From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved

    This file is attached to from Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D. - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright 1995, all rights reserved.

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1/4/2020 Southern Baptist heads draw ire - Seminary heads: Critical race theory incompatible by Holly Meyer, Nashville Tennessean USA TODAY NETWORK
    NASHVILLE, Tenn. The Rev. F. Bruce Williams earned one of his degrees from a Southern Baptist seminary, but the Black pastor who leads a large National Baptist congregation in Louisville discourages his associate ministers from following in his footsteps.
    A recent declaration by the white presidents of the six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries, including his alma mater, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, did nothing to dissuade Williams of his position.
    I always tell them, If you can help it, dont go to Southern, Williams said.
    In a joint statement, the seminary presidents said critical race theory and intersectionality are incompatible with the beliefs of their predominately white, conservative evangelical denomination.
    In light of current conversations in the Southern Baptist Convention, we stand together on historic Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in any form and we also declare that affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message, the statement said.
    In conservative circles, critical race theory has become a hot button cause for concern.    The presidents statement has spurred just the latest     Southern Baptist disagreement about the complex concepts used to analyze the effects of race, gender, class and more.
    Confusion abounds on Critical Race Theory, but one thing is clear: the closer you look into the history, advocates, and aims of Critical Race     Theory the more troubling it becomes, the Rev. Jason K. Allen, the president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, said in the presidents statement.
    Unfortunately, the problem of racism still exists, but Critical Race Theory is not a biblical solution.    We must be a people who stubbornly fight against both racism and Critical Race Theory, while fighting for racial reconciliation and the truth of Scripture.
    The Nov. 30 statement does not go into detail about the frameworks in question.    Intersectionality looks at how a persons identities, like race and gender, converge and make them vulnerable to bias.    Critical race theory teaches that racism is ingrained in U.S. institutions and that white people benefit from it.
    The Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern seminary, said the statement was written carefully and should be read narrowly.
    We certainly did not deny what some say we deny or affirm what some said we have affirmed. The words are right there, Mohler said.    They were not made elaborate precisely so that there would be, should be less misunderstanding.
    Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, who affirmed the seminary presidents position in a string of Twitter posts, said Southern Baptists need to stand against all racism.    But he pointed out that many Southern Baptists cannot define critical race theory and some use it to stop conversations about discrimination.
    (Critical race theory) does not begin with the image of God in man and because it locates sin in structures rather than in individuals, as an ideological framework it is incompatible with the Bible, Greear said in a Twitter post.    We dont need any manmade system because we have the Bible, which is sufficient in addressing these sinful legacies.
    Is critical race theory a bogeyman?
    But Williams, who leads Bates Memorial Baptist Church in Louisville, views the presidents statement as a way to categorically deny the existence of systemic racism, which he experiences every day.
    Williams said parts of critical race theory are debatable, but he sees it as a way to point out systemic racism, which is key to understanding why inequalities persist.    But by making critical race theory the bogeyman, Williams said anything associated with the topic could be dismissed as unbiblical.
    You dont even have to have the discussion, Williams said.    Then, you can go on pretending like youre not racist or that you dont benefit from a system of racism.
    Williams wariness of the Southern Baptist Convention addressing racial issues predates the recent pronouncement.
    He has lost confidence in his alma mater.    Williams, who is not a Southern Baptist, graduated from Southern seminary in 1986, before theological conservatives wrestled control of the convention from moderates.    Today, he does not see the seminary as all that welcoming to women and Black people, nor a healthy learning environment for them.
    Its not even at this point a matter of eating the meat and spitting out the bones, Williams said.    Its all bones.
    Williams is not alone.    Mohler said his view of Southern falls into a longstanding and expected pattern.    A large number of Southern alumni who graduated before 1993 hold liberal views on a variety of issues, including womens role in ministry, and many oppose the conservative direction of the seminary, Mohler said.
    The Southern Baptist Convention has condemned all forms of racism, Mohler said, and is on the record as believing that all sin works its way into institutional form.    The way the critical race theory approaches what it identifies as systematic racism is to argue that the entire system is hopelessly corrupted by racism and is basically irredeemable and unreformable, Mohler said.    I dont believe that Southern Baptists would affirm that understanding of systematic racism.
Critical race theory debate likely to continue
    The Conservative Baptist Network applauded the seminary presidents just as they had praised President Donald Trump last year when he banned critical race theory training for federal workers.    Trumps decision came on the heels of a summer filled with protests against police brutality and heightened awareness about systemic racism.
    Opposition to critical race theory is one of the reasons the grassroots Southern Baptist group launched in February.    It wants the seminary presidents to go further, including helping to rescind a critical race theory resolution the convention passed in 2019.
    We look forward expectantly to the presidents cooperation with us in rescinding Resolution 9 and to their taking concrete actions toward the elimination of these unbiblical doctrines and others like them, such as Black Liberation Theology, from our SBC seminaries, the network said in a news release.
    Mohler, who is expected to be nominated as the next convention president, said he is in favor of correcting the critical race theory resolution.    He also expects the conversations around the concept to continue in Southern Baptist life just as he expects it to continue in the broader culture.
    The Rev. Dwight McKissic Sr., who just finished a degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, is concerned the critical race theory proclamation could be used to target Black professors.
    McKissic, a Black Southern Baptist pastor who leads a congregation in Arlington, thinks students can still receive a quality education at all six seminaries, but said professors do not have freedom of thought, speech or academic inquiry.
    White academic space in SBC life for a professor is not safe space, McKissic said.
    Southern Baptist doctrine governs what the professors teach.    The seminary presidents said, all professors must agree to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message.
    Peter Capretto, a professor at the Disciples of Christ-affiliated Phillips Theological Seminary in Oklahoma, sees the seminary presidents statement as a way to explicitly align the convention with extreme, right-wing political sentiments on critical race theory.
    But Capretto, a pastoral theologian, found their rejection of critical race theory nonsensical, comparing it to Christian theologians denouncing psychology or biology.    There is plenty of room within the area of study for disagreement, he said.
    It would have been better for them to have said, Here is, within the scope of critical race theory, here is our conviction about how Christian theology interfaces with these ideas.    That would have been at least a defensible position, Capretto said.
    Will critical race theory statement hurt racial reconciliation efforts?
    McKissic also thinks the presidents statement harmed racial reconciliation efforts in the convention.
    Im getting calls from National and Southern Baptists that are totally disgusted and wounded by this.    Its viewed as an attack on Black history, the Black church, Black preachers, Black professors, McKissic said.    I dont know that Ive seen anything in my lifetime that Southern Baptists have said or done that has been more divisive and wounding and hurtful, painful than this particular statement.
    The Rev. Marshal L. Ausberry Sr., the president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, also has received a lot of feedback about the seminary presidents declaration.    In a Dec. 11 statement, Ausberry said he will be meeting soon with Southern Baptist leaders to discuss concerns.
    Where such ideologies conflict with Scripture, it is Scripture that governs our worldview, our decisions, and our lives, Ausberry said.    We do realize that there are theories and constructs that help us to see and discover otherwise undetected, systemic racism in institutions and in ourselves.
    Mohler said the six seminary presidents are very committed to an ongoing conversation of respect and love and gospel commitment with everyone, and that certainly includes African American leaders and pastors within our denomination.
    Soon after the presidents statement was released, the Rev. Kevin Cosby, a Black 1984 graduate of Southern seminary and president of Simmons College of Kentucky, launched an online petition calling on his alma mater to teach critical race theory, remove the names of slaveholders from its buildings and give Black-led institutions money from its endowment and assets.
    They have doubled down, Cosby said.    They have historically always been on the wrong side of race.    Why should we expect them to be on the right side when theyve never been?
    Cosby, whose grandfather helped integrate Southern seminary, leads St. Stephens Baptist Church, which is the largest Black congregation in Kentucky and aligned with the National Baptist Convention of America International.
    This is not the first time Cosby has called on Southern seminary to do more to address its racist history.    Cosby was among those calling for Southern to pay reparations to Simmons, a historically Black college, after releasing a report detailing its racist history and ties to slavery.    Instead, the school started a $5 million scholarship endowment for Black students.
    There can be no reconciliation without reparations," Cosby said.    Reparations precede reconciliation.
    ... We stand together on historic Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in any form and we also declare that affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message. Statement by presidents of Southern Baptist Convention seminaries

R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. SUBMITTED

1/4/2021 Democrat Congressman Ends Opening Prayer With Amen And Awoman by OAN Newsroom
CHARLOTTE, NC SEPTEMBER 05: U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO) spoke as U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) stood on stage during day two of the
Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 5, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
    Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) was chastised for ending his opening congressional prayer with amen and awoman.
    Conservative critics were quick to slam the Missouri representative for assigning a gender to the word amen, with many saying the action is another example of progressive ideology being pushed on Capitol Hill.
    We ask it in the name of the monotheistic God, Brahma, and God known by many names, by many different faiths.    Amen and awoman, Cleaver stated.
    Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) claimed the Hebrew definition of the word amen is so be it, adding that it is not a gendered word.
    Cleaver, an ordained Methodist preacher, supposedly disregarded conservative judgment.    He tweeted that he was "honored to deliver the prayer, and asked God to bless the representatives with the courage to defend our democracy and liberties.
    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also chastised Cleaver and the progressives, saying the radical madness has begun.
    The prayer followed legislation pushed by newly re-elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.    She introduced a bill banning the use of gender specific pronouns in the House such as mother, brother and woman.
    The measure is reportedly an attempt to be more inclusive, with Pelosi calling the package future-focused.    It has faced heavy criticism from conservatives.

1/4/2021 Greeces Orthodox Church Defies Epiphany Lockdown Order
FILE PHOTO: Orthodox faithful raise a wooden crucifix during Epiphany day celebrations in the southern
suburb of Faliro in Athens, Greece January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Costas Baltas/File Photo
    ATHENS (Reuters) Greeces Orthodox Church said on Monday it would defy a government lockdown order imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus and open churches to the faithful during the Epiphany celebration on Jan. 6.
    Greece tightened coronavirus curbs for a week from Sunday and reversed an earlier decision to allow Epiphany services after hospitals struggled to deal with a flood of new cases.
    The Greek Orthodox Church said it had written to the government urging it to respect the agreement allowing Epiphany services to go ahead.
    The Holy Synod does not concur with government measures regarding the operation of churches and insists on what was initially agreed with the state that churches will stay open for the participation of the faithful in the Mass of Epiphany, it said in a press release.
    The letter marks a rare show of dissent by Church authorities, which until now have largely respected government restrictions curbing religious services along with other public activities during the pandemic.
    In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Epiphany is one of the most important religious feasts and commemorates the baptism of Christ and the revelation of the Holy Trinity.
    As well as church services, it is traditionally marked by popular celebrations including one in which swimmers retrieve a cross thrown into the water by a priest.    The government had already banned such celebrations but had agreed to allow a limited number of worshippers to take part in church services.
    A government official said lockdown laws applied to everyone equally.    We hope the Church will realize the urgency of the moment for society, as it has responsibly done so far, the official said.
    While Greece has been more successful than many European countries in containing the spread of the coronavirus, its health services, badly weakened by years of financial crisis, have struggled to cope with thousands of new cases.
    On Monday, health officials reported a total of 140,526 infections and 5,011 COVID-related deaths since the first coronavirus case was detected in February.
(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/6/2021 LGBTQ group finds Trump judges hostile - Report says nearly 40% have put gains at risk by Kristine Phillips, USA TODAY
    WASHINGTON Nearly 40% of judges President Donald Trump appointed to federal appeals courts have a history of hostility toward LGBTQ rights, according to a new report by the LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal.
    The report presents a sobering image for civil rights advocates of Trumps lasting influence on the federal judiciary one they say threatens to roll back progress made in advancing the rights of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
    Our analysis was ... about calling out the danger to the rule of law, the danger to the integrity and credibility of the judiciary to be putting forth nominees who fundamentally start from a perspective of LGBTQ people as less than, said Sharon McGowan, legal director for Lambda Legal.
    Trump will leave office having significantly altered the makeup of the federal judiciary, from lower courts to the Supreme Court an accomplishment made possible by Senate Republicans and one that will create a major obstacle for President-elect Joe Biden.
    After four years, Trump has appointed three Supreme Court justices and 230 lower court judges to lifetime posts, many of whom are young, white and male jurists who will have decades to influence and shape federal law.
    According to Lambda Legals report, released Tuesday, the Trump administration has appointed 54 of the 177, about 30%, of actively serving federal appeals court judges.
    That outpaced Trumps recent predecessors, none of whom managed to place as many judicial appointees during their first four years in office.    During the Obama administration, only 30 federal appeals court nominees were confirmed during his first four years in office, according to the report.    Previous administrations going back to President Ronald Reagans managed to confirm 30 to 42 nominees to the appeals court bench during the first four years.
    I think in many ways, Trumps impact on the judiciary will be his most significant and lasting legacy, McGowan said.
    While the Supreme Court hears only about 100 to 150 cases annually, the 13 federal appeals courts around the country hear thousands of the most consequential cases every year that shape laws and affect the rights of millions of Americans.
    Carrie Severino, chief counsel at the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, which has promoted Trumps nominees, has said the nomination process under the Trump administration is not about meeting quotas.
    Trump is looking for people with a principled judicial philosophy, Severino said.    The fundamental question is making sure we have judges who are going to be faithful to the Constitution.
    The report by Lambda Legal which analyzed public records on Trumps nominees, including their statements and writings as private citizens singled out several appeals court judges who, the authors say, have already issued rulings hostile to LGBTQ rights.
    In 2019, Judge James Ho, whom Trump nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, wrote an opinion denying health care to a transgender woman who was seeking sex-reassignment surgery while in a Texas prison.    Ho, who referred to the inmate using male pronouns, wrote that while it can be considered cruel and unusual punishment, to deny medical care to a prisoner, there is much disagreement in the medical community about the necessity of sex-reassignment surgery.
    Later that year, Judge David Stras, whom Trump nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, wrote an opinion backing wedding videographers First Amendment rights to refuse to provide services at same-sex weddings.    The judge wrote that the videographers have creative control over their work and have the right to decline requests for services from clients who contradict their views that marriage is solely between a man and a woman.
    Also last year, two Trump-nominated judges to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit voted to strike down local laws protecting LGBTQ minors from conversion therapy, a practice of attempting to change a persons sexual orientation or gender identity.    The American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association have discredited the practice.
    But in the opinion, Judge Britt Grant wrote that the ban on the controversial treatment infringes on therapists First Amendment rights and that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds it offensive.    Judge Barbara Lagoa agreed with Grant, resulting in a split 2-1 decision.
    In a candid speech in November to the conservative Federalist Society, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito lamented societys hostility against traditional views on marriage.    You cant say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, Alito said.    Until very recently, thats what the vast majority of Americans thought. Now its considered bigotry.
    The speech was widely criticized by Democrats and advocates, including McGowan.    Lambda Legal also opposed Alitos nomination to the high court in 2006.

