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"Honored" Continued...

Issue: "Biblical callings," Dec. 4, 2010

Test case

In a test for the Obama administration's detainee policy, the first civilian trial for a Guantanamo detainee concluded Nov. 17 with the federal jury acquitting the defendant, Ahmed Ghailani, of all but one of 285 charges. Ghailani, a Tanzanian charged for his role in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, will serve a minimum of 20 years in prison for conspiracy to destroy U.S. government property.

Oklahoma ban

A federal judge has temporarily blocked Oklahoma's constitutional amendment banning Shariah law. The amendment, passed with 70 percent of the vote, forbids Oklahoma's courts from looking to the "legal precepts of other nations or cultures," specifically international law or Shariah, also known as Islamic law. Muneer Awad, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma, sued, claiming it turned the state constitution into an "enduring condemnation" of his faith. Joseph Thai, a professor at the University of Oklahoma's College of Law, said the amendment could also bar judges from citing the Ten Commandments as a form of international law. Charles Haynes, senior scholar with the First Amendment Center, said because of broad terms like "international law," it's difficult to determine what the amendment's ripple effects might be.

Catholic leadership

Breaking with tradition, U.S. Catholic bishops elected New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan as their next president, choosing an assertive and more conservative leader over the frontrunner, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz. In a third and final round of voting on Nov. 16, Kicanas, who has been vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, lost 128 to 111. It was the first time since the 1960s that a sitting vice president was on the ballot and lost. Kicanas received criticism over handling of the molestation case involving a priest, now in jail, and more than a dozen boys.

Who's to blame?

Violence erupted in Haiti, as cholera-stricken communities blamed UN workers for the waterborne disease that has killed more than 1,000 victims. Rumors swirled that a group of UN peacekeepers from Nepal brought the cholera strain to the island nation, but UN officials said the workers weren't responsible for the outbreak. At least one protester died in violent clashes with UN peacekeepers.

The epidemic that began in northern Haiti spread to Port-au-Prince. By mid-November, the Ministry of Health said 27 cholera victims had died in the capital city, with another 600 hospitalized. Officials reported more than 14,000 victims hospitalized nationwide. Aid workers expect the outbreak to grow worse in coming months, and they say as many as 200,000 Haitians may contract the disease.

Meanwhile, UN officials said tension over the country's Nov. 28 presidential elections may have contributed to the riots in northern Haiti. "We are facing the consequences of a cholera epidemic and in two weeks the elections, so the population is scared," said UN spokesman Vincenzo Pugliese. "It's a volatile situation."

Taste of freedom

Pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi walked free on Nov. 13 after seven years of house arrest by Myanmar's ruling military regime. Suu Kyi, 65, greeted thousands of jubilant supporters and vowed to press for freedoms in a country notorious for oppression and human-rights abuses. The government of Myanmar-also known as Burma-has confined the Nobel Peace Prize winner for 15 of the last 21 years. But freedom brings challenges: The opposition leader must work with a slate of new opposition groups, including some willing to compromise with government officials. Suu Kyi's release came days after Myanmar's ruling party claimed victory in the country's first elections in 20 years. Human-rights groups criticized the results, saying the elections weren't fair. Post-election violence could plague Myanmar's ethnic minorities, including Christians. The military regime has long harassed and abused minorities to retain control of the country. A Human Rights Watch report last year said soldiers inflicted forced labor and persecution on Christians, particularly in the Chin state. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported a leaked government memo in 2007 with a telling title: "Program to Destroy the Christian religion in Burma."

Message sent

Chalk up an early victory for Tea Party influence in Congress: Even though the new Congress won't be seated until January, current Washington lawmakers are tipping their hat to the more conservative climate. On the first day of the lame duck session, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced his support of a ban on earmarks. This marks a policy reversal for the long-serving l­awmaker who has made a career out of sending federal pork home to Kentucky. On the Senate floor Nov. 15, not long after the body had been gaveled into session, McConnell said: "There is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight." McConnell made no apologies for the projects he has supported in his state but made clear that lawmakers may have listened to voter anger delivered on Nov. 2.


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