The federal contraceptive mandate kicked in for some religious groups Aug. 1, and a number announced they would not comply with the mandate. Wheaton College, the most prominent Protestant group to sue the federal government over the mandate, said it was subject to the mandate beginning Aug. 1 and it requested an emergency injunction against enforcement. If the federal government cracks down on Wheaton, the evangelical college could face $1.4 million in fines for not providing contraceptive coverage.
The Department of Health and Human Services may decline to enforce the mandate against such groups. Earlier this year the agency offered a one-year "safe harbor" from enforcement to religious nonprofits that object to the law and hadn't already been covering contraceptives. The safe harbor, however, doesn't apply to religious business owners, who are subject to the mandate if they have more than 50 employees.
At the end of July, just days before the mandate went into effect, one religious business owner in Colorado won a preliminary injunction against the mandate. Hercules Industries, which manufactures sheet metal, is under the ownership of a Catholic family, and the injunction only applies to that company. It was the first victory in court for mandate challengers. Two other challengers to the mandate lost initial rounds in district courts in July, with judges dismissing the cases on the grounds that the cases weren't ready for ruling.
The number of babies born to the average U.S. woman over her lifetime could slide to its lowest level since the 1980s this year, likely due to the recession. Demographic Intelligence, a Virginia-based firm that forecasts birth rates for companies that make baby products, predicts a fertility rate of 1.87 for 2012. That's a 12 percent decline from 2007, when the rate was 2.12, which is about replacement level for a nation. The drop in births has been highest for teens and women under 25.
Sam Sturgeon, president of Demographic Intelligence, said the numbers show the sour economy is making young couples uncertain about having kids. The birth rate in the United States also declined sharply during the Great Depression and the 1970s oil crisis. Since 2009, U.S. population growth has been slower than at any time since the Depression.
Abortion bill blocked
The day before Arizona's ban on most late-term abortions was set to take effect on Aug. 2, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the measure.
The Arizona legislature passed the law in April that bars doctors from performing abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of a severe medical emergency for the mother. Penalties for physicians violating the ban include misdemeanor criminal charges and possible revocation of their medical licenses.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law in July. A U.S. district judge ruled on July 30 that the law was permissible, and said the state had provided "substantial and well documented evidence" that an unborn child can feel pain by 20 weeks of development. The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked that ruling two days later. But the battle isn't over: Both sides will present briefs to the court by mid-October, and wait for a new hearing.
When the State Department issued its annual International Religious Freedom Report on July 30, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the catalog of religious persecution "sends a signal to the worst offenders that the world is watching." But some religious freedom advocates wondered: Are we watching all of the worst offenders?
The report includes a list of countries of particular concern-nations that the State Department considers especially egregious offenders of religious freedom. But the list has remained the same since 2009: Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.
Religious freedom advocates affirm that list, but call for additions, including places like Egypt, where thousands of Christians have fled the threat of religious oppression since last year. Meanwhile, Christians in Nigeria face weekly death threats: Since 2009, the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram has killed hundreds of Christians across northern Nigeria-often while they gather for worship.
Out of power
The largest blackout in global history left 670 million people in India in the dark July 31, leading to fears that India's infrastructure cannot support its growing economy. A day earlier, another blackout wiped out power to 300 million in Northern India.
While officials could not name a cause for the outage, many blame the effects of a poor monsoon season on an already inadequate power system. With less rainfall, farmers pump more water out of wells, thereby overdrawing power from the grid. The lack of rainfall also cut the amount of power India's hydroelectric dams can produce. Others also point to India's policy of heavily subsidizing electricity-which factories often take advantage of-leaving the grid overburdened.
Despite India's growing economy, 300 million Indians live without access to electricity.
Drivers in Atlanta, Ga., discovered an unusual warning when they tuned into local traffic reports on Aug. 1: Watch for delays near Chick-fil-A restaurants.
That's because throngs of customers flooded Chick-fil-A restaurants in Atlanta (where the restaurant chain is headquartered) and around the country for what former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee dubbed "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day."
The event came after Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy faced a firestorm of criticism for expressing support for the biblical definition of marriage. Boston mayor Thomas Menino said the restaurant wasn't welcome in his city. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel said, "Chick-fil-A's values aren't Chicago's values." And Washington, D.C., mayor Vincent Gray called the restaurant's product "hate chicken."
Huckabee and others responded by defending Cathy's right to free speech and called on customers to support the restaurant particularly on Aug. 1. Restaurant owners around the country reported traffic snarls and record sales.
On a Facebook page, Huckabee explained the effort: "Too often, those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same-sex marriage, abortion, or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we're considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant."
Indeed, on July 27, Jeff Bezos-founder and CEO of Amazon.com-made an announcement that attracted far less attention: He and his wife donated $2.5 million to support same-sex marriage in Washington state.
After an eight-month spaceflight and a difficult, nail-biting landing maneuver, NASA's $2.5 billion Curiosity rover touched down on Mars a little after 1 a.m. (Eastern time) on Aug. 6. The safe landing seemed to indicate American space ingenuity still thrives: NASA engineers used a heat shield, a 51-foot-wide parachute, and eight rocket thrusters to slow the Curiosity spacecraft's 13,000 mph descent through the Martian atmosphere to a hovering standstill, from which the automobile-sized rover was lowered to the planet's surface using nylon cables.
Curiosity is equipped with a drill, a laser strong enough to vaporize stone, instruments for analyzing the chemical makeup of Martian rocks, and 17 cameras. During the plutonium-powered rover's two-year mission, it will explore sediment layers in 3-mile-high Mount Sharp and search for carbon, oxygen, phosphorous, sulfur, and nitrogen-elements NASA scientists think could have allowed Mars to host life in the past.
Members of the House and Senate have filed bills aimed at exempting Olympic athletes from paying taxes on their medals and prize money. Reps. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., and G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., filed the House measure, saying in a joint statement that "only the U.S. tax code can turn the 'thrill of victory' into the agony of victory." Reps. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., and Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., filed similar bills.
The United States Olympic Committee pays athletes for each gold ($25,000), silver ($15,000), and bronze ($10,000) medal they win, and the Internal Revenue Service taxes those earnings at 35 percent. That means 17-year-old swimmer Missy Franklin-who won four golds and a bronze-will have a $38,500 tax bill when she gets home. Swimmer Michael Phelps won four golds and two silvers, giving him a record 22 lifetime Olympic medals. His tax bill for the London games: $45,500.
While it is unclear whether the idea of exempting Olympic medal winnings from taxes will have enough momentum to become law after the London games end, it was quickly endorsed by Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The exemption would be retroactive to Dec. 31, 2011, to cover this year's Olympians.
Cruz to victory
Tea Party-backed Ted Cruz upset the Texas political establishment with a convincing win July 31 over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the state's GOP primary runoff for an open U.S. Senate seat. The Tea Party already has enjoyed victories this year in Senate primaries in Indiana and Nebraska. But the come-from-behind underdog win in super-sized Texas, with its powerfully entrenched state Republican Party, provides an even greater boost for the Tea Party in its nationwide power struggle with traditional Republicans.
"Tonight is a victory for the grassroots," Cruz said at his victory rally. "This is how elections are supposed to be decided, by we the people." Dewhurst had the support of Texas Gov. Rick Perry while high-profile Tea Party figures like Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Sarah Palin campaigned for Cruz. A former Texas solicitor general who memorized the Constitution as a high-school student, Cruz would become the first Hispanic to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate. Texas has not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994.