1/7/2021 Joe Biden Faces Backlash Over Pro-Abortion Pick For HHS Secy by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden speaks at the Queen Theater on January 6, 2021, in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
    Joe Biden is facing pushback over his pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services.
    On Monday, Biden announced his nomination of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. However, critics are questioning the decision by citing Becerras lack of qualifications for the job.
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA SEPTEMBER 18: California attorney general Xavier Becerra. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
    Becerra, who previously served Congress, has no medical background or work experience with the HHS.    He is also pro-abortion.
    In 2017, Becerra filed criminal charges against a pro-life activist who uncovered Planned Parenthoods involvement in selling aborted fetuses to biotech companies.    Some Republican lawmakers said they will not vote to confirm Becerra and are urging others to do the same.

1/12/2021 Pope says women can read at Mass by Nicole Winfield, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    ROME Pope Francis changed church law Monday to allow women to do more things during Mass, granting them access to the most sacred place on the altar, while continuing to affirm that they cannot be priests.
    Francis amended the law to formalize and institutionalize what is common practice in many parts of the world: Women can be installed as lectors, read Scripture, and serve on the altar as eucharistic ministers.    Previously, such roles were officially reserved to men, even though exceptions were made.
    Francis said he was making the change to increase recognition of the precious contribution women make in the church, while emphasizing that all baptized Catholics have a role to play in the churchs mission.
    But he also noted that doing so further makes a distinction between ordained ministries, such as the priesthood and diaconate, and ministries open to qualified laity.    The Vatican reserves the priesthood for men.
    The change comes as Francis remains under pressure to allow women to be deacons ministers who perform many of the same functions as priests, such as presiding at weddings, baptisms and funerals.    Currently, the ministry is reserved for men, even though historians say the ministry was performed by women in the early church.
    Francis has created a second commission of experts to study whether women could be deacons.
    Advocates for expanding the diaconate to include women say doing so would give women greater say in the ministry and governance of the church.

1/12/2021 Supreme Court wont hear Pa. abortion clinic free speech case
    WASHINGTON The Supreme Court is declining to get involved in a case about free speech outside a Pittsburgh abortion clinic.    The high court turned away the case Monday.    The courts decision not to hear the case leaves in place a 2019 appeals court decision that upheld a Pittsburgh ordinance creating a 15-foot buffer zone where protests are barred around entrances to health care facilities.    The decision allowed sidewalk counseling within that zone.    Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the courts decision not to take up the case.

1/13/2021 Review Shows Australia Made Huge Miscalculation On Funds Transfers, Vatican Says by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the deserted St. Peter's Square on Christmas Day amidst the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) lockdown, at the Vatican, December 25, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/File Photo
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) Australias financial watchdog has drastically reduced the sum of money it says was sent from the Vatican to Australia, the Vatican said on Wednesday, after it earlier reported a huge figure which raised suspicions of money laundering.
    The joint Vatican-Australian review showed only A$9.5 million ($7.35 million) transited between 2014 and 2020, a fraction of the A$2.3 billion ($1.77 billion) originally reported by the watchdog to widespread astonishment.
    The Vatican contested the huge figures in December and asked the Australian financial intelligence unit, known as AUSTRAC, to review its calculations.    Some media had speculated that the Vatican could have been used to launder money.
    AUSTRACs error was first reported by the Australian newspaper earlier on Wednesday, which said it was due to a computer coding mistake.
    A Vatican statement called the mistake a huge discrepancy.    It said the A$9.5 million sent to Australia was mostly to meet contractual obligations as well as ordinary management, which appeared to be a reference to its embassy in Australia.
    The Vatican had said the original report of the huge amount of money and more than 47,000 individual transfers had sounded like science fiction, because the Holy Sees annual budget is about 330 million euros; it demanded a review.
    The Australian said AUSTRAC had told the newspaper the new calculations showed there had been only 362 transfers in that period.
    Cardinal George Pell, who was the Vaticans treasurer from 2014 to 2017 told Reuters on Wednesday: I was relieved to hear that billions were not laundered through the Vatican while I was head of the Secretariat for the Economy.
    Pell, who is now in Rome, returned to his native Australia in 2017 to face charges of historical sexual abuse and spent 404 days in jail before his conviction was overturned last April.
    Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane told Reuters last month that the Australian Church was not aware of any such transfers and that the bishops had sought clarification from the Vatican and AUSTRAC.
($1 = 1.2923 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean and Philippa Fletcher)

1/14/2021 Local church leaders slam pastors curse - Clergyman lashes out, claims election stolen by Ayana Archie, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    A group of Louisville clergymen on Wednesday condemned a sermon by the pastor of the Evangel World Prayer Center in which he falsely claimed the 2020 presidential election was stolen and placed a curse on those allegedly involved.
    On Sunday, pastor Bob Rodgers, of the Evangel World Prayer Center, said: Father, those that have lied, those that have stolen this election, those that have cheated, I place the curse of God upon them.    I curse you with weakness in your body.    I curse you with poverty.    I curse you with the worst year youve ever had in the name of the Lord.
    Pastor Tim Findley, of the Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center, said that was irresponsible and dangerous, especially after supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol last week in a deadly attempt to prevent President-elect Joe Bidens victory from being certified.
    Findley gathered several pastors together in a press conference that was streamed on Facebook on Wednesday to address Rodgers sermon.
    Pastor Frank Smith Jr., of Christs Church For Our Community, said, I know there is much talk about the Christian right, but this is not Christian and this is not right.
    The Rev. Mario Martin, of Praise Nation Contemporary Church, added: It is equally apparent and appalling that such an off-putting amount of unsettled evangelicals have so eagerly jumped at the opportunity to advance the spirit of white supremacy and white privilege through white prophecy.
    Rodgers did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
    Findley said he would reach out to Rodgers.
    Findley told The Courier Journal before Wednesdays press conference there is nothing wrong with intersecting politics and religion as Jesus did address many of the political structures of his day.
    But, he said, Christians have a duty to condemn policies that oppress and harm people, such as voter suppression and a lack of access to health care, not pushing lies, like an election being stolen when theres no credible evidence whatsoever.
    Last week, Trumps supporters gathered in Washington and broke into the Capitol building following a rally in which the president encouraged them to march to Congress and show strength.
    Once at the Capitol, rioters breached metal barricades, pushed their way into the halls of Congress, and took over the spots where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice     President Mike Pence had been standing an hour earlier.
    The rioters trashed offices and took selfies.
    Amid the violence, a woman 35year-old Ashli Babbitt was shot inside the Capitol and taken to a hospital, where she was later pronounced dead. U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was killed after a rioter hit him in the head with a fire extinguisher.    Three others died from unclear medical emergencies.
    Less than a week after we see the violent mob storm the Capitol, and riot and loot where one police officer was beat to death, and less than a week after that, youre pushing that kind of rhetoric ... Findley said.    I think now youre in an irresponsible, dangerous place.
    The pastors also admonished Rodgers for not holding services in line with coronavirus guidelines, such as wearing masks and socially distancing.
    A so-called shepherd of a flock, who bundles people together around an altar, not socially distanced, very few masks on, and spews venomous curses over them in a midst of a weekend where Kentucky has had its highest number of cases accrued across a few days, of COVID-19 ... does not reflect the words of scripture, Smith said.
    Findley called on congregations to hold their religious leaders accountable.
    This has been going on from evangelical pulpits for 400 years, he said.    The time is now to call attention to that, and if these religious leaders wont change, then we have to speak directly to their congregations and say to them, If you stay in these spaces, then you are complicit with a message that is coming from those pulpits. Contact Ayana Archie at aarchie@ or follow on Twitter @AyanaArchie.
    I know there is much talk about the Christian right, but this is not Christian and this is not right.
Pastor Frank Smith Jr. - Christs Church For Our Community
A protester dressed like the Statue of Liberty stands with a fist raised on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.,
on Jan. 6 after a pro-Trump mob stormed the building. On Sunday, the pastor of the Evangel World Prayer Center falsely claimed
the presidential election was stolen and placed a curse on those allegedly involved. JON CHERRY/GETTY IMAGES

1/14/2021 Evangelicals still back Trump - Capitol riot cant shake presidents loyalists by Rick Jervis, Marc Ramirez and Romina Ruiz-Goiriena, USA TODAY
    Like millions of other Americans, Franklin Graham watched the disturbing images of last weeks riots at the U.S. Capitol with swelling concern and anger.
    Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham and head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said he was sickened to see people attack my Capitol and break down the doors of my Capitol and was dismayed to see how President Donald Trump riled up the protesters.
    I dont think it was the presidents finest moment, he said.
    But Graham said he doesnt expect the tumult at the Capitol to deter evangelical Christians from supporting Trump.
    I dont think he had any understanding in that moment of what was going to take place, he said.    None of us did.
    Graham added, He regrets it.
    Since his victory in a very competitive Republican primary in 2016, Trump has relied on evangelical Christians and other influential religious groups as powerful voting blocs to shore up his influence.    He has appointed more than 200 federal judges and three conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court who support limits on abortion and gay marriage and other policies favored by many conservative religious leaders.    In the presidential election in November, 76% of white evangelicals voted for Trump and 24% for Joe Biden, according to Edison Research exit polls.
    Thousands of protesters broke into the Capitol as Congress tried to finalize the Electoral College vote count and acknowledge Biden as the election winner.    The attack led to five deaths and nearly 100 arrests and motivated House Democrats to introduce articles of impeachment against Trump for allegedly inciting the crowds.    During a speech before the violence broke out, Trump told his followers, Were going to have to fight much harder.
    If you dont fight like hell, youre not going to have a country anymore, he said hours before rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, threatening Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers.
    Tuesday, Trump said calls for his impeachment were divisive and his comments to supporters before the insurrection were totally appropriate.
    None of the turmoil has eroded much of his support among evangelicals, experts and religious leaders said.
    For the past four years, evangelical leaders created an echo chamber where they blamed all of Trumps digressions and missteps on the Democratic Party or the mainstream media, said Sarah Posner, an investigative journalist and author of Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump.
    After the deadly Capitol riot, evangelical leaders deflected blame from Trump, while those who have been critical of the president denounced the riots and blamed him for playing a role, she said.
    Evangelicals are so conditioned not to trust the media, its going to be really hard to convince them of the truth of what happened on Wednesday, Posner said.
    In the wake of the Capitol riots, many evangelical leaders have continued fueling Trumps baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud in last years elections, she said.
    Because its the leaders who are again churning the same conspiracy theories, I dont see a lot of progress in changing anybodys minds, Posner said.
    Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the 14,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas, said Tuesday he had absolutely no regrets over his enthusiastic support of Trump over the past four years.
    He is without doubt the most prolife and pro-religious president in history, Jeffares said in an e-mail.    The president has every right to hold the view that the election was fraudulent and to invite those who share that belief to peacefully protest.    He neither called for nor condoned the despicable actions of those who invaded our Capitol and assaulted the police.
    In an editorial published over the weekend on Fox News, Jeffares called the storming of the Capitol not only a crime but a sin against God.
    Jeffares said he would discuss in his sermon Sunday how Christians dismayed by the election results should respond to Biden.
    If we are ever going to heal our country, he said, we must learn how to lay aside the anger and bitterness that are tearing our country apart without demanding that people surrender their deeply held convictions.
    Trump has also courted support from Orthodox Jewish leaders, who applauded when he moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem two years ago.    Jared Kushner, Trumps son-in-law, brokered the signing of peace accords with a handful of Mideast countries.
    According to a survey by the American Jewish Committee published in October, Trump was preferred by 74% of Orthodox Jews.    Biden was favored by 83% of secular Jews.
    Among the mob at the U.S. Capitol were Orthodox Jews who supported the president, even though there were anti-Semitic images in the crowd, including a man with a T-shirt emblazoned with Camp Auschwitz.    One rioter arrested Friday was the son of a judge in New Yorks Orthodox Jewish community.
    Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, a national organization that represents more than 900 Orthodox clergy members, called the events at the Capitol very painful.    The Rabbinical Alliance of America does not endorse any political candidates for office.
    This is more than the straw that broke the camels back, said Mirocznik, whose parents are Holocaust survivors.    America needs to begin to heal.
    A poll by the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization that tracks extremism nationwide, found approximately two-thirds of Americans say Trump and members of groups with white supremacist beliefs were responsible for the violence.
    Most Americans now see the direct connection between the dangerous rhetoric from President Trump, others on the far right and extremist groups, said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the ADL.
    During religious services this past weekend, Jewish clergy took to the pulpit to speak out against white supremacy, anti-Semitism and the attack on democracy.
    As Rabbi Rachel Timoner began reciting the blessing, Baruch Atah Adonai, to welcome the sabbath in Congregation Beth Elohim in New York Citys Brooklyn borough, she attempted to comfort her congregation.
    We are going to kindle light because the world needs light, she said, lighting two white candles.
    Joseph Daniels, pastor of Emory Fellowship, a United Methodist church in Washington, cited the attack on the Capitol during his sermon Sunday and urged congregants to call out wrongdoing when they see it.
    For our nation to heal, for America to heal, we have to call out the fact that the behaviors and habits and attitudes of this past Wednesday were not of God but were of a white supremacy and privilege that are not healthy for anybody, said Daniels, who is Black.    We cannot be afraid. We have to have courage. ... We have to call out demons.
    Some conservative religious leaders called for the nation to move forward In an article in the online portal The Gospel Coalition, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics &     Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, condemned the attacks on the Capitol and called on Christians to reject the falsehoods surrounding the elections and embrace the truth.
    Enough is enough and indeed was enough a long time ago, Moore wrote.    It will take decades to rebuild from the wreckage in this country.    But, as Christians, we can start now just by not being afraid to say what is objectively the truth.    Joe Biden has been elected president.
    He said, If Christians are people of truth, we ought to be the first to acknowledge reality. For other evangelicals, Trumps role in the Capitol attack will be minimized because many see him not just as an elected official but one anointed by God, Posner said.
    They feel he should remain president because God wanted him to be president, she said.
Contributing: Deborah Berry
Evangelist Franklin Graham says President Donald Trump didnt expect a riot. None of us did. ROY DABNER/EPA
The Trump administrations actions in the Middle East won the president support from Israelis in Jerusalem. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
    I dont think (Trump) had any understanding in that moment of what was going to take place. Franklin Graham
Trump held up a Bible in June during a photo op outside St. Johns Church, where a fire was set during Black Lives Matter protests. PATRICK SEMANSKY/AP
[The above image was done after the Washington D.C. Mayor watched and did nothing to stop the destruction but now is blaming all on Trump.].

