President Barack Obama's administration has sat on the fence regarding the liberty of religious institutions to hire and fire based on religious beliefs. One sign that it's coming off the fence came in the Supreme Court building on Oct. 5 when Leondra Kruger of the Justice Department argued that religious institutions should be treated just like other institutions in matters of hiring.
Kruger's argument shocked the justices in what was already a blockbuster religious freedom case, Hosanna-Tabor v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (see "Firing lines," Oct. 8). "This is extraordinary-extraordinary," Justice Antonin Scalia told Kruger during oral arguments. "There in black and white in the Constitution are special protections for religion." One of the liberal justices jumped in on Scalia's side: "I too find this amazing," said Justice Elena Kagan.
The facts of the case seemed to agitate Justice Anthony Kennedy, often a swing vote on the court. Cheryl Perich was a church-commissioned teacher at Hosanna-Tabor, a church and school in Redford, Mich., affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). When a doctor diagnosed her with narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that may leave sufferers falling asleep on the job, she took a leave of absence. When she asked to return to work, school officials said she wasn't ready. When she said she would sue, the church withdrew her commission and fired her for going to courts instead of the church's established tribunals, as LCMS teaching requires.
The Supreme Court has never before ruled on who falls under the "ministerial exception," a court-created law protecting religious institutions from federal oversight, and all of the justices seemed troubled that courts were deciding who counted as a minister and who didn't. Several liberal and conservative justices treated the government's position against the ministerial exception as radical, but Kennedy commented, "She was fired simply for asking for a hearing." Douglas Laycock, the church's attorney, responded, "She could have had a hearing in the synod."
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a case concerning World Vision's policy to hire Christians only, so the 2010 ruling of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in favor of World Vision stands. The high court's decision means that World Vision can continue requiring its employees to agree to a statement of faith. World Vision fired three employees for not agreeing to the statement of faith: The three sued, arguing that the organization was humanitarian, not religious, but lower courts said World Vision qualifies as a religious organization. "Our Christian faith has been the foundation of our work since the organization was established in 1950, and our hiring policy is vital to the integrity of our mission to serve the poor as followers of Jesus Christ," said World Vision president Richard Stearns, in a statement after the Supreme Court's decision.
It started out as little more than street theater, but throughout the first week of October the Occupy Wall Street movement grew into what The New Republic called "a younger, dreadlocked version of the Tea Party."
With declared complaints against corporations that ranged from the sound ("They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses") to the misdirected ("They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education"), nearly 700 protesters were arrested on Oct. 2 as they shut down a lane of traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge.
As liberal journalists gave Occupy Wall Street favorable publicity, an Oct. 5 Rasmussen poll found that 33 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the protesters, 27 percent hold an unfavorable view, and 40 percent have no opinion.
Off the farm
Hundreds of children avoided Alabama public schools and acres of crops went unpicked after an Alabama judge on Sept. 28 upheld most of the state's new immigration law. The law-considered the strictest clampdown on illegal immigration in the nation-requires public schools to record the immigration status of new students, allows police to check immigration status during routine traffic stops, and requires employers to verify the legal status of their laborers.
Many apparently illegal laborers fled, leaving many Alabama farmers shorthanded during the crucial harvest season. Chad Smith-a tomato farmer near Chandler Mountain-said he would normally use 12 trucks in harvesting his fields, but only had the workers for three. Smith estimated his family farm could lose up to $150,000 this season because of a lack of laborers. Many others fear losing their crops or their farms.
The Playboy Club only survived until its third episode after NBC canceled the new show amid weak ratings and intense criticism of the prime-time series, which was based on the Playboy nightclubs Hugh Hefner started in the 1960s. It marks the first cancellation of the fall season and a victory for family groups like the Parents Television Council (PTC) that aggressively protested it.
Prior to the show's launch, PTC had called on the network to cancel the drama while urging advertisers to reconsider their support for it. "Bringing The Playboy Club to broadcast television was a poor programming decision from the start," said PTC president Tim Winter. "We're pleased that NBC will no longer be airing a program so inherently linked to a pornographic brand that denigrates and sexualizes women."
