Polish citizens head to the polls June 20 for an early presidential election prompted by an April 10 plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 96 other passengers en route to a ceremony in Russia to commemorate another tragedy-the Katyn forest massacre of 22,000 Polish soldiers by Soviet secret police in 1940. The crash victims included Kaczynski's wife and dozens of high-ranking Polish officials. Three days after thousands of mourners packed Krakow for an elaborate funeral mass for Kaczynski and his wife, acting president Bronislaw Komorowski moved up elections, originally scheduled for the fall. Election observers expect Komorowski to run against Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the late president's twin brother. The plane crash-likely caused by pilot error-also killed the national bank president, deputy foreign minister, national security head, deputy parliament speaker, army chief of staff, and the navy chief commander-and stunned Polish citizens into national mourning.
Not over yet
Kyrgyzstan's interim administration led by Rosa Otunbayev will hold elections and a referendum on an amended constitution later this year, following the overthrow of the government in the former Soviet republic last month. The votes provide "a wonderful opportunity for religious liberty to be restored," says Religious Liberty Commission's Elizabeth Kendal. "The churches have been active throughout the crisis caring for the injured, visiting hospitals, holding prayer vigils, assisting with efforts to clean up the streets, and repairing damage to public facilities," she writes. But Kyrgyz ethnic-religious nationalism is a serious threat. On April 19, a violent mob of 1,000 ethnic Kyrgyz rampaged through the village of Mayevka, burning homes and seizing land that belonged to ethnic Russians and Turks. Five were killed as local Kyrgyz reportedly intervened to defend their neighbors. Kendal warns that Islamic militants in southern Kyrgyzstan may take advantage of the current instability.
A new law in Nebraska bans late-term abortions on the basis of a new legislative argument: that the fetus feels pain. Pro-abortion advocates disagree that unborn babies feel pain; but researchers like Australian Nicholas Fisk say it's safe to assume unborn babies can feel pain at 20 to 24 weeks. Kansas also passed a bill strengthening its ban on late-term abortions-vetoed by Gov. Mark Parkinson. This bill would have required doctors to list an exact medical diagnosis to perform a late-term abortion, and it would have broadened the definition of viability to allow an unborn baby to live if there's a "reasonable probability" it would survive outside the womb. Oklahoma also has passed and signed legislation to ban gender-selective abortion, to give conscience protections to pro-life employees, and to regulate the abortion pill RU486.
Pro-life advocates also are taking to state capitols a fight to ban elective abortion coverage in health insurance exchanges that states must create under the new federal healthcare law. Americans United for Life has published an 832-page model legislation guide for state legislatures on how to opt out of the federal abortion mandates in the act-and more than 30 states have requested this model bill. Even though these exchanges don't crank up until 2014, lawmakers in states including Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Missouri are attempting to fast-track the bills through this year's legislatures. "We had a setback on this fight at the federal level, but together we can defeat taxpayer-funded abortion state by state," said AUL president Charmaine Yoest.
A young, charismatic politician with the slogan "Vote for Change"-only this time it's a candidate across the pond with the British Conservative Party. Leader David Cameron has been polling well ahead of the Labour Party of current Prime Minister Gordon Brown. If Labour loses in parliamentary elections May 6, it will be out of power for the first time in 13 years. But in a first-ever for Britian televised debate, a previously unknown third-party candidate, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, became an overnight hit. Typically Clegg's Liberal Democrats wind up in third place in polls, but one recent poll from the conservative Sun showed the party ahead of both Labour and the Conservatives. It's the first time the LibDems have been ahead leading up to an election in over a century. The Conservatives are right on the party's heels or slightly outpacing it in polls, though, and a second debate April 22 could swing numbers again. Clegg is likely to take more votes away from Brown than Cameron. But the swings in the polls have politicos contemplating a hung Parliament, where party leaders have to negotiate to form a new government-with Clegg's Liberal Democrats likely holding the keys to a coalition.
Sin no more
Delegates at a UN climate convention in Bonn last month got an unexpected opportunity: to purchase an indulgence absolving them of "climate sins." The list of wrongs "hereby forgiven" by the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) included: "flying when you choose; machine-washed clothes; driving your vehicle; and eating meat." The prank was the work of well-known climate skeptic Lord Christopher Monckton and CFACT's Christina Wilson.
