Free exercise. Mississippi lawmakers passed legislation yesterday that reiterates constitutional protections for religious freedom. Proponents say the law is necessary to ensure people cannot be forced to violate their religious beliefs in the face of discrimination claims. The bill is similar to legislation passed in Arizona last month but vetoed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer after a nationwide outcry claimed it was tantamount to Jim Crow laws for gays and lesbians. Like the Arizona law, the Mississippi statue does not mention homosexuality or give people a free pass to discriminate against anyone. It merely says people who feel their religious freedom has been violated can use that as a defense in a legal proceeding. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, said he plans to sign the legislation as soon as it reaches his desk.
Chile quake. An 8.2 magnitude earthquake rattled Chile overnight, doing surprisingly little damage. The temblor left six people dead, but experts say the toll could have been much higher. Damaged structures included a women’s prison, where about 300 convicts escaped their cells. The government ordered an evacuation along the country’s entire coastline and issued tsunami warnings. A small wave did come ashore, sweeping away some fishing boats and flooding streets. An 8.8-magnitude quake that struck the same area in 2010 killed 500 and destroyed 220,000 homes. Experts with the U.S. Geological Survey say Chile, one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, is still due for “the big one.”
Unexpected victory. In an upset political pundits probably would have considered impossible just a month ago, Muriel Bowser defeated incumbent Vincent Gray in the Washington, D.C., Democratic mayoral primary yesterday. Gray lost a double-digit lead in the race after one of his high-dollar donors pleaded guilty to funneling more than $3.3 million in illegal campaign donations to 28 local and national candidates. According to court records, $700,000 went into Gray’s campaign coffers. Jeffrey Thompson claimed Gray knew about the scheme and participated in it, a charge Gray denies. Gray claimed Thompson lied about his involvement to help secure a lighter sentence. Voters, evidently, didn’t buy it. Thompson’s donations included $500,000 to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid, a financial scandal that could come back to haunt her in 2016.
Cultural shift. A new Pew Research Center survey reveals that three-quarters of Americans believe marijuana will eventually be legalized nationwide. By the same margin, survey participants said people caught with small amounts of marijuana should not face jail time. Public sentiment about marijuana has changed drastically in the last few decades. A majority of people now say alcohol is more harmful than marijuana, both to individuals and society at large. About 67 percent of respondents said the government should focus more on offering treatment to people who use harder drugs, like cocaine and heroin, rather than imposing stiffer criminal penalties. And, 63 percent say they approve of states’ decisions to move away from mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
Outbreak. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are traveling to Guinea this week to investigate an outbreak of Ebola, the deadly and highly infectious disease that causes massive internal bleeding. So far, 122 cases have been reported. Eighty people have died. Health officials say the outbreak is unusual because of it location. Guinea, on the West African coast, has never experienced an Ebola outbreak. This form of the disease has never been found outside central Africa.