Category: Politics

India’s Battle for Same-Sex Love

By Sandip Roy

Five judges on India’s Supreme Court are hearing a challenge to a law that criminalizes homosexual sex — Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, introduced by British colonial authorities in 1861 and kept on the books in independent India.

The Indian government told the court, which began hearings last Tuesday, that it would leave it to the wisdom of the judges to decide whether Section 377 violates fundamental rights to life, liberty and personal security as long as it does not get into broader issues like marriage, inheritance and adoption. But these are inevitable. Menaka Guruswamy, a lawyer for the plaintiffs against Section 377, argued that it was love that needed to be “constitutionally recognized” and not just sex.

Social media and newspapers are filled with conversations and reports about Section 377, but L.G.B.T. life in India has long bypassed the law. Last week I got a message about “Pink Coffee,” a gay get-together at a cafe in Kolkata. A few weeks earlier, Varta, a local nonprofit, introduced an online database of L.G.B.T.-friendly therapists, doctors and legal aid providers in India. Days later I went to the regular gay dance party at a luxury hotel in the city.

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How the National Prayer Breakfast plays into the indictment of an alleged Russian spy

By Tara Isabella Burton

Last week, under the guidance of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, the Department of Justice indicted 12 suspected Russian intelligence officers, accusing them of interfering in the 2016 presidential election. This week, arrests continued. Maria Butina, a Russian graduate student at American University and gun rights activist, was accused of “acting as an agent for a foreign government.”

Yet according to the Department of Justice affidavit, one of the most striking elements of Butina’s case was the venue she allegedly chose to exert influence: the National Prayer Breakfast, a longstanding Washington tradition. The event has been attended by every president since Eisenhower and has about 4,000 attendees — influential policymakers and foreign dignitaries alike — annually.

At the 2016 and 2017 events, Butina allegedly met with unnamed American officials and “very influential” Russians, and seems to have successfully attempted to broker meetings between figures in these groups.

It’s striking when you consider that something more insidious than prayer is understood to be taking place at the breakfast, according to Jeffrey Sharlet, an associate professor of literary journalism at Dartmouth College.

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More than half of white evangelicals say America’s declining white population is a negative thing

By Eugene Scott

Few demographic groups consistently poll more conservatively than white evangelicals.

On multiple issues, the most pro-Republican Party demographic group takes some of the most conservative positions on abortionsame-sex marriage and immigration.

But another topic where white evangelicals have repeatedly expressed their conservative views is diversity. And a recent poll is the latest reminder that large numbers of white evangelicals don’t view America’s increased ethnic and racial diversification as a positive thing.

More than half — 52 percent — of white evangelical Protestants say a majority of the U.S. population being nonwhite will be a negative development, according to the Public Religion Research Institute and the Atlantic.

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Hypocrisy, God, and the Originalism of Judge Kavanaugh

By Andrew L. Seidel

Brett Kavanaugh is an originalist in the mold of Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas. Originalism is one of the main reasons the Federalist Society approved him for its shortlist of judges and why the National Review endorsed him: he has “repeatedly taken conservative stands and fearlessly defended his textualist and originalist philosophy.”

But what does it mean to be an originalist? Despite its name, originalism is a fairly new judicial philosophy, rising to prominence about 30 years ago. It has plenty of critics, and for good reason, but rarely does an originalist judge demonstrate the hypocrisy of originalism as completely as Brett Kavanaugh did in a 2010 opinion involving atheists suing Chief Justice John Roberts over presidential inaugurations. To understand how hypocritical that opinion was, we first have to understand what it means to be an originalist.

What does it mean that Kavanaugh claims to be an originalist?

Originalist judges claim they are just sticking to the dry text of the Constitution, which doesn’t change except through a stringent amendment process. They claim to define the words in that text as the framers of the Constitution would have defined them at the time. In their mind, judges who don’t follow this philosophy are activists, legislating from the bench and harming our constitutional system.

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Report on clergy abuse in limbo, awaiting decision from Pa. Supreme Court

By Lindsay Lazarski

The Pennsylvania District Attorney Association is the latest group to support releasing the grand jury investigation into decades of sexual abuse and cover-up in six Roman Catholic Dioceses across the state.

The report — the culmination of a two-year investigation by the Attorney General’s office into the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton Dioceses — was expected to be made public last month. But it was delayed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court due to appeals from unnamed clergy members who say their due process rights will be violated by its release.

Identified only by initials, several former and current clergy members question the facts of the report and say the release of the investigation would wrongly damage their reputations.

Attorneys for the unnamed clergy members said they’re not trying to silence the grand jury, but to ensure the accuracy of the report.