1/20/2021 TELEVISION - LGBTQ representation drops for 1st time since 2014 by David Oliver, USA TODAY
    Representation of LGBTQ characters will slightly decrease on broadcast TV this year, from 10.2% to 9.1%, according to GLAADs annual Where Are We on TV report.    This is the first time theres been such a decrease since the 2013-2014 TV season.
    Theres going be a lot written about the coronavirus and how thats affected a lot of things, and I do believe that has been a player here, GLAAD CEO     Sarah Kate Ellis tells USA TODAY.    While shes relieved it didnt drop further, she doesnt consider the pandemic an excuse to skirt by representation goals, either: The percentage of LGBTQ people shouldnt ideally go down, which is further proof to the point that were not there yet.
    The report, which takes into account the 2020-2021 television season, also found that about 1 in 5 LGBTQ characters to appear on a series is tied to four industry leaders behind the scenes: Shonda Rhimes (Bridgerton), Greg Berlanti (Supergirl), Lena Waithe (The Chi) and Ryan Murphy (Pose).
    It really shows that our advancements in representation are just like our legislative advancements, theyre fragile, Ellis says.    She says GLAAD will continue to work with creators so that LGBTQ characters and storylines become a part of their shows.
    Only three characters on television live with HIV, according to the report, and all of them appear on Murphys Pose.    This is down from nine characters in last years report; 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV. More storytelling with these characters is needed, too, Ellis said.
    The report wasnt all gloom and doom for LGBTQ characters on screen: The percentage of LGBTQ people of color ticked up across broadcast (53%, up one point), cable (52%, up four points) and streaming (47%, up six points) since last year.    There also are more LGBTQ women on broadcast TV compared with men for the second year in a row, at 55%.
    Ellis also is encouraged over the past five years of how far weve come on, including trans and nonbinary characters.    But this is another case where a few shows help make up a lot of ground.
    If you remove Pose from the study, or from the airwaves, you lose a lot of if not the majority of trans characters, she says.    And we cant rely on one show to lead the way, she says.
    A Nielsen study cited in the report found adults were spending 37 hours per week watching TV the first quarter of the year meaning the role of television is highly influential.
    We have an enormous opportunity here to broaden peoples perspectives, to introduce LGBTQ people, and all marginalized people, to people that might not interact with our community, Ellis says.    I feel really strongly that the industry needs to really take note of that, and hold themselves accountable to the content that theyre creating and putting out there.
Angel (Indya Moore, left), Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) and Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) on Pose. JOJO WHILDEN/FX
[That is an easy answer because no one wants to see that sin on the television and even now I record shows and watch them later so I can fast forward that issue so that my children can not see that just as all this occured during the Obama administation, now we get a repeat to probably make it reach new levels of depravity under the new antichristian party.    I was watching the new Supergirl show until they started having SuperLGBTQ characters and also the new Batwoman.].

1/22/2021 Biden Admin. Refuses To Give Stance On Abortion, Hyde Amendment by OAN Newsroom
WASHINGTON, DC JANUARY 21: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
    During the new administrations first press conference Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki danced around a question on whether Biden supports the Hyde Amendment and the Mexico City Policy.
    The Hyde Amendment bars taxpayer funding from going towards abortion procedures and the Mexico City Policy cuts off abortion funding to other nations.
    Psaki side-stepped the question by saying Biden is a devout Catholic, but she failed to provide a definitive answer on his position.
WASHINGTON, DC JANUARY 20: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki conducts her first news conference of the Biden Administration
in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
    Well, I think well have more to say on the Mexico City Policy in the coming days, Psaki stated.    Ill just take the opportunity to remind all of you that he is a devout Catholic and someone who attends church regularly.    He started his day attending church with his family this morning, but I dont have anything more for you on that.
    Biden has a history of flip-flopping on his position on the Hyde Amendment.    For example, in 2019 he opposed it before he quickly shifted to supporting it.
[Biden will change in a minute and is not to be trusted on decision of Christianity since Catholics are like a roller coaster just goes up and down on Biblical principles of Christ and God's word.].

1/23/2021 ANNIVERSARY OF ROE V. WADE by Ayana Archie Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    Abortion opponents rally at Metro Hall.
    Protesters gathered in downtown Louisville on Friday to mark the 48th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Courts landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
    Right to Life Louisville, a nonprofit promoting and protecting the sanctity of human life, hosted the rally on the steps of Metro Hall, with speakers praying for politicians to enact anti-abortion laws and calling on women to explore other options, such as adoption.
    Father, there is nothing too hard for you, said Angela Minter, president of Sisters for Life.    Were trusting you to turn the heart of President Biden.    Were trusting you to turn the heart of Kamala Harris.
    Minter also condemned Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that provides reproductive health care and sex education, calling it racist and accusing the organization of taking advantage of minority communities.
    A representative for Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, which was given permission to resume abortions at its Louisville clinic last year, did not immediately respond to a phone call Friday afternoon seeking comment.    In the past, the organization has said that it serves people of all races, including many low-income individuals.
    Metro Councilwoman Marilyn Parker, R-18th District, also spoke.
    It will never be known what society has lost or gained in human potential through abortion, she said.    Human potential that never had a chance to grow or walk.    Human potential that might have been an author, an actor, a scientist or journalist.
    The crowd of a few dozen braved the cold, some holding signs that read, Abortion kills children, Life is precious, and We march with Christ for life.
    Some of the people handing out signs were Garry and Donna Burry, 64 and 58, of Louisville.
    Donna Burry said they came because they are being supportive of life, from conception to natural death, and wanting to stand in support of laws that need to recognize the baby, from the moment of conception, is a human life.
    She said she believes President Joe Biden will not support anti-abortion laws, but the protesters efforts are more focused on local and state officials.
    This week, Kentucky Gov.    Andy Beshear vetoed an abortion bill but let another one become law.
    House Bill 2, which would give Attorney General Daniel Cameron the power to regulate abortion clinics, was vetoed.
    Senate Bill 9, which would require doctors to preserve the life and health of a born-alive infant during a failed abortion, became law when Beshear did not sign or veto it by Thursdays deadline.
    Kentucky law also bans abortions after the fetus reaches 20 weeks.
    Contact Ayana Archie at or follow on Twitter @AyanaArchie.
Anti-abortion protesters with Right to Life Louisville hold a rally in front of Metro Hall in downtown Louisville on Friday. SCOTT UTTERBACK/COURIER JOURNAL
    The group prayed for local and national politicians to enact anti-abortion laws and called on pregnant people to explore other options, such as adoption.
Protesters with Right to Life Louisville hold a rally in front of Metro Hall on Friday. PHOTOS BY SCOTT UTTERBACK/COURIER JOURNAL

1/23/2021 FBI Investigating Explosion At Anti-LGBTQ Church In Calif. by OAN Newsroom
El Monte Police Chief David Reynoso, left, with another officer stand outside the First Works Baptist Church tagged with graffiti, after an explosion
in El Monte, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. The FBI and local police are investigating the explosion early Saturday at the
Los Angeles-area church that had been the target of protests for its anti-LGTBQ message. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
    Authorities are investigating the vandalism and possible explosion at a local church in El Monte, California.
    Officers responded to the scene early Saturday morning after hearing a loud explosion and reports of smoke coming from the First Works Baptist Church.
El Monte Police Chief David Reynoso, left, takes pictures of graffiti on the side wall of the First Works Baptist Church. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
    Investigators said the walls were vandalized with profanity and the windows looked to be smashed.
    The church has been the focus of recent protests in the community and has been labeled as anti-LGBTQ.
    It appeared that the walls to the church had been vandalized as well as all the windows at first appeared to be smashed, El Monte Police Department Lt.    Christopher Cano said.     Then, we realized that the windows were not smashed and that they had actually blown out from some type of explosion.
    No injuries were reported in the incident and authorities said a joint investigation is underway to apprehend the person, or group, responsible.

1/23/2021 Biden Admin. Looking To Codify Roe V. Wade by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden spoke during the First State Democratic Dinner in Dover, Delaware, on March 16, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Biden administration is seeking to expand access to abortion.
    In a White House statement on Friday, the administration threatened to codify current federal abortion laws.    This would effectively allow for legal abortions even if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
    Despite Joe Bidens efforts to protect abortion, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki professed Bidens Catholic faith.
    Well, I think well have more to say on the Mexico City policy in the coming days.    But I will just take the opportunity to remind all of you that he is a devout Catholic and somebody who attends church regularly, Psaki said.    He started his day attending church with his family this morning.    But I dont have anything more for you on that.
    The Biden administration has also vowed to appoint federal judges that will advocate for similar legislation to Roe v. Wade.

1/24/2021 Cameron urges state lawmakers to override veto of abortion bill - Measure would give AG authority over providers by Joe Sonka, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
Whether abortion providers follow the law isnt political, and it shouldnt be up for debate, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron wrote in a tweet.
    Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron is calling on the General Assembly to override a governors veto and give him the power to regulate the states abortion providers, a measure reproductive rights advocates say is politicizing public health.
    House Bill 2 would give Cameron a strongly anti-abortion Republican the authority to independently regulate and enforce violations on the states two abortion clinics, both in Louisville.
    The attorney general currently can do so only with clearance from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
    In his veto message for HB 2, Gov. Andy Beshear wrote that he opposed the bill because the attorney generals office does not have the expertise or the necessary structure to directly regulate medical procedures or health care providers.
    The regulation of legal medical procedures is currently being performed by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which has extensive experience across all fields of the medical profession.    Given the divergent views on this legal medical procedure, it is also critical to have an impartial regulator.
    Beshear, who supports a womans legal right to choose an abortion, gave a similar explanation for his veto after last years session of a bill including the same language giving the attorney general this power.
    Cameron said in a tweet Tuesday he was extremely disappointed to see Beshear veto another bill giving his office authority to hold abortion providers accountable to the law.
    Whether abortion providers follow the law isnt political, and it shouldnt be up for debate, Cameron wrote.    Abortion providers should be required to live up to the statutes adopted by our General Assembly, and its my hope that the legislature will override this veto.
    An override of the veto appears very likely once legislators return to Frankfort on Feb. 2, as the large Republican supermajority in each chamber passed the bill with over 75% of the vote and only a majority is needed to override.
    Under HB 3, Cameron could independently seek civil or criminal penalties against abortion facilities in response to violations of state laws and regulations relating to licensing, procedures and transfer agreements with a hospital and ambulance service.
    Transfer agreements have been heavily litigated since former Gov. Matt Bevin in 2017 attempted to shut down EMW Womens Surgical Center the only abortion clinic in Kentucky at the time alleging its agreements were deficient.
    While a federal judge in 2018 sided with EMW in striking down the 1998 law requiring such agreements as a medically unnecessary and unconstitutional barrier to legal abortions, this ruling was overturned in October by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
    A Planned Parenthood in Louisville is now the second clinic licensed to provide abortions in Kentucky, after the Beshear administration issued the license last year that the Bevin administration had refused to provide.
    Reacting to the veto, House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said it was the second veto of this language by a governor who consistently claims he is trying to save lives.
    The first bill to pass a committee and both chambers in the 2021 session, HB 2 was said to be needed because Beshear, according to main sponsor Rep. Joseph Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, has shown no interest in enforcing or defending antiabortion laws passed by the legislature in recent years, including when he was attorney general.
    Beshears veto did draw praise from reproductive rights advocates who believe HB 2 would enable Camerons office to put up roadblocks to women attempting to obtain a legal abortion.
    American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky policy strategist Jackie McGranahan called HB 2 a blatant attempt by anti-abortion politicians and their allies to work in tandem to make it harder for Kentuckians to access reproductive health care, including safe, legal abortion.
    HB 2 is clearly not about improving health and safety, as it singles out providers of abortion care an already incredibly tightly regulated area of health care and no other types of health care providers, McGranahan said.    Attorney General Cameron has demonstrated he would target abortion providers, and even punish them with criminal and civil penalties if he were given authorities like those in HB 2.
    Tamarra Wieder, the state director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky, said the real goal of HB 2 proponents is to restrict abortion access through back channels by shifting oversight of abortion providers to an office with no business overseeing health care.
    Policies that punish pregnant people and providers over basic reproductive health care will not stand with Kentuckians, Wieder stated.    The majority of the U.S. supports access to safe, legal abortion.    Gov. Beshears veto of HB 2 upholds the beliefs of the majority of the commonwealth.
    Wieder added: The anti-abortion bills sent to the governor have nothing to do with the health and wellbeing of Kentuckians and everything to do with politicizing public health.    The anti-science, anti-mask, anti-fact mentality of the General Assembly and their supporters must stop, and we expect the strength of our governor to put these antics to rest.
    Beshear has now vetoed six of the seven priority bills passed by the Republican- dominated legislature in the first eight days of the 2021 session, though he allowed Senate     Bill 9 to become law without his signature.    That measure requires doctors to give lifesaving measures to any infant born alive during a failed abortion or premature birth.
    The bill Beshear vetoed last year that gave Cameron the power to regulate abortion facilities also included the same language from SB 9.
    Beshear spokeswoman Crystal Staley told The Courier Journal that SB 9 involves a situation that, to our knowledge, has never happened in Kentucky and is already illegal under other Kentucky laws.
    Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, the main sponsor of SB 9, tweeted Friday that its passage into law is especially welcome news on the anniversary of the tragic Roe v Wade decision.    I have hope that there are still victories for life ahead! #ChooseLife.    The U.S. Supreme Court decided the Roe v. Wade case on Jan. 22, 1973, legalizing abortion.
    Republicans expanded their supermajority in each chamber of the legislature in the November election, flipping many Democratic seats with campaigns heavily focused on Republican candidates anti-abortion position and portraying their opponents as supporters of late-term abortion.
    Reach reporter Joe Sonka at and follow him on Twitter at @joesonka.
Gov. Andy Beshear walks toward his office in the state Capitol on Wednesday. Beshear recently vetoed a bill that would give
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron the power to regulate abortion providers. MATT STONE/COURIER JOURNAL

1/25/2021 Pope Appeals For Rome Homeless As Number Of Dead From Cold Rises by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis leads the Mass on Christmas Eve in St. Peter's Basilica amid the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) pandemic at the Vatican December 24, 2020. Vincenzo Pinto/Pool via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) Pope Francis on Sunday urged Romans to help the homeless in the Italian capital, after a spike in the number dying from the cold.
    Speaking at his noon blessing, Francis told the story of Edwin, a 46-year-old Nigerian who died of exposure near St. Peters Square on Wednesday.
    His story joins those of others who have recently died in Rome in the same dramatic circumstances.    Let us pray for Edwin, Francis said.
    The Sant Egidio charity group said Edwin was at least the fourth homeless person to die of the cold in the city this year and the 10th since November.
    Let us think of Edwin, let us think of what this 46-year-old man felt in the cold, ignored by all, abandoned, even by us.    Let us pray for him, the pope said.
    Sant Egidio and other groups scour Rome streets to direct homeless to shelters, and give out blankets and food.
    They have asked city authorities to open subway stations at night.
    The Vatican and its related charities run facilities including night shelters, bathing places, soup kitchens, and a clinic.
    The 84-year-old pope delivered the address while standing in the Vatican library despite a renewed flare-up of a sciatica condition that causes pain in his legs and forced him to miss three events on Sunday and Monday.
    Francis had been scheduled to say a Mass on Sunday morning and a vespers service on Monday.    Both require the main celebrant to stand for long periods. He also postponed his annual address to the diplomatic corps that was set for Monday.
    It was the second time this month that he had to miss events because of the flare-up.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

