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Magic magnet

"Magic magnet" Continued...

Issue: "The GOP and Hispanics," May 19, 2012

Toward secular states?

Jordan's lower house of parliament has voted to ban the Muslim Brotherhood, voting 83-46 to prevent the establishment of any political party on a "religious basis." The move would block Islamist parties from running in upcoming elections. If the measure wins expected upper house approval, it would disqualify the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, from taking part in parliamentary elections. Libya's National Transitional Council also took steps in April to ban religious parties, ahead of June elections, and Egypt has disqualified some religious candidates in upcoming elections.

Ceasefire that's not

Despite a UN-brokered ceasefire, violence continues to rock Syria, with deadly bombings reaching Damascus, the capital, and other cities. Two suicide bombs on April 30 in Idlib targeted security personnel and killed at least eight-with some estimates that explosions killed more than 20. By May 1 the head of the UN observer mission, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, had arrived in Syria along with about 15 observers. Under the peace plan brokered by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, 300 observers are approved and 30 scheduled to arrive this month. But activists report as many as 500 killed since the ceasefire was agreed to April 12.

The Christian community is suffering "enormous distress" as the conflict rages on between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad, church leaders told the Barnabas Fund. Churches throughout the country remain open, a church leader told WORLD, except for the Homs area, where the focus of the fight has left many places of worship destroyed or unable to operate (see "Houses of God"). Elsewhere, he said, churches are "more packed with worshipers and getting closer to [the] church and Bible, which is a good sign."

State's rights

The Tennessee legislature passed a bill on April 30 that forces Vanderbilt University to abandon its nondiscrimination policy if it wants to keep $24 million in state funding. The bill also forbids state schools from adopting similar policies (see "Campus divide," May 5). Thirteen Christian groups oppose the policy, saying it restricts their religious freedom. They plan to move off campus next year. School officials say 17 others have complied with the policy but declined to name them all.

Great escape

Chen Guangcheng, a blind human rights lawyer and one of China's most well-known activists, escaped captivity on April 20 after 18 months of brutal house arrest in Shandong Province. American authorities refused to comment immediately on reports that the activist took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

The dramatic escape comes nearly six years after Chinese officials first imprisoned Chen for exposing the official practice of forced abortions and sterilizations of thousands of women in Linyi County. Chen served four years in prison, but has been under house arrest since his release in September 2010. Guards severely beat Chen, 40, and his wife last year after the couple smuggled out a video describing their plight.

A free Chen appeared in a YouTube video on April 27, describing his abuse and demanding his family's freedom. The activist reportedly left behind his wife, daughter, and mother, hoping to secure the whole family's release. In the video, Chen directly challenged Prime Minister Wen Jiabao over his family's imprisonment: "You owe the people an explanation."

Chen's escape-coming days before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was set to visit China-stoked concerns that any U.S. involvement in Chen's case could strain U.S. relations with the Communist nation. But Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, called on Clinton to press Chinese authorities to release Chen's family, and "raise the issue of all harassed, arrested, disappeared, and disbarred human rights lawyers and defenders with the Chinese Government on an ongoing basis."

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