Ahead of the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. embassy in Kabul issued an alert to U.S. citizens working in the country, following the U.S. attack in Yemen that killed al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. His death-plus the capture in Afghanistan of a commander of the al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked Haqqani clan-had U.S. forces braced for reprisal attacks on American targets.
NATO forces announced that they had captured Haji Mali Khan in a joint raid with Afghan forces just a day after al-Awlaki's death in Yemen at the hands of a CIA-directed drone. On Oct. 4, days after Khan's capture, U.S. forces killed a principal deputy to Khan known by one name, Dilawar, in a precision air strike near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan. Targeted killings have been increasingly used by the Obama administration, especially since the May raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
U.S. officials blame the Haqqani network, based in Pakistan, for recent attacks in Afghanistan, including last month's 20-hour siege at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. Last week the outgoing chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, accused Pakistan's spy agency, the ISI, of supporting the Haqqani network in carrying out the attacks, the most serious allegation yet of Pakistani duplicity in the 10-year war. Commanders in Afghanistan called the capture "a significant milestone in the disruption of the Haqqani Network."
The death of Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and had dual citizenship with the United States and Yemen, dealt a blow to al-Qaeda plans to rely on homegrown U.S. terrorists. Along with Awlaki, the drone attack also killed terrorist Samir Khan-who was born in Saudi Arabia but grew up in New York and North Carolina and held U.S. citizenship. Having conspired over multiple acts of terrorism, Awlaki and Khan "gave up the benefits of American citizenship by taking up arms against their country," points out analyst Max Boot.
Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a Baptist pastor and civil rights leader who survived bombings and beatings in Birmingham, Ala., died Oct. 5 at the age of 89. Shuttlesworth helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and joined Martin Luther King Jr. in advocating nonviolence in the civil rights movement. His children were arrested, a bomb exploded under his bedroom, and he was hospitalized after falling under the fire hoses of the infamous Eugene "Bull" Connor. Connor said after the incident, "I wish they'd carried him away in a hearse." King described Shuttlesworth as "the most courageous civil rights fighter in the South."
Following the money
Democrats are complaining about Republicans in the House of Representatives investigating the activities of abortion leader Planned Parenthood, which annually receives about $350 million in government grants-but when Democrats had a majority of House seats and could schedule investigations, they went after pro-life centers that live by volunteer labor rather than federal funding.
Last month Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations, sent Planned Parenthood Federation of America a six-page letter requesting more than a decade of documents. He is attempting to determine whether the group is illegally using federal funds to pay for abortions. Stearns' committee will also investigate other alleged abuses, including failure to report cases of statutory rape and sex trafficking.
Two senior Democrats, Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Diana DeGette of Colorado, responded to Stearns by arguing that the investigation singles out Planned Parenthood as "part of a Republican vendetta." Waxman in 2006 led an investigation of pro-life pregnancy care centers and claimed the centers provide "false and misleading information." Pro-life groups debunked Waxman's report.
Life on the line
As Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani waited to learn whether he would face execution for refusing to recant his Christian faith, his attorney reported a troubling new development: Iran's state-run news agency began leveling new charges against Nadarkhani, accusing the pastor of being a Zionist and a threat to national security.
Attorney Mohammed Ali Dadkhah said the post-trial claims were the first time he heard such accusations against his client. Religious freedom groups worried that the Iranian government created the new charges to justify a death sentence, even as international pressure mounted for the pastor's release.
Police arrested Nadarkhani in October 2009 on charges related to his work as a pastor. A court found Nadarkhani-a husband and father of two children-guilty of apostasy against Islam and sentenced him to death by hanging. Nadarkhani, 32, appealed to the Iranian Supreme Court, where justices demanded he recant his faith. The pastor refused, saying: "What should I return to? The blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?" When the judges said he should return to Islam, Nadarkhani's reply was simple: "I cannot."