1/26/2021 Biden overturns Trump transgender troop ban - Pentagon ordered to end bias over gender identity by Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY
    WASHINGTON President Joe Biden on Monday overturned President Donald Trumps policy that aimed to ban transgender troops from service.
    Biden directed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to implement a policy that prohibits discrimination against troops based on their gender identity and requires the Pentagon to report within 60 days its progress in unraveling the ban.
    Biden said the move makes the nation safer.
    Today, I repealed the discriminatory ban on transgender people serving in the military, Biden said in a tweet.    Its simple: America is safer when everyone qualified to serve can do so openly and with pride.
    The directive is one of Bidens first moves to unravel Trumps legacy in the military and elsewhere in government.
    In a statement Monday, Austin called repeal of the ban the right thing to do.    It is also the smart thing to do.
    The Pentagon will ensure transgender troops are not discharged or denied reenlistment based on gender identity, Austin said.
    They will also receive medically required treatment for transition.    The Pentagon will review cases of transgender troops who had action taken against them under the Trump-era ban.
    We would be rendering ourselves less fit to the task if we excluded from our ranks people who meet our stan- dards and who have the skills and the devotion to serve in uniform, Austin said.
    In 2016, the Pentagon under President Barack Obama repealed a longstanding policy that prohibited transgender troops from serving openly, and it allowed them to receive counseling and medical treatment, including surgery.    A study commissioned by the Pentagon found that overturning the ban would have minimal costs and effects on the readiness of troops to fight.
    Trump announced by tweet in July 2017 his intent to ban transgender troops, a move that surprised Pentagon brass.    Amid court challenges, the Pentagon implemented a policy developed under then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that banned troops who required treatment for gender dysphoria.
    Mattis said the policy was needed because treating transgender troops detracted from the militarys readiness to fight.
    Gender dysphoria results from the conflict between physical gender and gender identity and should not disqualify troops from serving, according to the American Medical Association and other major medical and psychiatric organizations.
    The Trump policy required transgender troops to serve based on their sex at birth.    Transgender troops who had begun receiving treatment under the Obama-era policy were grandfathered in.
    The Pentagon estimated that there were about 9,000 transgender troops serving in 2016, and about 1,000 had a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
The directive is one of President Joe Bidens first moves to unravel his
predecessors legacy in the military and elsewhere in government. AP

1/27/2021 Priest who gave exorcisms for voter fraud leaves diocese by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    MADISON, Wis. A priest who livestreamed exorcisms aimed at rooting out what he, former President Donald Trump and some Trump supporters have claimed was widespread voting fraud in the presidential election has left a Roman Catholic diocese in Wisconsin.
    The Diocese of Madison said it and the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf reached a mutual decision on his departure.    Zuhlsdorf will relocate from the diocese to pursue other opportunities, the diocese said in a statement earlier this month.
    The Bishop of Madison is grateful to the Reverend Zuhlsdorf for his faithful support of the dioceses seminarians and priests, thanks him for his many years of steadfast ministry serving the diocese, and wishes him the best in his future endeavors, the statement said.
    Zuhlsdorf did not immediately respond to a phone message and email Tuesday seeking comment.
    Zuhlsdorf claimed he had permission from Madison Bishop Donald Hying to conduct the exorcisms.
    Hying said, however, that he didnt give Zuhlsdorf permission to conduct exorcisms related to partisan political activity but rather approved an exorcism for alleviation from the scourge of the coronavirus pandemic.
    Recordings of Zuhlsdorfs exorcisms have since been removed from YouTube, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
    The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops defines an exorcism as a specific form of prayer that the Church uses against the power of the devil.
    Diocese spokesman Brent King described Zuhlsdorfs role as that of a freelancer and said he was not an employee of the diocese or a parish.
The Rev. John Zuhlsdorf walks to the altar at St. Mary of Pine Bluff Church in Wisconsin. MILES MOFFEIT/SPECIAL TO USA TODAY NETWORK

1/28/2021 Poland Puts Into Effect New Restrictions On Abortion by Joanna Plucinska and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk
A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest against verdict restricting abortion rights in Warsaw, Poland, January 27, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) Polands government put into effect on Wednesday a constitutional court decision banning terminations of pregnancies with foetal defects, as conservative policies increasingly take root in one of Europes most devout Catholic countries.
    The Oct. 22 ruling had led to weeks of massive protests, forcing the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government to delay its implementation.
    Small protests gathered late on Wednesday following an announcement PiS would take the official step to enforce the decision imminently, and abortion rights activists announced more would take place on Thursday.
    Abortion has emerged as one of the most divisive issues since PiS took power in 2015, promising poorer, older and less educated Poles a return to a traditional society mixed with generous welfare policies.
    The courts verdict was published in the official gazette late on Wednesday.
    This idiotic ruling will not prevent abortions, said Cezary Jasinski, a 23-year-old student, standing in front of the Constitutional Tribunal building in central Warsaw.
    But for every woman who will experience pain because of this ruling, or will be forced to give birth to a child with Downs Syndrome, they (court judges) will be to blame.
    Last years protests quickly morphed into an eruption of anger against the government, particularly among young people, suggesting PiS may face a fresh challenge from new voters in coming years.
    On Wednesday, officials said the government would now focus on assisting parents of disabled children, although PiS as well as its centrist predecessors have been accused by critics of not doing enough in that regard.
    The state can no longer take a life away only because someone is sick, disabled, in poor health, PiS lawmaker Bartlomiej Wroblewski said.
    The party denies opposition criticism that it had influenced the court, called the Constitutional Tribunal.    It is one of the judicial bodies PiS overhauled during reforms that the European Union said has politicised the courts.
    No law-abiding government should respect this ruling, Borys Budka, leader of Polands largest opposition party, the centrist Civic Platform, told reporters.
    Access to abortion has declined even without the legislative curbs as more doctors refuse to perform them on religious grounds and many women seek abortions abroad.
    Under the new rules, terminations will be permitted only in cases of rape and incest, and when the mothers life or health is endangered.    Doctors performing illegal abortions in Poland face jail.
    In a justification published on Wednesday, the tribunal left open the possibility of the parliament regulating some circumstances covered by the law.
    Marek Suski, a PiS lawmaker, said the party would consider introducing new rules that could allow the most extreme foetal deformities to be excluded.    But political commentators say consensus between PiS and its arch-conservative governing allies would be difficult to achieve.
    In cases when the foetus doesnt have a skull or has no chance to live outside the womb, there should be a choice.    We will work on this, Suski told public radio.
    Opinion surveys have shown some decline in PiS popularity in recent months, but an opinion poll by the government-affiliated CBOS pollster showed it edging back up to 35% this month, from 30% in October.    PiS and its two small parliamentary allies won re-election in 2019 with a 44% share of the vote.
(Additional reporting by Anna Koper; Writing by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by John Stonestreet, Alex Richardson and Grant McCool)

1/28/2021 Activists Say Polish Women Seeking Abortion Panic As Restrictions Take Effect by Joanna Plucinska and Kuba Stezycki
A demonstrator holds a red lighting bolt sign during a protest against the verdict restricting
abortion rights in Warsaw, Poland, January 28, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) Polish women with scheduled abortions are calling advice services in panic, activists said, as Polands government put into effect a ruling banning terminations of pregnancies with foetal defects, which amounts to a near total abortion ban.
    The ruling, first announced on Oct. 22 last year by the Constitutional Tribunal, led to weeks of massive protests, forcing the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government to delay its implementation.
    Thousands protested across Poland as they waited for the courts verdict to be published in the official gazette late on Wednesday.    On Thursday, hundreds gathered in Warsaw and other cities.
    I picked up about ten of these calls during the night Krystyna Kacpura, director of Polands Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa) told Reuters on Thursday.
    They were (from women but) also from doctors and gynecologists asking if this is in place, what should they do.    The patient is ready for the procedure should I send her home?'
    Under the new rules, terminations will be permitted only in cases of rape and incest, and when the mothers life or health is endangered.    Doctors performing illegal abortions in Poland face jail.
    Abortions Without Borders, a support group helping women get abortions abroad whose number was spraypainted around Poland after the initial wave of protests, said it had received at least 30 calls from women by noon on Thursday.
    Justyna Wydrzynska, a member of the support team, told Reuters she expected to have at least 100 calls by the end of the day.
    You are not alone, we are with you and we are doing all we can so that everyone who contacts us gets all the support they need as soon as possible, she said.
    Polish conservatives who supported the new limitations rejoiced as the ruling came into full force on Thursday, arguing that they had finally secured equal human rights for unborn children and were shielding women from the trauma of abortion.
    Theres a Polish saying that its better to have ten children on your arm than one on your conscience, and I think this is part of our philosophy to protect life, said Maria Kurowska, a member of parliament representing socially conservative grouping United Poland, allied with the ruling nationalists.
    Supporters of the ruling insisted that its now up to the Polish government to provide additional support to families that have to care for disabled and sick children.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Kuba Stezycki; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

1/28/2021 Pope Francis To Meet Iraqs Top Shiite Cleric On March Visit
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer on Epiphany, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak,
at the Vatican, January 6, 2021. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) Pope Francis is set for an historic meeting with Iraqs top Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, during a trip to Iraq planned for March, the patriarch of Iraqs Chaldean Catholic Church said on Thursday.
    The visit, which eluded Franciss predecessors, takes place amid deteriorating security in some parts of Iraq and after the first big suicide bombing in Baghdad for three years.
    The programme for the March 5-8 trip, announced at a news conference by Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, who is a Catholic cardinal and head of Iraqs biggest Christian denomination, will include Masses in Baghdad and the northern city of Erbil.
    The pope will visit the former Islamic State stronghold of Mosul which has a significant Christian minority, and the ruins of ancient Ur in southern Iraq, revered as the birthplace of Abraham, father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
    Francis said in an interview broadcast on Jan. 10 that his Iraq trip might be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it now appears that preparations are going ahead, including vaccinations for potential participants.
    In meeting the 90-year-old Sistani, Francis will hold talks with one of the most important figures in Shiite Islam, both within Iraq and beyond.
    Sistani commands a vast following among Iraqs Shiite majority and huge influence over politics and public opinion.    His edicts sent Iraqis to the polls for the first free elections after dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled, rallied the country to fight Islamic State in 2017 and ousted an Iraqi government during mass demonstrations in 2019.
    Francis has visited predominately Muslim countries including Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian territories, using those trips to call for inter-religious dialogue
    Iraq is trying to recover from the destruction caused by the campaign to defeat Islamic State, and beset by economic hardship after a fall in oil prices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Iraq has been home to Christian communities for centuries.    Hundreds of thousands of Christians fled sectarian violence after the fall of Saddam or were driven out when Islamic State captured much of the north in 2014.
    But hundreds of thousands remained, divided among a number of denominations, with the largest being Chaldean Catholics, who practice an ancient Syriac rite and are loyal to the pope.    Since Islamic State was driven from the north in 2017, Christians have largely recovered the freedom of worship.
(Reporting by John Davison and Charlotte Bruneau in Baghdad, Philip Pullella in Rome; Editing by Peter Graff)
[Urban life in Erbil can be dated back to at least 6000 BC and it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.    At the heart of the city is the ancient Citadel of Erbil, which is estimated to be close to 7000 years old..].

1/29/2021 Joe Biden Signs Memorandum Backpedaling On President Trumps Abortion Policies by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on January 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
    Joe Biden took measures to peel back President Trumps abortion policies.    On Thursday, the Democrat enacted multiple measures related to abortion.
    One measure repealed an order known as The Mexico City Policy, which banned federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortions overseas.    It was first enacted by former President Ronald Reagan.
    President Trump reinstated the policy in 2017 before Barack Obama rescinded it during his administration.
    The order also directed the DHS to decide whether to pull back President Trumps Title X restrictions, which barred federal-funded healthcare providers from referring patients for abortions.
    The second order I am signing relates to protecting womens health at home and abroad, Biden said.    And it reinstates the changes that were made to Title X and other things making it harder for women to have access to affordable healthcare as it relates to reproductive rights.
    Throughout his time in office, President Trump rallied against abortion and called out congressional Democrats for their radical support of the practice.
    Democrats have embraced the most radical and extreme positions taken and seen in this country for years and decades and you can even say for centuries, said President Trump.     Nearly every top Democrat in Congress now supports taxpayer-funded abortion, all the way up until the moment of birth.
    Biden, on the other hand, has wavered on the subject.    In his 2020 campaign, he initially said he is in favor of abolishing the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal dollars from funding abortions.    However, just days later he issued a retraction to that statement, which claimed he misspoke.
    Biden hasnt been very open about his stance on the Hyde Amendment during his time in office.    Earlier this month, his press secretary completely danced around a question on the matter and instead appealed to Bidens supposedly devout faith.
    Following the signing of the order, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops penned a letter that called Bidens actions a violation of human dignity.    It also said his executive order is incompatible with Catholic teaching.
    The letter ended by noting its imperative unborn people are free from violence and the USCCB hopes Biden will meet the needs of the Catholic church.
    Meanwhile, a coalition of over 90 pro-abortion groups, including Planned Parenthood, sent a plan to the Biden administration, which called for a number of major changes to abortion laws.    These changes included repealing the Hyde Amendment and enacting other pro-abortion policies.

1/29/2021 Tebow: Im Grateful My Mom Gave Me A Chance At Life by OAN Newsroom
FLORHAM PARK, NJ MARCH 26: Quarterback Tim Tebow addresses the media. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
    New York Mets Minor League outfielder Tim Tebow gave his personal take on abortion during the annual March for Life Rally.    On Friday, the pro-life advocate gave a remote keynote address while demonstrators were marching in Washington D.C.
PORT ST. LUCIE, FL SEPTEMBER 19: Tim Tebow #15 of the New York Mets works out at an instructional league
day at Tradition Field on September 19, 2016 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Tebow told a story about how his mother, who was then a missionary in the Philippines, was advised to have an abortion while she was pregnant with Tebow.    He said medical experts believed either Tebow or his mother would not make it.
    Out of all my years, this is the greatest miracle that Ive ever seen because I have no idea how he survived,' Tebow said the doctor explained.    The placenta is not even attached and theres so many different issues.    This is a miracle baby.    Here is your baby, Mrs. Tebow.'
    Tebow said if his mother had not trusted God and chose not to give the pregnancy a chance, he would not be alive today.