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Trump-Appointed Judge OKs Administration’s Attack on Family Planning Funding

By Jessica Mason Pieklo

A federal district court judge on Monday ruled the Trump administration could move forward with efforts to restructure the federal Title X family planning program by prioritizing abstinence programs.

United States District Court Judge Trevor McFadden, appointed by Trump in 2017, ruled the courts do not have the ability to review the proposed changes because they are not a “final agency action.”

“The substantive tweaks to the program priorities and key issues are neither new nor incompatible with Title X, instead they rephrase similar priorities and issues that appeared in prior funding announcements without objection or notice-and-comment rulemaking,” McFadden wrote.

The fight over Title X funding started as soon as the Trump administration took power. In 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it was terminating all multi-year grants under Title X. That meant even though competitive Title X grants had been awarded on overlapping three-year cycles, all Title X grantees would need to submit a new application for Title X funds in 2018.

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What Was Maria Butina Doing at the National Prayer Breakfast?

By Katherine Stewart

Does it seem strange that, according to a criminal complaint unsealed on Monday by the Justice Department, a Russian woman stands accused of “acting as an agent of a foreign government” in part because she hoped “to establish a back-channel of communication” with American politicians at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington?

It shouldn’t. As Jeff Sharlet, an associate professor of English at Dartmouth, has pointed out, the National Prayer Breakfast has long offered “a backdoor to American power.” And America’s homegrown Christian nationalists have evinced an admiration for Russia’s authoritarian leader that appears to have grown apace with his brutality.

On Tuesday, Maria Butina, a 29-year-old Russian whose name was spelled Mariia in court papers, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the Russian Federation. According to the complaint unsealed on Monday, Ms. Butina’s promotional activities for Russian political interests included attending the National Prayer Breakfast twice.

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Living a double life: Indonesia’s atheists fear jail or worse

JAKARTA (AFP) – As a university student, Luna Atmowijoyo prayed five times a day, refused to shake hands with men who weren’t relatives and was “more fundamentalist” than her pious Muslim parents.

But a decade later, Atmowijoyo has turned her back on Islam and is among a small number of atheists in Indonesia who live in fear of jail or violent reprisals from religious hardliners.

Leading a double life – devout Muslim on the outside, non-believer on the inside – is often the only choice for atheists in the world’s biggest Muslim majority country.

Atmowijoyo, who lives with her parents, still wears an Islamic headscarf to escape the wrath of an abusive father who knows nothing of his daughter’s change of heart, which started when she was told to avoid friendships with non-Muslims.

“A lot of simple things started to bother me,” said the 30-year-old, who asked AFP not to use her real name.

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Pardoned Oregon Rancher to Focus on Putting God in Public Schools

By Stephanie Mencimer

Last year, Western land activists and other conservatives had been lobbying President Donald Trump to pardon rancher Cliven Bundy, who in 2014 had engaged in an armed standoff with federal officials trying to confiscate his cattle that were trespassing on public property. But earlier this year, a federal judge dropped all the charges against Bundy thanks to misconduct by prosecutors, and there was no longer any need for Trump to pardon him. So Trump last week did the next best thing: He pardoned Oregon rancher Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven, whose 2012 convictions for arson on federal land had inspired Bundy’s son Ammon to lead the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016.

The takeover ultimately resulted in the death of one of the occupiers, LaVoy Finicum, who was shot by an FBI agent while fleeing the site, and it turned the Hammonds into a causecélèbre for activists in the West who believe federal land should be returned to the states. The Hammonds had battled the feds over a variety of land infractions for two decades before they were finally prosecuted for setting a fire that spread to federal land.

The Hammonds negotiated a short prison term for the arson charges and served just a few months. But in 2015, prosecutors succeeded in convincing a judge that the original sentence had failed to follow federal guidelines, and they were resentenced to five-year terms, a decision that helped set off the wildlife refuge takeover. The Bundys pressured the Hammonds not to report to prison, but they ignored the requests and turned themselves in as required.

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Charities Can Reject Foster Parents for Immigrant Kids Over Religion

By Justin Rohrlich

Private charities housing undocumented immigrant children in several states are permitted by law to reject prospective foster families based on religious objections.

Under current policy, undocumented minors apprehended by Customs and Border Protection are sent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services. From there ORR tries to place the kids with a sponsor, usually a relative. The last option is a “licensed program willing to accept legal custody; or an adult individual or entity seeking custody.”

Right now, HHS oversees more than 100 shelters in 17 states, a number of which are operated by nonprofit providers housing kids separated at the border by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. In nine states, providers are protected by law if they reject an applicant (or child) on religious grounds.

In Texas, Republican-sponsored legislation passed last year guarantees organizations that refuse prospective foster or adoptive parents “under circumstances that conflict with the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs,” won’t be penalized or lose government funding because of it.

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