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Issues to watch

"Issues to watch" Continued...

Issue: "2010 The Year Ahead," Jan. 16, 2010

Mat Staver of the The Liberty Counsel said he believes that next year the ACLU will push more cases like this, targeting religious expression in public schools located in conservative areas. The ACLU has already demanded that a school in Enfield, Conn., stop holding its graduation ceremonies at a Christian church. But the economy has struck the ACLU's budget, with the most generous individual donor in ACLU history no longer able to donate and leaving the organization with a 25 percent budget gap.

Freedom of conscience

When Mount Sinai Hospital told nurse Catherina Cenzon-DeCarlo to help perform an abortion, she reminded the hospital that performing abortions violated her religious convictions. The hospital told her she would face disciplinary action if she didn't participate, so DeCarlo was forced to watch as a doctor removed the unborn baby's limbs from the mother's body, and then forced to carry the baby's bloody remains to the specimen room. She is suing-along with other professionals who are fighting for the right to opt out of activities that violate their religious beliefs.

Another nurse, Toni Lemly, was fired after refusing to dispense the "morning after pill." She won her case after the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to hear the hospital's appeal. In New Mexico, the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission found a Christian photographer guilty of discrimination for refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Julea Ward is filing a lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University after the university dismissed her from its counseling program because she would not affirm homosexual behavior. According to the Alliance Defense Fund, the right of conscience-the liberty to reject participating in abortion or supporting same-sex relationships-may be the next big religious liberty issue.

The courts

As a federal judge, liberal appeals court nominee David Hamilton ruled against Christian prayers in the Indiana legislature, ruled against a menorah in a municipal building's holiday display, and overturned a law requiring a woman to get counseling twice before she got an abortion. Senate Republicans tried to stop his nomination but failed, indicating that conservatives will have little power to stop left-leaning appeals court nominees in the year ahead.

There are 97 vacancies out of 858 appeals and district court judgeships, meaning 11 percent of the lower court positions are vacant. So far Obama has been slow to fill the vacancies, with just 26 nominations, and the Senate has confirmed just 10. That's still enough to turn certain courts' margins from conservative to liberal; and if Justice John Paul Stevens decides to retire at the age of 89, President Obama could also nominate a second Supreme Court justice.

United Nations

Activists will be watching the United Nations on the issues of sexual orientation and population control. In September, the UN agreed to merge four separate UN offices into a new "super agency" to deal with women's issues, which will likely strengthen the UN's abortion advocacy. By the time the Commission on the Status of Women meets March 1-12, the UN hopes to name an under-secretary to head the super agency, which is expected to have a $1 billion budget and 1,000 staffers.

The UN also seems to be linking population control and climate change, since a November UNFPA report raised the global warming alarm, saying "universal access to reproductive health" would "help reduce green-house gas emissions in the long run." There may also be a UN push to recognize "sexual orientation and gender identity" as nondiscrimination categories, said the Catholic Family and Human Rights Organization. International human-rights bodies have been using the Yogyakarta Principles-a document applying international human-rights law to sexual orientation and gender identity-to challenge anti-sodomy laws and call for "hate speech" bans. In a review of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the UN may expand its definition of crimes to include terrorism and international human trafficking.

9/11 terrorism

Rain turned to snow as New Yorkers gathered in front of the federal courthouse building on Dec. 5 to protest admitted terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's trial in New York City. The protesters worried about security concerns and that the wrong judge might throw out the charges on a technicality. But most of all, they were angry that a terrorist who plotted to destroy America will enjoy the rights of a U.S. citizen to trial by impartial jury-a jury that will be hard to find in a place so devastated by 9/11. Since Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times, there are also unresolved questions about whether evidence obtained through torture will be admissible.

Regarding Guantanamo Bay, where Mohammed was kept, the White House has lagged on the deadline for closing it. The president originally said it would close Jan. 22, 2010, and has recently directed the federal government to buy a nearly empty prison in rural Illinois to accommodate the detainees. Since many in the community are grateful for the estimated 3,000 jobs it will bring, local officials agreed. However, in May former vice president Dick Cheney warned, "I think the president will find, upon reflection, that to bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come."

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