1/29/2021 Joe Biden Signs Memorandum Backpedaling On President Trumps Abortion Policies by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on January 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
    Joe Biden took measures to peel back President Trumps abortion policies.    On Thursday, the Democrat enacted multiple measures related to abortion.
    One measure repealed an order known as The Mexico City Policy, which banned federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortions overseas.    It was first enacted by former President Ronald Reagan.
    President Trump reinstated the policy in 2017 before Barack Obama rescinded it during his administration.
    The order also directed the DHS to decide whether to pull back President Trumps Title X restrictions, which barred federal-funded healthcare providers from referring patients for abortions.
    The second order I am signing relates to protecting womens health at home and abroad, Biden said.    And it reinstates the changes that were made to Title X and other things making it harder for women to have access to affordable healthcare as it relates to reproductive rights.
    Throughout his time in office, President Trump rallied against abortion and called out congressional Democrats for their radical support of the practice.
    Democrats have embraced the most radical and extreme positions taken and seen in this country for years and decades and you can even say for centuries, said President Trump.    Nearly every top Democrat in Congress now supports taxpayer-funded abortion, all the way up until the moment of birth.
    Biden, on the other hand, has wavered on the subject.    In his 2020 campaign, he initially said he is in favor of abolishing the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal dollars from funding abortions.    However, just days later he issued a retraction to that statement, which claimed he misspoke.
    Biden hasnt been very open about his stance on the Hyde Amendment during his time in office.    Earlier this month, his press secretary completely danced around a question on the matter and instead appealed to Bidens supposedly devout faith.
    Following the signing of the order, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops penned a letter that called Bidens actions a violation of human dignity.    It also said his executive order is incompatible with Catholic teaching.
    The letter ended by noting its imperative unborn people are free from violence and the USCCB hopes Biden will meet the needs of the Catholic church.
    Meanwhile, a coalition of over 90 pro-abortion groups, including Planned Parenthood, sent a plan to the Biden administration, which called for a number of major changes to abortion laws.    These changes included repealing the Hyde Amendment and enacting other pro-abortion policies.

1/30/2021 Constitutional ban on legal marijuana advances in Idaho
    BOISE, Idaho A proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent the legalization of marijuana in Idaho moved forward Friday as lawmakers in the conservative state try to halt the increasing acceptance of the drug.    A Senate committee voted to send the joint resolution that bans all psychoactive drugs not already legal in Idaho to the full Senate.    That list would change for drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration.    But the primary target is marijuana, with Idaho surrounded by states that have legalized pot.

1/30/2021 Americans Remember The 48th Annual March For Life by OAN Newsroom
WASHINGTON, DC JANUARY 29: Pro-life activists participate in the 48th annual March for Life outside
the U.S. Supreme Court January 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
    The 48th annual March for Life Rally took place in Washington D.C. on Friday despite pandemic restrictions.
    The annual rally typically hosts tens of thousands of pro-life advocates who gather around the U.S. Capitol on the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade.
    Due to the coronavirus this year, rally participants were encouraged to stay home and interact online to watch keynote speakers.    However, some participants physically marched from the Bible Museum to the Supreme Court, placing down red roses to honor the millions of lives that have been lost due to abortion.
WASHINGTON, DC JANUARY 29: Pro-life activists participate in the 48th annual March for Life outside
the U.S. Supreme Court January 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
    Republican lawmakers voiced their support for the March for Life movement.    In a tweet, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said millions of Americans paid tribute to the 60 million lives lost to abortion across the country.
    He thanked those involved in the March for Life Rally and stated he was honored to stand with those seeking to restore a culture of life in America.
Anti-abortion activists participate in the March for Life, an annual event to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which
legalized abortion in the US, outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, January 29, 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
    Thank you for championing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for every American including the unborn, said Cruz.    Now more than ever, I am excited to stand united with yall and fight alongside you to restore a culture of life in America.
    Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also shared his support by vowing to introduce legislation to protect the rights of the unborn.    He also said he hopes to block federal funding for organizations that perform abortions such as Planned Parenthood.
    The Constitution already guarantees the right to life in the 14th Amendment, however, the Life at Conception Act would simply enforce the law and ensure that the same protections are extended to the most vulnerable members of our society, Paul said.    The proper role of government is to ensure that individual rights are protected.    The most basic of which, is the right to life.
    In addition to Sen. Paul, Rep. Ron Wright (R-Texas), Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) all introduced their own measures this week to block the Biden administration from dismantling pro-life protections.

2/1/2021 Pope Says He Is Intent On Making Iraq Trip Despite Difficulties
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer on Epiphany, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak, at the Vatican, January 6, 2021. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) Pope Francis said on Monday he is intent on making a trip to Iraq next month even if it means many Iraqi Christians wont be able to see him in person because of COVID-19 restrictions.
    I am the pastor of people who are suffering, he told Catholic New Service (CNS), the news outlet of the U.S. Bishops Conference.
    Francis said it was important that they will see the pope is there in their country even if most would see him only on television because of social distancing requirements.
    CNS said the 84-year-old pope intended to go ahead with the March 5-8 trip unless there is a serious new wave of coronavirus infection there.
    The patriarch of Iraqs Chaldean Catholic Church said last week the pope would meet the country top Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
    The visit, which eluded Francis predecessors, takes place amid deteriorating security in some parts of Iraq and after the first big suicide bombing in Baghdad for three years.
    CNS did not say if the pope discussed security during an audience granted to its Rome staff on the occasion of the agencys 100th anniversary.
    Iraq has been home to Christian communities for centuries.    Hundreds of thousands of Christians fled sectarian violence after the fall of Saddam Hussein or were driven out when Islamic State captured much of the north in 2014.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Giles Elgood)

2/2/2021 Will state prohibit conversion therapy? by Morgan Watkins, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    The push to ban conversion therapy in Kentucky is building momentum and bipartisan support, sparking cautious optimism about whether the Republican-dominated General Assembly might pass legislation this year to prohibit the scientifically discredited practice, which involves substantial risks of harm for people subjected to it.
    Conversion therapy, as such efforts are commonly called, aims to change a persons sexual orientation or their gender identity.
    Twenty states and dozens of cities, including Louisville and Covington, have enacted bans on conversion therapy so far. A nonpartisan, grassroots group called Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky, or BCTK, hopes the commonwealth will do the same.
    This is a pervasive issue all over the state, BCTKs executive director, Tanner Mobley, said.    Theres no reason why a young person should be coerced into something ... that is going to cause lifelong psychological damage.
    So far this year, 22 state lawmakers (including four Republicans) have sponsored legislation that would prohibit licensed mental health professionals including physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, pastoral counselors and marriage and family therapists from engaging in sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts, otherwise known as conversion therapy, with a person whos under 18 years old.
    That legislation identically proposed as House Bill 19 and Senate Bill 30 also would prohibit them from providing conversion therapy to adults who, per state statute, are impacted in certain ways by mental or physical dysfunctioning and may need protective services, or to a ward for whom a guardian or conservator has been appointed.
    If a licensed mental health professional violated the proposed ban, it would be considered unprofessional conduct and deceptive practice and they would be subject to discipline by a professional certification or licensing board.
    This isnt the first time prohibiting conversion therapy has been backed by bipartisan sponsors.    A similar proposal stalled in the state legislature last year.    But Mobley said interest in a ban is growing among lawmakers, as well as across Kentucky.
    At the end of the day, it doesnt matter what you think about homosexuality or what your religion teaches.    This is about protecting kids from an extreme high risk of suicide, he said, citing research that has shown young LGBTQ people who underwent conversion therapy had higher rates of attempted suicide than those who did not.
    BCTK commissioned a poll in January that surveyed 810 people across Kentucky, 61% of whom voted for former President Donald Trump last year.    Of the Kentuckians surveyed, 74% said they oppose allowing children under 18 years old to be sent to conversion therapy in an attempt to convert them to heterosexuality.
    Only 17% said they supported that, with 9% saying they werent sure.
    Mobley suggested the poll not only shows significant opposition to this dangerous practice in the Bluegrass State, but it also signals to lawmakers that voting to ban it wouldnt be politically risky.
    Of the Kentuckians surveyed, 52% said if an elected official or political candidate supported prohibiting conversion therapy, it would make them more likely to vote for them.    Only 19% said it would make them less likely to vote for them, with 30% saying it wouldnt make a difference either way.
    Its not going to affect anyones ability to get elected, especially in red districts or purple districts, Mobley said.
    The proposed ban gained a new Republican sponsor this year: state Rep. Killian Timoney of Lexington, a former high school teacher who joined the legislature in 2021.    He said conversion therapy is reprehensible and indicated he sees this as a suicide prevention issue.
    We should not be practicing anything that leads to students attempting suicide, he said.    Where we are in the state of the United States right now, as far as even with COVID, we need to be taking care of each other and we need to be doing whatever we need to do to prevent things like that from happening.
    BCTK has been working to build grassroots support for prohibiting conversion therapy, and the organization plans to step up its efforts when the legislature returns Tuesday for the next phase of its annual lawmaking session.
    Lawmakers already have received over 27,000 emails supporting the proposed ban, according to Michael Frazier, BCTKs government affairs director.
    Its from Republicans, Democrats, rural communities, urban communities, he said.    From Paducah to Pikeville, people have been emailing about this issue.
    Frazier stressed the ban would have a significant impact and said BCTK has found over 50 licensed professionals across Kentucky who practice conversion therapy, although they expect there are many more that havent been identified.
    More than 100 organizations are part of BCTKs coalition, according to Frazier and Mobley, and over 80 ambassadors across the state will be campaigning through social media and by distributing flyers in legislative leaders districts while observing safety protocols for COVID-19 to spread the word about this issue.
    Their goal is to get the proposed ban assigned to a legislative committee for consideration, Mobley said.    If that happens, hes confident it would get the committees approval, which is necessary before a bill can receive a vote in the Kentucky Senate or House of Representatives.
    We have the support there. Its just mobilizing constituents and making sure that can happen with such a busy and short session, he said.    Its just getting leadership to take the leap and allow this to be heard.
    The Courier Journal sent House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers a request for comment, asking whether they support the conversion therapy legislation personally and if their respective chambers leadership plans to allow it to advance to a committee hearing.
    Stivers declined to comment through a spokesman, and The Courier Journal didnt receive a response from Osbornes office.
Religious freedom may be a roadblock
    Religion-based opposition to nonheterosexual orientations or to gender identities that do not mirror the sex a person was assigned at birth is not uncommon.
    Religious freedom often comes up during discussions about conversion therapy and is likely to play into any debates Kentucky lawmakers may have about prohibiting it.
    The Family Foundation in Kentucky opposes the proposed ban on conversion therapy.
    Martin Cothran, the foundations senior policy analyst, said: I think that a lot of these opinions on either side of this issue are fraught with religious and moral considerations.    And it used to be that people would say you shouldnt impose your morality on other people, but thats precisely what bills like this do.
    Cothran also argued it isnt the role of government to make medical dictates about what practices are and arent allowed.
    I mean, I think theres some real problems with it.    For one thing, Im not sure that the legislature really has a useful role in dictating what ... medical procedures or therapies are acceptable, he said of the potential ban.
    He also cast doubt on the proposed bans chances of winning over the Kentucky legislature, particularly given the ideological issues involved.    And he said its especially unlikely to pass this year, when state lawmakers have a short session of only 30 working days.
    I dont think theres much of a chance of this passing the legislature in any case, but its probably even worse this session, he said.    Theyre going to be really pressed for time.
    Conservative lawmakers typically cite religious liberty as a core value, and Timoney the Lexington Republican sponsoring the proposed ban said he thinks that will need to be addressed to increase the legislations chances of success.
    Timoney and other proponents of the ban contend the legislation has been carefully designed to restrict a discredited and dangerous practice, not peoples religious liberty or freedom of speech.
    Ministers and parents, for example, can still express their beliefs about homosexuality.
    All we are talking about is licensed therapists not being able to perform this type of therapy, Timoney said.    I do think we need to continue educating our legislators about how it does not infringe upon religious liberties.
    Frazier, BCTKs government affairs director, noted the legislation wouldnt enact a total ban on conversion therapy.
    It would only bar licensed mental health professionals from performing it with minors and with certain people over 18 years old.    Non-licensed preachers or other religious leaders, as well as religiously affiliated groups that dont use licensed professionals, generally would not be impacted.
    However, he said enacting this limited ban as a law would send a clear signal to parents that conversion therapy is not a reputable medical practice.
    He described the legislation as an anti- fraud measure that protects children as well as their parents from this discredited and dangerous practice, noting that some families have been charged tens of thousands of dollars to receive it from people who falsely suggested it was a legitimate treatment.
    Frazier said the tactics used in conversion therapy include physical, emotional and verbal abuse, and he said he has spoken with grieving Kentucky parents whose children died by suicide after undergoing this practice.
    If you tell a child that their parents dont love them; that they cant love them; that their friends are causing them harm and they should isolate and be alone; that they should hate themselves; that they should feel completely torn apart about themselves, embarrassed, ashamed; that they cant be loved ... if they hear that from somebody on a regular basis especially by a paid professional using the weight of their profession to instill this idea its going to cause harm, he said.
    He suggested a more apt description of this practice is conversion torture a term state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, a Lexington Republican whos sponsoring the Senate bill to ban conversion therapy, has used for it.
    Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, is also a sponsor of the legislation and said he thinks it has a decent chance of becoming law in 2021.
    Youre getting Democrat and Republican support.    You have agreement from the experts that its harmful.    It doesnt cost the state any money, and it protects kids, he said.    Those are the types of bills that pass during a short session.    McGarvey said he sees more and more folks becoming open to the idea of prohibiting it in the commonwealth.    I think peoples attitudes about it are changing due to the fact it is uniformly considered to be dangerous to kids, he said.    We also have a bunch of brave people here in     Kentucky who have been willing to stand up and share their stories about their personal experiences going through this here in our state.
    Practice has been disavowed by the medical community.
    The Kentucky Medical Association and the Kentucky Psychological Association both support imposing a ban on conversion therapy in the commonwealth.
    Theres been a lot of evidence that it could be hurtful to the person, said Dr. Dale Toney, president of the KMA, who noted the medical worlds stance against this practice is longstanding.
    The American Medical Association says of conversion therapy on its website: Underlying these therapies is the assumption that homosexuality and gender nonconformity are mental disorders and that sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed.    This assumption is not based on medical or scientific evidence.
    The Kentucky Psychological Associations executive director, Eric Russ, said licensing boards generally are restricted from taking action against licensed providers unless the persons activity is clearly in violation of a state law or statute.
    The proposed ban would give those boards a basis for taking disciplinary action concerning conversion therapy, Russ said.    He also pointed out licensed professionals already are bound by rules about what they can and cant do with or say to patients, and prohibiting this practice would fall well within the bounds of such restrictions.
    Dr. Mary Helen Davis, a Louisville based psychiatrist, noted the key goal in medicine is: Do no harm.
    We actually look at 'conversion therapy' as being potentially dangerous let alone the fact that we dont even really acknowledge it as a valid therapy, she told The Courier Journal.
    Attempting conversion therapy involves substantial risks, she explained, and the harm or the potential for harm of a bogus therapy outweighs everything.
    Legitimate therapy can be a useful and safe way to help young people work through their experiences with gender identity or sexual orientation, Davis said.
    But your goal is to help them figure out who they are, she said.    Your goal isnt to say: This isnt who you are.
    This story discusses suicide and other significant mental health issues.    If youre in crisis, help is available:
    Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
    Reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
    Call Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860.
    Call The Trevor Projects TrevorLi feline at 866-488-7386.
    Reach reporter Morgan Watkins: 502-582-4502; mwatkins@courierjour; Twitter: @morganwatkins26.
    The push to ban conversion therapy in Kentucky is gaining bipartisan momentum, sparking optimism about whether the Republican-dominated General Assembly might pass legislation this year to prohibit the scientifically discredited practice.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey points to recognize fellow Sen. Reginald Thomas during a session

2/2/2021 Female Athletes Denounce Biden Executive Order On Gender Identity by OAN Newsroom
FILE In this Jan. 28, 2021, file photo, Joe Biden signed a series of executive orders in the Oval Office
of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
    Female athletes are speaking out against Joe Bidens executive order on gender identity discrimination. The order now calls on schools nationwide to allow transgender athletes to compete in whichever gender they identify with.
    Idaho State student athlete Madison Kenyon spoke out against the order, asserting biological males hold innate physical advantages.
    When you look at a lot of the facts and how a male body develops, through puberty and all the advantages that they have biologically have on females, it really bugged me, Kenyon said.
    She went on to describe previous competitions with biological males as both frustrating and unmotivating.    The state of Idaho agreed and banned transgender athletes in womens sports nearly a year ago with the Fairness in Womens Sports Act, the first state in the nation to do so.
    A number of female athletes believe the ban protected opportunities for biological females.
    I feel like when girls talk about this they get a lot of backlash and it shouldnt be like that, cause this is just promoting fair competition, Kenyon said.     We just want have the opportunities Title IX is supposed to protect for us.
    However, Bidens latest executive order overturned that act and in turn, the Biden administration is now facing legal action from female athletes, including Kenyon.    Kenyons attorney said the administration is sending a message to female athletes that they dont matter.    She also said having a separate sporting section for women ensures they can be champions and maintain a level playing field.
    A number of experts agree physiological differences between the two genders can offer advantages in competitions.
    There are advantages that they would have, longer legs, bigger chest capacity, Joanna Harper, researcher at Loughborough University said.    Those such things are all advantages.
    Despite growing concerns to maintain a fair playing field in collegiate sports, NCAA regulations still permit transgender athletes to compete.

