Iraqis' college try
At one time Iraq boasted of some of the best universities in the Arab world, and college students have been the unsung heroes of a 7-year war-dodging car bombs and threading checkpoints to make it to school. But in the worst attack yet on their class, at least 50 Iraqi Christian students were hospitalized with serious injuries and at least four killed following a bomb attack on May 2 outside Mosul. The attack forced nearly 1,000 students to drop classes for the rest of the semester.
In all 160 were injured in blasts targeting three buses of students traveling from Christian villages east of the city to the University of Mosul. The buses were making a daily route under Iraqi army escort, as many students and their families have fled to the villages to avoid violence in the city.
"This is the hardest attack, because they attacked not only one car, but the whole convoy and in an area that is heavily guarded by the army," said Syrian Catholic Bishop of Mosul Georges Casmoussa. Another clergyman, Bashar Warda, noted that the victims were not soldiers or activists but "only students carrying their books, pens, their dreams of growing and serving their country."
Mosul church leaders believe the power vacuum is not helping them: Baghdad's failure to form a new government, said Chaldean Archbishop Emil Shimoun Nona, is "fertile ground for violence."
The Lord remains
Trinity University board of trustees voted to retain the words "in the year of our Lord" as part of the date on university diplomas after some students petitioned to have the phrase removed. The San Antonio school's board voted that the phrase was appropriate given the history and heritage of the university, which is governed by an independent board but was founded by Presbyterians.
The National Institutes of Health is opening 13 new embryonic stem-cell lines to be eligible for federally funded research, expanding the number of eligible lines to 64. President Obama issued an executive order after he took office loosening restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, but the administration then issued additional guidelines, which meant that embryonic stem-cell lines already approved under President George W. Bush had to be reauthorized. Four of the 13 new lines had already received Bush administration approval.
Lawmakers to constituents: We feel your pain. Congress voted in late April to block its automatic pay raises for next year. Lawmakers-who make a base salary of $174,000-said no to a $1,600 raise in 2011. Total taxpayer savings: roughly $850,000. This is the third year in a row that so-called cost-of-living adjustments have been rejected. In a move lawmakers cleverly set up years ago to avoid having to actually vote on giving themselves a raise, the law states that members of Congress automatically receive one each year unless they vote it down. But while the Senate passed its version unanimously, 15 House members actually voted against halting the raises.
Officials at the U.S. State Department gave good news to an estimated 3,000 American families waiting to adopt Russian orphans: Many adoptions are moving forward, despite reports to the contrary by some Russian officials. The news came two weeks after Russian authorities said they would halt all adoptions of Russian children to U.S. families. The reason: After a Tennessee woman sent her adopted son back to Moscow alone on a plane, Russian authorities said they would suspend adoptions until they signed a new adoption treaty with the United States. Those talks began on April 29, with Pavel Astakhov, Russia's ombudsman for children, telling the BBC that U.S. adoptions remain suspended. But the same day, the U.S. State Department issued a press release for adoptive families, saying, "There has been no official suspension" and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow is still issuing immigrant visas for adopted children: "Many adoption cases are continuing to move forward in the courts."
Six months after Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua disappeared from public view for medical treatment of serious heart problems, a Nigerian television announcer interrupted programming on May 5 with a bulletin: "The president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, died a few hours ago at the presidential villa." The president was 58. Yar'Adua, a Muslim from the country's North, had performed no official duties in months. Those tasks fell to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from Nigeria's South. After Yar'Adua's death, officials swore in Jonathan as the country's next president. Jonathan faces the excruciating task of negotiating a volatile oil crisis and severe internal conflict: Muslim gangs attacked at least three Christian villages in March, slaughtering more than 300 people. The unassuming leader with a dogged work ethic had fervently urged Nigerians to pray for Yar'Adua's return to office. Now Jonathan will need fervent prayers himself.
