intolerance, Bush may have lost his chance to attract Catholic and liberal voters in New York and other Northern states.

The Republican contest began with the candidates treating each other with courtesy and respect, but that has now been replaced by snarls and smears.

The turmoil can only benefit Al Gore, the strong favorite to win the Democratic nomination.

Neglect of elderly

Bullet The issue: A Pearl City care-home operator has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of an elderly patient.

Bullet Our view: Authorities should be prepared to prosecute similar cases involving abuse or neglect of the elderly.

PARENTS in Hawaii have been held criminally liable for their children's deaths, and the attorney general's office now has successfully ascribed the same level of responsibility to operators of care facilities for the elderly. Believed to be nationally unprecedented, the case of Raquel Bermisa should result in greater scrutiny by authorities of deaths caused by abuse or neglect of the elderly.

Since 1972 the law has allowed a person to be charged with murder or manslaughter "by omission" -- that is, intentional or reckless inaction that causes a person's death where the person had a duty to take action to prevent the death.

Ten years ago, a Circuit Court jury convicted a man of murdering his 4-year-old son by failing to provide medical attention and food. A Waipahu couple later pleaded guilty to manslaughter for their infant son's death, after their murder conviction was overturned for reasons unrelated to the "omission" law.

The omission liability is not confined to child abuse. Bermisa, 40, was charged with murder for failing to provide adequate treatment to 79-year-old Chiyeko Tanouye at Bermisa's five-bed care facility in Pearl City. Tanouye was being billed $2,500 a month.

The patient suffered from body sores, known medically as decubitus ulcers. Bermisa was accused of neglecting to implement a treatment plan and failing to schedule and attend doctor's appointments for Tanouye during her four months at the facility. Bermisa took Tanouye to the emergency room at Kapiolani Medical Center at Pali Momi last Aug. 9, but she died the next day.

Bermisa pleaded guilty to manslaughter and could face up to one year in jail. The state attorney general's office filed the charge and obtained the plea agreement with Bermisa.

Because of the plea agreement, the case does not establish a legal precedent for prosecution of similar cases. However, it stands to reason that a care facility operator should be held to a legal duty toward the facility's patients equivalent to a parent's responsibility toward a child.

The case should lead state health officials to increase efforts to detect suspicious deaths of elderly patients in care homes. The city prosecutor's office should be prepared to consider such deaths as homicides requiring criminal charges.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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