2/2/2021 Twitter Says Turkish Ministers LGBT Comments About Protesters Hateful Conduct by Ali Kucukgocmen
A plainclothes police officer grabs Ahmet Sik, independent member of Turkish Parliament, by the jacket during a gathering in solidarity with Bogazici University
students who are protesting against the appointment of Melih Bulu as new rector of the university, in Istanbul, Turkey, February 2, 2021. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) Turkeys interior minister on Tuesday condemned protesters at a top Istanbul university as LGBT deviants in a statement which Twitter deemed as hateful conduct.
    Students and teachers at Istanbuls Bogazici University have held protests for the last month against the appointment of Melih Bulu as rector by President Tayyip Erdogan, which they said was undemocratic.
    On Monday, scuffles broke out between police and people protesting against the detention of four students after images were shared on social media of them laying a picture on the ground that mixed Islamic images with LGBT symbols.
    Police entered campus later in the day to disperse students who were planning an all-night vigil outside the rectors building.    They detained 159 in total throughout the day, the governors office said.
    Istanbul police said 61 people were still detained and were giving statements on Tuesday.
    Should we tolerate the LGBT deviants who insult the great Kaaba?    Of course not, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said in a statement on Twitter, referring to Islams most sacred site which was depicted in one of the images.
    Should we tolerate the LGBT deviants who attempted to occupy the rectors building?    Of course not.
    In a rare move, Twitter placed a warning on Soylus tweet, as well as another from the weekend that used the same phrase, saying they violated rules about hateful conduct.    It added the tweets were not taken down as it might be in the public interest that it remain accessible.
    Twitters move comes after Turkey last year required social media firms to appoint a representative in the country to deal with requests for content removal, and Erdogan vowed to defend what he called Turkeys cyber homeland
    Facebook, Youtube and others have complied. Twitter has not, meaning its bandwidth may be reduced in coming months.
    Academics again gathered on Tuesday on the Bogazici campus with backs turned to the rectors building in protest.    They chanted Melih Bulu resign, and carried signs reading 159, the number of those detained on Monday.
    In Ankara, police clashed with protesters, some of whom chanted: Shoulder to shoulder against fascism.    Footage showed police dragging protesters away, hands cuffed behind their back.    State-owned Anadolu agency said 69 people were detained.
    Turkeys presidency communications director, Fahrettin Altun, said Mondays protests came after the universitys decision to block an application to set up an LGBTI club which he said tried to trample our values underfoot.
    The government has criticised the protesters, with Erdogan praising his partys youth wing for not being the LGBT youth.
    The main opposition CHP has supported the protests and several parliamentarians from the pro-Kurdish HDP were turned away at the universitys entrance on Monday.
    Erdogans critics say the president and his AK Party, which promotes conservative Islamic values, have eroded social rights and tolerance.    Erdogans supporters say he has restored freedom of religious expression in a once strongly secular republic.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans, William Maclean)

2/3/2021 As Polands Church Embraces Politics, Catholics Depart by Justyna Pawlak and Alicja Ptak
Katarzyna Lipka, 35, poses during an interview with Reuters at her home in Warsaw, Poland December 6, 2020.
Picture taken December 6, 2020. Poster reads "No injunction no prohibition free choice" REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) Katarzyna Lipka is no longer Catholic, and she says that is a political statement.
    Like most Poles, the 35-year-old has marked lifes milestones in the Church, a beacon of freedom in Communist times.    Also like many, shed been drifting away.    In November, after the countrys courts decreed a clampdown on abortion that the bishops had lobbied for, she filed papers to cut loose.
    I used to think being passive was enough I just didnt take part, Lipka told Reuters, curled up in an armchair in her apartment.    But I decided to speak up.
    For Lipka, abortion is only part of the problem.    Her main concern is one many Poles, particularly young people on social media, often complain of: The Churchs increasing reach into other areas of life.
    I want and I think all those who are leaving the Church now want to voice our objection to what is happening now. To influence politics, our rights, she said, adding that the Church was being allowed to have too much influence in areas such as politics, state spending and education.
    Young adults in many countries are becoming less religious, according to research by the Pew Center.    In Poland, a growing number of its 32 million Catholics are turning away.    In 1989 when Communist rule ended, nearly 90% of Poles approved of the Church, according to the state-affiliated CBOS opinion poll. That figure is now 41% the lowest since 1993.
    The relationship between Church and state in Poland is governed by an agreement signed by Warsaw and the Holy See from 1993 that says they are independent and autonomous.
    In reality, Poles see an increasingly explicit connection.
    For example, priests have displayed election posters on parish property or discussed elections during mass almost always in favour of the governing party in more than 140 cases over the last five years, according to a Reuters tally of archived local media reports.    During that time Poland has held five elections.
    What I dont like in the Church is that it turns places of worship into a political bazaar, where my rights are being traded, Lipka said.
    The Polish Bishops Conference, which represents the Church in the country, declined to comment on the role of the clergy in political campaigning.
    The government said it remained impartial towards religious belief and protected freedom of religion.    The relationship between the state and the Church as well as other religious organisations is based on respecting their autonomy and mutual independence as well as cooperation for the common good, it said in an emailed statement.
    In October, Polands Constitutional Tribunal ruled that women should be prohibited from aborting a foetus with abnormalities, a ruling the government enforced on Jan. 27.    About 1,000 pregnancies have been terminated legally each year in Poland, most due to foetal problems.
    The Church considers all abortion to be murder. It says it was not involved in the court decision and government officials also told Reuters the Church had not influenced it. But in mass protests that followed, tens of thousands of people blocked roads and city centres carrying banners with slogans like Get your rosaries off my ovaries.     Church officials stopped collating data on defections in 2010 so there is no nationwide total. In Warsaw, more people filed to quit last November than in all of 2019. The 577 acts of apostasy the formal process of leaving the Church booked between January and mid-December were nearly double the 2019 figure.     After the abortion ruling, Polish Google searches for apostasy jumped to their highest since counting began in 2004.    Thousands signed up for Facebook pages advising the documents needed, which include recent proof of baptism obtained from the parish where the ceremony took place.    A website offering documentation,, has had more than 30,000 downloads, its founder says.
    Whatever the reason, this is dramatic, archbishop Grzegorz Rys, one of the most senior clerics in Poland, told Reuters.
    Given the scale of revolt, he believes many are quitting in protest at what they see as increasingly tight bonds between the Church and the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party.    The partys ratings in most opinion polls have slipped to around 30% from more than 40% last August.
    The Catholic Church is at Polands core. According to Church data, 88% of children attend catechism classes in state-run schools.
    In the 1980s, the Church was a voice of freedom: Pope John Paul II earned iconic status for inspiring people to stand up against Communist rule.    Parish priests sheltered anti-government activists and helped distribute food and underground newspapers.
    After Communism fell, the clergy pushed for a return to conservative Catholic values and in 1993, when Poland introduced new curbs on abortion, Church approval ratings fell below 40%.    They have since recovered but never above 75%.
    Over the next few years, as Poland introduced market reforms and joined the European Union, poorer, less educated voters felt left behind a trend PiS promised to reverse when it came to power in 2015.
    The party, whose strongest support is among older, rural voters, has spent millions of euros on Church-run projects, government documents show.    PiS has overhauled a number of institutions, including the Constitutional Court, in reforms that the European Union says have increased political influence on the legal system.    PiS disputes that.preserving national identity is undeniable.
    Poland has its specificity and the Church has its special merits here, he told Reuters.
    For PiS, the Church is a repository of Polands moral teaching: The only alternative is nihilism, it said in a 2019 election campaign programme.
    Public TV, run by a former PiS politician, runs nearly nine hours of Catholic programming a week, including church service broadcasts.
    Church symbolism reaches deep into Polands political life.    In 2015, a group of lawmakers from across the political spectrum placed a vial of blood from the late John Paul II born in Poland and declared a saint in 2014 in the chapel of the House of Parliament.
    Last December, parliament added another relic a strand of beard hair purportedly belonging to a monk killed in a Nazi German concentration camp.    The monk, Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, was canonized in 1982 for volunteering to die in place of another prisoner.
    Elzbieta Witek, the PiS-appointed parliament speaker, ceremonially received the relic for the house.    She declined to comment for this story.
    PiS fuses piety and nationalism to the point where a central banker nominated and chosen by the party has published his views on moral topics.
    Eryk Lon wrote a piece about interest rates in 2019 in which he urged the faithful to pray for the evil spirit of cosmopolitanism to be eradicated from universities, particularly from business schools.    He did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
    Same-sex marriage is illegal in Poland and senior Church officials have supported a government crackdown on LGBT rights.    One archbishop, Marek Jedraszewski, warned in 2019 against a rainbow plague spreading through the nation. He did not respond to a request for comment.
    Lipka feels it is inappropriate to hold up the Church as a moral beacon.    She said she was particularly repulsed by a report from the Vatican in November that said John Paul II had promoted ex-U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick despite rumours of his sexual misconduct.    McCarrick has declined to comment on the report.
    Sebastian Duda, a theologian and a Catholic journalist, says Polands court ruling on abortion brought to light how far faith has eroded a trend that he thinks has accelerated because of the evident marriage between PiS and the Church, which he said is unacceptable for many.
    Some priests, such as Pawel Batory from the southern city of Rzeszow, a PiS heartland, say its time for the clergy to retreat from politics.
    Batory, who was among more than 150 priests and nuns who issued a public appeal in October for more separation of Church and State, complains about election campaigning in places of worship.
    Lipka says she believes popular opinion in the country as a whole is slowly turning away from conservative Catholicism.
    Even her mother, a devout Catholic, agrees with some of her reasoning, she said, but worries about what funeral rites her daughter can expect.
    My mother doesnt know any funerals other than Catholic ones, said Lipka.    And she is afraid of the new.
(Pawel Florkiewicz, Anna Koper and Anna WLodarczak-Semczuk in Warsaw and Philip Pullella in Rome; Edited by Sara Ledwith)

2/3/2021 RNC Chair Condemns Biden Abortion Policy by OAN Newsroom
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel speaks during a press conference alongside former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
    Joe Biden faced backlash for advancing abortion procedures globally despite his claims to be a devout Catholic.
    On Tuesday, Ronna McDaniel took to Twitter to condemn Bidens repeal of the Mexico City Policy.    She tweeted, one of the last places American tax dollars should go is funding abortions abroad.
    By repealing this policy, the federal government may fund abortion access overseas.    This came after Bidens speech Thursday from the Oval Office in which he claimed he overturned the policy in the name of womens health.    Biden added members of the LGBTQ+ community and minorities have historically been denied access.
    However, research on legal abortion procedures suggested the practice has led to unprecedented impacts on women at both a physical and psychological level.
    After reviewing over 20 major studies on the psychological effects of abortion on women, the British Journal of Psychiatry found women who underwent abortion procedures were at an 81 percent higher risk for mental health problems and 35 percent more likely to commit suicide compared to women who carried their babies to full term.
    This data appeared to be echoed in a study conducted by left-leaning outlet Buzzfeed News.    Women who chose to end their pregnancies shared their experiences throughout the study.
    I went to the bathroom immediately and it was like all of my insides fell out, one woman explained.    I dont know how anybody could bleed that much and live and it was like that for weeks.
    Another woman noted she was not prepared for the emotional aftermath of her abortion.
    I was basically just in my room for weeks and weeks and weeks, she said.    I started drinking pretty heavily, I couldnt stop thinking about what if I hadnt made that decision.    It was absolute torture.
    The nations Catholic bishops urged Joe Biden to reject abortion in order to not only protect women from the devastating impacts and to preserve traditional family values, but to protect the right to life as outlined in the Constitution.
    In a recent interview, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities Joseph Naumann asserted that Biden weaponized phrases such as healthcare and womens equality to mask the brutal reality.    Naumann stressed that no other health procedures end up with one person dead and the other scarred emotionally, spiritually and sometimes even physically.
    Its really tragic that anyone would do this, but particularly one who claims to be Catholic, Naumann said.    I think its very contrary to what he campaigned on as being a unifying president.    I mean hes obviously in debt to pro-abortion forces within his party and hes just conforming to them.    I wish he was as orthodox in his Catholic faith as he is in his in doing what Planned Parenthood instructs him to do.
    The archbishop suggested that instead of funding abortion clinics overseas, this money should be used to expand resources for women who face challenging pregnancies.