The death toll rose to 31 in three states from a massive weekend storm system that devastated parts of the Southeast in May-21 people were killed in Tennessee and the same storm system killed six people in Mississippi and four in Kentucky, emergency management officials said.
An April 28 U.S. Supreme Court decision will allow a white cross that has stood for more than 75 years on a stretch of the Mojave Desert to remain. In a 5-4 decision, justices overturned a federal judge's rejection of the cross, which honored the dead of World War I. But the ruling recalled internal divisions over the separation of church and state-just as President Barack Obama is set to select another justice.
In other cases, other places:
• The Virginia Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a dispute between The Episcopal Church (TEC) and nine Anglican congregations that split from TEC's state diocese April 13. The nine, now part of the Anglican District of Virginia, left TEC in 2006-2007 over doctrinal matters, and TEC sued for ownership of the properties. A decision is expected next month, but an automatic appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is expected-with high stakes for hundreds of churches nationwide that similarly have left TEC.
• That same day in Iran two Christians released from prison in 2009 were in court facing charges of propagating Christianity and apostasy. Maryam Rustampoor and Marzieh Esmaeilabad have been in poor health since their release, but no verdict has been issued.
• Also delayed was a verdict in Turkey, where five defendants are charged with the brutal murders of three Christian workers in Malatya three years ago. The case has been repeatedly sidetracked-this time by new evidence alleging a plot among naval officers to target minorities, including the Malatya Christians, as a way to discredit the government.
Florida's Republican Party commissioned an oil portrait of Gov. Charlie Crist several months ago. But now that Crist has proclaimed himself an Independent-following a too-close GOP primary in his race for the Senate-the state GOP is selling the portrait on eBay. "Canvas is naturally sensitive to changes of temperature and humidity, just as Charlie Crist's political convictions are subject to fluctuations in poll numbers," the product description read. Bidding surpassed $6,000 only a day after the portrait was listed.
Power of prayer
The Pentagon dropped evangelist and Samaritan's Purse head Franklin Graham from its May 6 National Day of Prayer service under pressure from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation over his comments about Islam. Nine years ago after 9/11 Graham called Islam a "very wicked and evil religion." Following the Pentagon's brush-off, he said, "I love Muslim people . . . I want Muslims everywhere to know . . . that Christ can come into their heart and change them." The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) applauded the Pentagon's decision and tried unsuccessfully to stop Graham's appearance at the congressional Day of Prayer service. The move didn't stop Graham from attending a meeting between his father, Billy Graham, and President Barack Obama at the elder Graham's home in North Carolina April 25. It was Obama's first meeting with the ailing 91-year-old evangelist, who has ministered to 12 presidents. Both men said that they prayed for one another.
High risks' high cost
Eighteen states have said "no thanks" to the federal provisions of the healthcare law-by formally declining to set up high-risk insurance pools. These programs are designed by the law to cover those with pre-existing conditions immediately before insurance companies are barred from rejecting such individuals in 2014. The law provides $5 billion to set up high-risk pools, but some governors have argued that's too little, as such programs can be prohibitively expensive: Virginia says it would use up its $113 million federal allotment in less than two years. One alternative is that the federal government will be forced to set up the stopgap program itself-something supporters of the legislation wanted from the start.
For South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, chapters of life keep closing: In March, Sanford agreed to pay $74,000 in fines to avoid a state hearing into whether he violated state travel policy in the wake of his adultery scandal with an Argentine woman. The same month, his marriage to Jenny Sanford, his wife of 20 years, ended in divorce. (In April, Jenny Sanford confirmed she had begun dating a Georgia businessman.) But the chapter that closed in May was likely welcome: South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster said Sanford won't face criminal charges stemming from ethics complaints.
Two days later, Sanford revived his famous fiscal conservatism by asking lawmakers to cut $324 million from the proposed state budget. It may be the last battle Sanford wages in his home state until another chapter closes: His term as governor ends this year.