The first day of class for students at Heiban Bible College in South Sudan turned terrifying on Feb. 1, as Sudanese Air Force planes dropped eight bombs on the school constructed by Samaritan's Purse (SP). The North Carolina-based Christian relief group reported that the attack destroyed two buildings. SP head Franklin Graham called it "a miracle" that the packed school reported no injuries or deaths. The college sits in the South Kordofan province near the hotly disputed, oil-rich border between Sudan and South Sudan. The UN reports that more than 78,000 residents have fled the area since the Sudanese government in the north began sustained air raids in the region last August, and Graham said: "My prayer is that the world will not just sit by ... but make it clear to the government of Sudan that attacks like these will not be tolerated."
Obama loves super PACs
President Obama had to eat his condemnations of super PACs as a "threat to democracy" and "shadowy campaign committees" when his campaign announced in February that he would support Priorities USA, a super PAC, to help fund his reelection campaign. The 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United allowed for the creation of super PACs, political groups that can accept unlimited donations from corporations, and conservative super PACs like American Crossroads proved powerful in the 2010 elections. "The stakes are too important to play by two different sets of rules," Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina explained to supporters. White House spokesman Jay Carney echoed Messina: "He's not saying that the system is healthy or good ... his campaign is making the decision that the rules are what they are."
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned California's Proposition 8, the 2008 referendum that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. "Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California," wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt, one of the most liberal federal judges, in the 2-1 decision Feb. 7.
The U.S. Supreme Court regularly overturns rulings from the liberal circuit, but the circuit court attempted to craft the opinion to avoid that outcome, insisting that its ruling was narrow. Reinhardt wrote that it only applied to California because the voters had targeted a "minority group," which the state had already given the rights of married couples. Supporters of Prop 8 could ask the circuit court for a hearing before the full court, or they could appeal directly to the Supreme Court. Gay couples will not be able to marry in the state until the appeals process is exhausted.
Let it not snow
Heavy snowfall and sub-zero temperatures eased only slightly in Eastern Europe, where record chill since January has killed hundreds in the region. Government shelters in Ukraine took in more than 100,000 victims of cold and power outages, while snow caused traffic jams more than two miles long in Crimea, along the Black Sea coast. Romania's weather-related death toll this year reached 41 on Feb. 8, and in Serbia one person died in Belgrade after being hit by an icicle that fell from the roof of a 12-story building. Remnants of the storm blanketed Italy with its largest snowfall since 1986 and forced closure of airports across the continent.
Babying Baby Doc
Former Haitian president Jean-Claude Duvalier won't face trial for human-rights abuses, despite a litany of allegations by Haitian victims and international human-rights groups. A Haitian judge ruled in January that the notorious former leader-known as "Baby Doc"-would stand trial only for corruption charges related to his 15-year rule.
Duvalier stunned Haitians by returning to the beleaguered nation in 2011 after 25 years of exile in France. He would face a maximum of five years in jail if convicted on the corruption charges.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 27 ruled in favor of Julea Ward, a counseling student at Eastern Michigan University, who claimed school administrators expelled her because of her beliefs. The three-judge panel said the evidence suggested she was right and reversed a lower court ruling in the school's favor.
Administrators kicked Ward out of the counseling program after she asked her faculty advisor to refer a gay client to another student counselor. Ward said her beliefs made it impossible for her to affirm the client's homosexual relationship. The court chastised administrators for punishing Ward for requesting a referral, something they allowed other students to do for non-religious reasons. The court's action clears the case for a jury trial.
The New York State Senate on Feb. 6 voted 52-7 for a bill that would allow religious organizations to use public schools in the state.
The bill would block New York City's move to ban religious organizations from using public schools as houses of worship, a ban that affects more than 60 churches and that was scheduled to take effect after Feb. 12 services. Last week, advocates of the bill were waiting to see whether Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will permit the bill before the Assembly, despite his own misgivings. "I think the way the Senate is taking it up, it's seriously flawed," Silver told The New York Times. "It would open up the schools to anybody. It might include the Ku Klux Klan."
But Bill Devlin, a Manhattan pastor who has worked locally to overturn the ban, says that argument is a red herring. He pointed to the past 30 years during which no such organization has ever tried to use the schools. "They're dealing in hypotheticals," he said.
Many of the affected churches have served poor communities for decades and, unable to afford commercial rent, may have to leave the city if the ban survives. Influential pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church urged the state to intervene. "It is my conviction that those churches housed in schools are invaluable assets to the neighborhoods that they serve," he said in a statement. "... [L]et them be those good neighbors."
U.S. relations with Egypt grew more strained as Egyptian officials announced criminal charges against 19 Americans working for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Cairo. Thirteen of the 19 Americans charged live outside Egypt. Those living in Egypt include Sam LaHood, director of the International Republican Institute and the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The charges came as part of an Egyptian investigation into pro-democracy groups that monitor elections and offer training to candidates. Officials accuse 43 employees of a handful of NGOs of operating the groups without government licenses and spending foreign funds without Egyptian permission. Four of the NGOs receive partial funding from the U.S. government, but the groups say their work is nonpartisan and transparent, challenging Egyptian suspicion that the organizations are fomenting rebellion against the ruling party. U.S. officials say the charges jeopardize U.S. aid to the Egyptian military: The United States gives Egypt $1.3 billion annually.
When Shawn Casias on Jan. 31 entered his parents' remote home just outside Monterrey, Mexico, he discovered the dead body of his 67-year-old mother, Wanda Casias, with an electrical cord wrapped around her neck. Searchers five hours later found the body of his father, John Casias, 76, in a building on their property.
John and Wanda Casias were Monterrey-area missionaries for three decades-fiercely dedicated to the First Fundamentalist Independent Baptist Church they established. Their children remember Wanda saying, "We were called to Mexico. They are our people."
Monterrey is a magnet for two of the most active drug cartels, Zetas and Gulf-but John and Wanda Casias were so secure in their faith they were willing to risk living there. Son John Casias said: "If my parents were here right now ... they would say, 'Pray for those who murdered us.'"