2/4/2021 Rand Paul decries transgender students in girls sports by Mary Ramsey, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    Sen. Rand Paul slammed policies allowing transgender students to compete in school-sponsored athletics in accordance with their gender identities during a confirmation hearing Wednesday for President Joe Bidens pick to lead the U.S. Department of Education.
    Kentuckys junior senator, a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, questioned Miguel Cardona on the issue of transgender students participation in school sports.
    Do you think its fair to have boys running in the girls track meet? Paul, a Republican, asked after claiming transgender participation will destroys girls sports.
    Cardona, a former public-school teacher who most recently served as education commissioner of Connecticut, said he has worked with both families who share (Pauls) concern and transgender athletes on the issue before and believes it is a matter of respecting students rights.
    I think its the legal responsibility of schools to provide opportunities for students to participate in activities, and this includes students who are transgender, he said.    Paul continued to use his time to question Cardona on his views on the subject, with Cardona reiterating the same responses.
    A lot of us think thats bizarre and not very fair ... I wonder where feminists are on this, Paul said in response to Cardonas answers.
    Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, made similar comments later in the hearing.
    Ive got pictures of my eight granddaughters, among some grandsons, behind me, he said, referring to his background while appearing virtually.    They shouldnt be competing against people who are physiologically in a totally different category, and I think boys should be competing with boys and girls competing with girls on the athletic field.
    Some in Kentucky were quick to criticize Pauls comments, including former state representative and U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker.
    This type of transphobia is exactly why many of our loved ones face discrimination and worse just for existing.    To be in a position where you have access to facts and data, yet still spew this ignorant hate is a damn shame, he wrote on Twitter.    This guy is horrible in every way.
    The debate over transgender students participation in athletics is not new to Kentucky.    State Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, introduced Senate Bill 106 in January to require Kentucky K-12 schools to designate all athletic teams, activities, and sports based upon the biological sex.
    The bill, titled the Save Womens Sports Act, would also apply to athletics and intermural activities at Kentuckys public and private colleges and universities.
    Mills introduced similar legislation during the 2020 legislative session.
    The Kentucky High School Athletic Associations policy says transgender student-athletes can compete free from unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation but requires them to undergo sex reassignment surgery either before or after puberty in order to compete based on their gender identity.
    Reach reporter Mary Ramsey at

2/4/2021 Biden To Call For Protecting LGBTQ Rights Globally In Memo by Alexandra Alper
FILE PHOTO: LGBTQ activists and supporters block the street outside the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears arguments in a major LGBT rights case on whether a federal
anti-discrimination law that prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex covers gay and transgender employees in Washington, U.S. October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) U.S. President Joe Biden will announce a presidential memorandum on Thursday protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people worldwide, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.     It reflects his deep commitment to these issues both here in the United States and everywhere around the world. The United States will speak out and act on behalf of these rights as we go, Sullivan told reporters at a White House press briefing.     While a presidential memorandum is largely symbolic, Biden campaigned on a pledge to pass LGBTQ rights legislation known as the Equality Act in the first 100 days of his administration and to make LGBTQ rights a top priority.     His campaign pledge included protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, ensuring fair treatment in the justice system and advancing LGBTQ rights globally.     Biden is expected to make the announcement during a visit to the U.S. State Department on Thursday. Biden has already issued an executive order that extends existing federal nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ people.     White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday said Biden stands by his pledge to sign the Equality Act in his first 100 days but noted that Congress would need to take action to pass a bill first.
(Reporting By Alexandra Alper and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
or abridging the freedom of speech,
or of the press;
or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,
and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

2/5/2021 Bidens faith shapes his social policy - Conservative Christians see an attack on beliefs by Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY
    WASHINGTON As President Joe Biden tells it, the nuns who taught the future president based their religious instruction on the Gospel of Matthew: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
    That tenet was echoed during his first days in office, when Biden signed orders to ensure fair treatment for marginalized groups on housing and other issues.
    Were all Gods children, Biden said.    We should treat each other as we would like to be treated ourselves.
    Another of his earliest actions strengthened anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender people.    Biden also was expected to sign a memorandum to protect the rights of LGBTQ people worldwide, including providing protections to gay and lesbian refugees and asylum seekers.
    But what to Biden is an advancing equity agenda grounded in his deep Catholic faith appears to some Christian conservatives as attacks on their own intensely held beliefs that will unravel the religious freedom protections championed by the Trump administration.    Those protections treated religious beliefs as paramount, even if they conflicted with another persons rights to an abortion, to marry a person of the same sex, or to be transgender.
    It absolutely is a direct conflict with Trumps approach, said history professor John Fea, author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Stark contrast to predecessor
    Biden, only the second Catholic president, has brought to the White House a different approach to faith, both personally and through policy.
    Unlike Trump, Biden regularly attends church. His Catholicism has played as large a role in his life as his outsized family Bible did at his inauguration.    Biden wears his sons rosary beads, made the sign of the cross when paying his respects to fallen Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick Tuesday, and quotes Bible passages.
    The contrast couldnt be starker, said John Carr, co-director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. Were going from one of the least overtly religious presidents in modern times to one of the most overtly religious presidents in recent history.
    The difference is clear in policy.
    Trump was a hero to the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns running homes for the elderly, which challenged the federal requirement that insurance plans cover birth control.    At Trumps renominating convention, a nun from the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary questioned Bidens religion and called Trump the most prolife president.
    Biden is praised by Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention about caring for all of Gods creations.    Shes thrilled by Bidens efforts to expand health care coverage, address racism and reverse Trumps anti- immigration actions.
    One of the ways that he's living out his faith is by centering the issues of equity at the heart of his administration, which I find super-exciting, she said.    Its never happened before.
Advancing the 'common good'
    Biden has not yet announced a faithbased adviser or created a faith outreach office.    But he has declared that advancing equity has to be everyones job.
    Bidens focus on the common good is a central concept of the centuries-old Catholic social tradition, Massimo Faggioli wrote in the new book Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States.
    In remarks to the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, Biden said his faith provides hope and solace, clarity and purpose.
    It shows the way forward, as one nation in a common purpose, to respect one another, to care for one another, to leave no one behind, he said.
    But Biden's emphasis on social justice issues over social policy flashpoints such as abortion mirrors an ongoing struggle in the Catholic Church between Pope Francis, with his pastoral approach, and the churchs more conservative wing.    (A photo of Biden with Francis was among the personal photos arrayed behind Biden when, sitting at his desk in the Oval Office, he took steps last week to expand health insurance access and to allow federally funded family planning groups to provide or refer patients for abortion services.)    We are deeply committed to making sure everyone has access to care including reproductive health care regardless of income, race, ZIP code, health insurance status, or immigration status, Biden said in a joint statement with Vice President Kamala     Harris last month recognizing the 48th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that affirmed the right to an abortion.
    Far from creating a more equitable society, Christian conservatives say, Bidens actions are reverse discrimination particularly his first-day move to ensure workplace and other protections for people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
    With a stroke of a pen, President Joe Biden has turned 50-year-old civil rights legislation on its head, hollowing out protections for people of faith, Family Research Council     President Tony Perkins said in a statement.
Trump's strongest supporters
    White evangelical Protestants were Trumps strongest supporters, according to the Pew Research Center.    Thats despite Trump having been one of the least religious to ever run for president.
    But Trump promised on the 2016 campaign trail that the first priority of my administration will be to preserve and protect our religious liberty.    Religious freedom became a signature issue of both his domestic and foreign policy.
    Recent cultural and demographic changes have made evangelicals feel not only that the idea of America as a Christian nation is under siege but that their own liberty is being threatened, said Fea, who teaches history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa.
    Trump provided the kind of fighter, the strong man, to protect their interests, he said.
    The feeling of both loss and victimization is reflected in Pew Research Center surveys.    In a 2019 poll, a majority of adults who identify with or lean toward the GOP said that religion is losing influence in American life and that this is a bad thing.    A 2020 survey suggests that Republicans who have experienced some form of harassment online are more likely than Democrats to say they believe their religion was a reason.
    We live in a time when the freedom of religion is under assault, then-Vice President Mike Pence told Liberty University graduates in 2019.    During the Trump administration, Pences faithbased views on abortion and homosexuality made him a target of Democratic criticism, including from those seeking the party's 2020 presidential nomination.    Biden had to backtrack after being lambasted by progressives and LGBTQ activists for calling Pence a decent guy.
    'There is nothing decent about being anti-LGBTQ rights, and that includes the Vice President,' Biden tweeted.
    Bidens own positions on gay marriage and abortion evolved over the years.    After voting to block federal recognition of same-sex marriages 16 years earlier, he backed legalizing gay marriage in 2012 jumping out ahead of President Barack Obama in his announcement.
    Biden has become a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade and, in 2019, reversed his support for a longstanding provision that bans federal funding for most abortions.
    Rabbi Hara Person, head of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, said shes encouraged that Biden is not imposing his faith-based opposition to abortion on others.
    Religious liberty means not only freedom to practice our faith as we see fit, but its also freedom from having the religious views of others imposed on us, she said.    That was something that was really missing these last four years.
    Carr, of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, said he backed Biden, in spite of Bidens going along with the extremism of the Democratic Party on abortion.
    I think character matters, competence matters and treating people with respect matters, Carr said.    Lifting up the poor and vulnerable matters, and Trump failed those tests for me.
    But Carr is waiting to see what Biden will prioritize.
    Is it going to be overcoming COVID, bringing us together, caring for creation?    Or is it going to be sort of a culture war? he asked.    I think what Biden campaigned on, and who he is, is pursuing justice in unity not a culture war agenda.
    Carr, who helped develop their documents on political responsibilities of Catholics, recently organized a discussion of how Bidens Catholicism affects his presidency and the role its playing in the divide within the church.
    The split was highlighted when Pope Francis congratulatory message to Biden on Inauguration Day emphasized respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable, and those who have no voice.
    Issuing his own statement, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warned that Biden has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender."
    'Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences,' wrote Los Angeles Archbishop Jos Gomez.
    Bidens presidency could contribute to the difficult realignment of American Catholicism with Pope Franciss vision a process resisted by `culture war bishops since the time of Franciss election, but also interrupted by Trump, Faggioli wrote.    The mere possibility of such a realignment will being a lot of attention to this particular Catholic moment.
    More broadly, theres a stark divide along religious lines on whether people see the United States as having an essential culture and values that immigrants take on or whether its a nation made up of many cultures and values that change as new people arrive, according to Daniel Cox, director of the Survey Center on American Life.
    White Christians including white evangelical Protestants and white mainline Catholics believe the U.S. has a central culture, surveys show.    The majority of everyone else believe culture and values adjust, Cox said.
    Thats a fundamentally different conception of the country and where it ought to be headed, Cox said.
    Biden will have to take that into account as he tries to weave together the disparate groups that make up his coalition and fulfill a central campaign promise one thats also rooted in his faith of bringing the country together.
    One of the ways that he's living out his faith is by centering the issues of equity at the heart of his administration.
    Sister Simone Campbell executive director, Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
President Joe Bidens advancing equity agenda, grounded in his Catholic faith,
has put him at odds with some Christian conservatives. ANDREW HARNIK/AP
Joe Biden, only the second Catholic president, has emphasized social justice in his leadership, an approach similar to that of Pope Francis. JACK GRUBER/USA TODAY

2/5/2021 Sen. Rand Paul Challenges Biden Transgender Sports Policy by OAN Newsroom
Sen. Rand Paul spoke during a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship confirmation hearing on Isabella Casillas Guzmans nomination
to be Administrator of the Small Business Administration on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington. (Tasos Katopodis/Pool via AP)
    Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and incoming Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona clashed on the issue of transgender athletics.    At his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Cardona said student athletes should be able to compete in whichever gender category they identify with. Paul disagreed, pointing out that this would destroy female athletics.
    This followed Joe Bidens executive order, which allows biological males who identify as women to compete in all female leagues.
    Paul argued this would marginalize women and place them at a competitive disadvantage.
    From what planet are you from.    I mean to think its okay that boys would compete with girls at a track meet, that that somehow would be fair, Paul said.    I wonder where feminists are on this.    I wonder where the people who supported womens sports are on this.    I mean, we all going to be okay with hulking 6-foot-4 guys you know, wrestling against girls.
    Paul added most Americans do not support this and this issue represents the disconnect between the Biden administration and the beliefs of most Americans.

2/7/2021 Diversity training still stirs up debate - Some critics say colleges are overstepping duties by Chris Quintana, USA TODAY
    An executive order from President Trump focused on banning some forms of diversity training is still sparking debate on college campuses.
    Many universities scrambled to comply with the controversial order last year, which would have prevented the federal government and its contractors from offering diversity training that Trump had called divisive.    President Joe Biden has since overturned the order, but it had tapped into a live vein of distrust among rightleaning voters who fear colleges are not teaching their students, but rather indoctrinating them.
    Look no further than the University of Iowa and its college of dentistry.    In October, the college emailed everyone in the department condemning the order.    But one student disagreed with the universitys criticism and did so by replying all to the email.
    By condemning executive order 13950, does the (College of Dentistry) support using federal funds to promote trainings that include race/sex stereotyping and/or race/sex scapegoating? student Michael Brase wrote.
    What followed was a messy debate full of denials and accusations of racism.
    The conservative student recently testified in front of a committee of Iowa lawmakers.
    And the Republicans on the committee praised his willingness to stand up to brain-washing while bashing the university.
    At the same time, other students, especially those of color, in the program are more vexed than ever.    They recently led a protest that, among other things, is pushing the department to require more diversity training.    (They also want to revise the email policies so its harder to reply to all.)    We are protesting for a culture change, said Megha Puranam, one of the student protesters, and to hold the University of Iowa and College of Dentistry accountable for the diversity values that they claim to champion.
    This debate is not new.
    A Pew Research Center survey in 2019 found that nearly 60% of right or right-leaning voters thought colleges have a negative effect on the country.
    And a 2018 survey showed nearly 80% of right-leaning voters said professors bringing their political and social views into the classroom was a prime factor in what was wrong with college.
    Those in higher education, though, fear Trumps order and antagonism toward colleges more broadly might serve as a guidepost for state or local lawmakers looking to influence their universities.
    And students at these institutions fear the attack on diversity training might translate to more overt racism.
    Simply because the federal government has changed positions doesnt mean state governments are going to follow suit, said Peter Lake, a law professor at Stetson University that studies higher education law.    The executive order was more than just an executive order.    It was a rallying cry.
    The Trump administrations focus on race also manifested in college admissions.
    The Department of Justice had sued Yale, alleging the university of discrimination against Asian and white applicants.    That case was dismissed last week though.
    But the executive order on diversity training was more pointed.    It would have restricted training that inculcates in its employees any form of race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating, and it applied to the federal government and its contractors or grantees.
    Universities werent directly mentioned, but they do rely on such forms of federal funding and many tried to comply with the order.
    Its more oriented toward viewpoints and content of speech and ideas, Lake said.    To be that specific is fairly unprecedented.
    The Trump order homed in on critical race theory, or the idea that racism is interwoven into American society and gives some groups of people advantages over others.
    Supporters of the executive order will say they dont have an issue with diversity broadly, but theyre against critical race>     The order caused many universities to scramble to comply with the order.
    John A. Logan College in Illinois even canceled a talk by a Hispanic author to comply.    The University of Iowa was one of the institutions that responded quickly to the order, and suspended its diversity training briefly.
University of Iowa dental students AJ Foley, from left, Megha Puranam, Jasmine Butler and Shannon Oslad hold signs and chant during
a protest last month calling for the department to require more diversity training. JOSEPH CRESS/IOWA CITY PRESS-CITIZEN FILE

What I am seeing going on in the U.S.A. since 2018 to 2021 now reminds me when I was 16 years old and this movie which was about a Yippie protests of 1967,
called "Wild in the Streets" which took Jerry Rubin's slogan "don't trust anyone over thirty" to an absurdist, dystopian extreme, and became a horrifying concept,
to anyone over 30 into concentration camps to be forced into an LSD trip all day every day.
And in today's world I am seeing that mentality in the WOKE generation but biblically it is obviously what the Bible calls the ANTICHRIST
    This is what they claim Diversity training means:
    Diversity training is any program designed to facilitate positive intergroup interaction, reduce prejudice and discrimination, and generally teach individuals who are different from others how to work together effectively.
    Anyone who believes that has been programmed to judge others and does just the opposite of what is stated above, WAKE UP AMERICA, before they start putting you in concentration camps.