Prayer for Day of Prayer
When a federal judge struck down the National Day of Prayer as unconstitutional, Lou Engle was shocked. The president of the Call to Conscience and Day of Prayer leader didn't even know the case was under review. "It slipped under the radar of the prayer movement," he said, adding that evangelical leaders would have prayed had they known. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb said the 1952 federal statute establishing a day of prayer "serves no purpose but to encourage a religious exercise, making it difficult for a reasonable observer to see the statute as anything other than a religious endorsement." She compared a statute supporting prayer to a statute encouraging citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue, or practice rune magic. The American Center for Law and Justice will file a brief challenging the decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. The Justice Department, one of the defendants in the case, has not yet said whether it will appeal.
No surprise: Democratic leaders hit the commencement speech trail this month and next. President Barack Obama will speak at the University of Michigan, at Virginia's Hampton University, and at West Point. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will do Cornell and California's Mills College, while First Lady Michelle Obama will speak at George Washington University and also at the Pine Bluff campus of the University of Arkansas.
Other Democrats are active at their old stomping grounds: Former President Bill Clinton will speak at Yale, former Vice President Al Gore at the University of Tennessee, and Council of Economic Advisors Chair Christina Romer at William and Mary.
Republicans and Republican appointees are rarely to be seen this year. With Chief Justice John Roberts' niece graduating from Butler, students led a drive to invite the Supreme Court's Chief Justice, but faculty members said no. Conservative pitcher Curt Schilling, though, is speaking at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Lisa Kudrow, an Emmy winner with the television show Friends, graduated from Vassar with a degree in biology 25 years ago and will rightfully be that school's big draw. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, one of television's openly gay news anchors, will speak to students at Smith College. TV newscasters-Tom Brokaw, Jane Pauley, Christiane Amanpour, Anderson Cooper-seem in particular demand by the class of 2010.
One vote down
Early returns from Sudan's first multi-party elections in 24 years brought deflating but predictable results: victory for incumbent President Omar el-Bashir -and charges of election fraud from the international community. But citizens in South Sudan found at least one bright spot. They hope that the relatively peaceful contests on April 11 become an important step toward what many in the region most want: a vote on Southern secession next year. That referendum dominates concerns in the South, where citizens largely favor secession. As Salva Kiir, president of the semi-autonomous South, approached a ballot box on April 11, he told a crowd: "I have never voted in my life." But he also told the crowd he viewed the contests as "the final lap of our journey toward the referendum."
A New Jersey teachers union came under fire for calling for the death of Gov. Chris Christie, in the form of a prayer, following the governor's demand for education cuts. The incident prompted Wall Street Journal commentator James Taranto to retell a 1986 story about R.L. Hymers, pastor of the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles, who prayed for the death of Justice William Brennan over his role in the Roe v. Wade decision. Taranto reported April 20 that he received a letter from Hymers, "an old-fashioned one, printed on paper," who still pastors the L.A. church. It read: "As I have said many times, I regret that I led this imprecatory prayer to God to remove the Supreme Court justice in 1986. I wish I had not done that and I would never do it again. I believe that Christian leaders should stand up for the right to life, but my prayer was wrong-headed. It might have led to violence, and it was not according to the teachings of Jesus."
Reformed Theological Seminary chancellor Ric Cannada accepted the resignation of longtime Old Testament professor Bruce Waltke last month after Waltke suggested that he did not necessarily support the creation account of Genesis nor that Adam and Eve were historically the first humans. In a video prepared for The BioLogos Foundation, Waltke, 79, said, "If the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult." In a later statement he posted on Facebook he noted, "It may well be that I am the only one on the faculty holding the view of creation by the process of evolution as understood by mainline science, apart from its normal atheistic philosophy."
Unlike healthcare, the largest overhaul of the nation's financial system since the 1930s finds Republicans willing to compromise. Republicans have concluded that voter frustration with Wall Street and the Great Recession has made greater federal involvement in the financial sector more palatable to voters. The bill would create agencies to monitor market risks and protect consumers, plus create a $50 billion bailout fund that Republicans fear could create a safety net to embolden banks to continue taking unnecessary risks. "It is essential that we learn the lessons of this crisis, so we don't doom ourselves to repeat it," President Barack Obama said in an April 22 speech at New York's Cooper Union near Wall Street.