2/8/2021 High court rules for Calif. churches - Decision blocks some COVID-19 restrictions by John Fritze, USA TODAY
    WASHINGTON A divided Supreme Court has blocked enforcement of Californias prohibition on indoor church services during the coronavirus pandemic, the latest case in which the justices have been asked to assess measures intended to slow the spread of the virus in light of religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.
    South Bay United Pentecostal Church, a 600-seat congregation near San Diego, had filed an emergency request asking the high court to block enforcement of some COVID-19 provisions, including a prohibition against all indoor services in some parts of the state as well attendance limits in others.    The 1,250-seat Harvest Rock Church had filed a similar challenge to the states rules.
    A 6-3 majority blocked the state from prohibiting indoor services in counties with the greatest spread of COVID-19, but it allowed attendance caps based on the size of the building to stand.    The state may also continue to prohibit singing and chanting during those services, the court said late Friday.
    Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that federal courts owe significant deference to politically accountable officials in public health matters, but said that deference has its limits.
    The states present determination that the maximum number of adherents who can safely worship in the most cavernous cathedral is zero appears to reflect not expertise or discretion, but instead insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake, Roberts wrote.
    The courts three liberals dissented.
    Justices of this court are not scientists, Associate Justice Elena Kagan wrote.    Nor do we know much about public health policy. Yet today the court displaces the judgments of experts about how to respond to a raging pandemic.
    The litigation was the latest in a series of high-profile emergency requests to come before the nations highest court in which the justices have been asked to consider state orders aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus in light of religious freedom enshrined in the First Amendment.
    At the core of the cases, and a series of others that have come before it, is the question of how far states and counties can go in implementing restrictions on houses of worship.    Throughout the pandemic many religious leaders and some Republican lawmakers have argued that governors have overstepped their authority.
    After a series of cases in which the court appeared to give some leeway to governors imposing restrictions in California, Nevada and Illinois, a 5-4 majority in November blocked New Yorks numeric limits for instance, a 25-parishioner cap that did not take into account the size of a building.    One of the differences between the earlier cases and the New York case is the composition of the court: Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, was seated in October, replacing the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and giving conservatives an ostensible 6-3 majority.
    Since then, the justices have sent several similar cases back to lower courts including one in Colorado and another in New Jersey ordering judges to take another look with the New York ruling in mind. In the case of South Bay, the church argued that neither California nor the lower courts went far enough to unwind restrictions after the Supreme Courts New York decision.
    This court thus admonished the lower courts that it is especially during a pandemic not despite a pandemic that courts should stand strong in protecting constitutional rights, attorneys for South Bay told the court.
    The broader questions raised in these religious freedom cases could be among the first substantive rulings by its new 6-3 conservative majority.    More senior conservatives on the court, including Associate Justice Samuel Alito, have long argued that state officials are treating houses of worship less fairly than other entities.
    In a July dissent involving a 50-person attendance cap on religious services in Nevada, Alito wrote that the states regulations put praying on worse footing than eating at restaurants, drinking at bars, gambling at casinos, or biking at gyms.    In other words, he wrote, Nevada is discriminating against religion.
    California uses a four-tier system, based on the severity of the spread of COVID-19, to impose restrictions.    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit this month upheld Californias prohibition on houses of worship holding indoor services in the states highest- tier counties.    It struck down 100and 200-person indoor caps for lower tiers.
    The appeals court also allowed a prohibition on indoor singing and chanting.
    South Bay noted some businesses are allowed to open even in the highest tier, such as barbershops and mechanics.    State officials countered that those industries are subject to specific rules and that entities that would draw a more comparable attendance, such as movie theaters and restaurants, were subject to the same restrictions.
    Today the court displaces the judgments of experts, Associate Justice Elena Kagan In dissent.

2/8/2021 Pope Francis Appoints More Women To Vatican Posts by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis greets a nun during the weekly general audience at the Vatican, January 15, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) Pope Francis has appointed two women to Vatican posts previously held only by men, in back-to-back moves giving women more empowerment in the male-dominated Holy See.
    He appointed Nathalie Becquart, a French member of the Xaviere Missionary Sisters, on Saturday as co-undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, a department that prepares major meetings of world bishops held every few years on a different topic.
    The previous day, Francis named Italian magistrate Catia Summaria as the first woman Promoter of Justice in the Vaticans Court of Appeals.
    Becquarts position, effectively a joint number two spot, will give her the right to vote in the all-male assemblies, something many women and some bishops have called for. She is 52, relatively young by Vatican standards.
    Women have participated as observers and consultants in past synods but only synod fathers, including bishops and specially appointed or elected male representatives, could vote on final documents sent to the pope.
    During a synod in 2018, more than 10,000 people signed a petition demanding that women get the vote.
    A door has been opened.    We will see what other steps could be taken in the future, Cardinal Mario Grech, the synods secretary-general, told the official Vatican News website.
    While upholding the Churchs tradition barring female priests, Francis has set up commissions to study the history of women deacons in the early centuries of the Catholic Church, responding to calls by women that they be allowed to take up the role today.
    Last year, in one fell swoop, Francis appointed six women to senior roles in the council that oversees Vatican finances.
    He has also appointed women to the posts of deputy foreign minister, director of the Vatican Museums and deputy head of the Vatican Press Office.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Frances Kerry)

2/8/2021 Mature Democracies Should Shun Political Personality Cults, Pope Says
Pope Francis addresses members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See at the Vatican February 8, 2021. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) Mature democracies must shun the temptation to glorify an individual political personality and make sure that the rule of law prevails over partisan interests, Pope Francis said on Monday.
    Without naming any country or specific incident in his speech to diplomats, he spoke of events in the past year in countries with a long democratic tradition that had shown the need for inclusive, peaceful, constructive and respectful dialogue.
    The development of a democratic consciousness demands that emphasis on individual personalities be overcome and that respect for the rule of law prevail, he said, without naming any individual politician.
    Indeed, law is the indispensable prerequisite for the exercise of all power and must be guaranteed by the responsible governing bodies, regardless of dominant political interests, he said.
    Recent years have seen the rise of populist politicians in the United States, Latin America and some European countries.
    Democracy demands the pursuit of inclusive, peaceful, constructive and respectful dialogue among all the components of civil society in every city and nation, the pope said.
    Francis made his comments in a long speech at his yearly meeting with diplomats accredited to the Vatican, which has relations with more than 180 countries.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alison Williams)

2/9/2021 Report: SBA Refuses To Answer Questions On Approval Of PP Loans For Planned Parenthood, Affiliates by OAN Newsroom
File A Planned Parenthood clinic is pictured. (AP Photo)
    A new revelation is shedding light into coronavirus loans lawmakers have said were unlawfully given to Planned Parenthood.    A groundbreaking report released by the Daily Caller showed the Small Business Administration (SBA) hid communications it had with Planned Parenthood regarding controversial Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans given to the company.
    Back in early 2020, a total of 37 Planned Parenthood affiliates received small business loans.    Many Republicans have said these funds were obtained illegally.    They argued the company was far too big to be illegible for those loans, which were meant to go to small businesses with fewer than 500 employees.
    Irrespective of whatever line of business they were in, their parent companys sitting on net assets of over half a billion dollars, stated Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).    And no affiliate of that organization can even operate or exist without approval of that board, so they directly violate the affiliation rules and they should have known that.
    The emails, released to the Daily Caller under a Freedom of Information Act request, were heavily redacted.    However, they do show there were conversations between Planned Parenthood and the SBA regarding the PPP funds in May of 2020.
    All in all, Planned Parenthood and its affiliates received about $80 million in PPP loans.    This came despite the company admitting in a March 2020 press release that it would be ineligible for the loans under the coronavirus stimulus program.
    In May 2020, a group of Republican legislators sent a letter to the SBA asking how so many Planned Parenthood affiliates were able to receive the funds, but they received very little response with the SBA stating it would not comment on the matter.
    Most recently, Republicans sent another letter to the SBA in January asking for a probe into how those funds were dispersed.    Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ariz.) called this naked attempts to defraud the United States government.
    However, those inquiries fell by the wayside and it remains unclear what the SBA has done to investigate the worries expressed by lawmakers.

2/9/2021 Sen. Hawley Says Biden Abortion Policies Are An Insult by OAN Newsroom
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington. (Bill OLeary/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)
    Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has called Joe Bidens stance on abortion an insult to Americas deeply held beliefs.
    In a tweet Monday, the Republican lawmaker criticized Bidens efforts to use taxpayer money to fund abortions.    He said the Biden administration plans to fund foreign non-governmental organizations working to snuff out unborn children.
    The senator also expressed concern for Republicans being boycotted and harassed by the left for supporting pro-life causes.    Hawley noted, right now the attacks are just intensifying and urged conservatives to stand up against the repression.
    What tech and the big corporate monopolies have been trying to do the last few weeks, trying to silence dissent, trying to tell conservatives theyre not welcome in the public square, he stated.    Of course, theyve been trying to do this to people of faith and pro-life advocates for years, weve seen social media in particular go after pro-life groups.
    Hawley added, hes not going to be intimidated and urged Americans to defend the First Amendment.

2/12/2021 N.D. House Passes Bill Banning Transgender Students From Competing In School Sports by OAN Newsroom
State Reps. Jason Dockter and Rep. Craig Headland walked in Memorial Hall to the House chamber
for an afternoon session in late January, 2021, in Bismarck, N.D. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)
North Dakotas Senate is set to consider a bill which would ban transgender students from competing in school sports based on their gender identity.     This came after State House lawmakers passed the legislation Thursday in a 65-26 vote. The bill would also ban school sporting events from receiving public funding if they have a transgender athlete competing on their teams.
Signs in the North Dakota Capitol remind visitors to wear a face mask in the areas controlled
by the 2021 legislative assembly in Bismarck, N.D. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)
    Opponents said the bill discriminated against students, while supporters argued it would protect female athletes from competing against transgender players who would be more dominant.
    Its about protecting the rights of women and girls, which were created under the 1972 Title IX Act Education Amendment provisions, State Rep. Kathy Skroch (R-N.D.) stated.
    Lawmakers in about a dozen other states are also considering similar legislation.

2/12/2021 Tenn. Gov. Lee: Transgender Athletes Would Destroy Womens Sports by OAN Newsroom
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee delivered his State of the State Address in War Memorial Auditorium, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
    Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tenn.) said transgender athletes should be banned from playing on middle and high school sports teams.
    I do believe that transgenders participating in womens sports will destroy womens sports, Lee stated.
    His comments came as Republicans continue to push legislation which would require student athletes to prove their sex matches their original birth certificate.
    We have an obligation to make sure that our sports are fair, State Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Tenn.) stated.    That you are competing against individuals like you.
    Supporters of the bill said transgender athletes competing in traditionally gendered sports would have an unfair advantage because they are naturally stronger, faster and bigger than those identified as female at birth. Opponents have criticized the legislation, saying it discriminates against transgender children.
    State Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Tenn.) took to Twitter to call Lees comments hurtful, and an insult to the LGBTQ community.
    Arguments over the bill began after Joe Biden signed an executive order which barred schools from denying students access to sports based on their gender identity.
    Despite the order, Lee said transgender students participating in school sports would deny female athletes college opportunities.
    It will ruin the opportunity for girls to earn scholarships, it will put a glass ceiling back over women that hasnt been there and sometimes I think its bad for women and for womens sports, Lee said.
    Lee went on to call Bidens order a tremendous overreach of the federal government into the states.

2/13/2021 Tenn. Republicans Introduce Bill Allowing Fathers To Petition To Block Mothers From Having Abortions by OAN Newsroom
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
    Two Tennessee state lawmakers pushed for legislation to allow fathers of unborn children to block abortion attempts.
    According to reports, GOP State Senator Mark Pody (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Tenn.) introduced the bill, which would give fathers the power to order a legal injunction to prohibit an abortion.
    In this case, were saying that we want that father, who is just as much of a parent as that mother is, Pody said.    It took two of them to create this human being and we believe that they should have that opportunity to raise that child.
    The lawmakers hope their law will bring both parents together on abortion decisions.

2/15/2021 Biden order reestablishes faith-focused White House office
    WASHINGTON President Joe Biden signed an executive order Sunday relaunching the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, aimed at fostering cooperation between the government and faithbased and secular community organizations.    The White House said the offices goals include working to address the COVID-19 pandemic and boost economic recovery, combat systemic racism, increase opportunity and mobility for historically disadvantaged communities, and strengthen pluralism.
[Pluralism: as a political philosophy is the recognition and affirmation of diversity within a political body, which is seen to permit the peaceful coexistence of different interests, convictions, and lifestyles.

2/16/2021 Psaki Dodges Question On Federal Funding For Abortions by OAN Newsroom
White House press secretary Jen Psaki spoke during a press briefing at the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
    The White House is refusing to be transparent about Democrat efforts to include abortion funding in a COVID relief bill.    As negotiations continue, the Biden administration and top Democrat lawmakers have signaled a willingness to force a bill without GOP support.
    Included in the legislation is $750 million for global health activities and billions more for community health centers.    Democrats are not applying the Hyde Amendment to this funding, which would prevent federal dollars from paying for abortions.
    When pressed on the issue, press secretary Jen Psaki dodged the topic.
    Can you guarantee Americans who dont want their tax dollars funding abortion, can the administration guarantee those tax dollars wont fund abortion? a reporter asked.
    Psaki responded by saying, three-quarters of the public supports the components of the package, wants to see the pandemic get under control, wants to see people put back to work, vaccines in arms, so I think that answers your question.
    This came just weeks after the Biden administration reversed a Trump-era ban on federal funds going to international aid groups that perform abortions and offer referrals.

2/17/2021 S.C. State Reps. To Vote On Heartbeat Abortion Bill by OAN Newsroom
A group who opposes a bill that would ban almost all abortions in South Carolina put up a sign outside the Statehouse on
Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. The bill has passed the Senate and been sent to the House. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
    South Carolina state lawmakers are gearing up to vote on a bill that will ban most abortions in the state.    According to reports, the bill prevents women from getting an abortion if a heartbeat is detected by an ultrasound.
    However, the law provides some exceptions on who can get abortions, including victims of rape and incest.    It already went through the states upper chamber last week, where senators voted in favor of the bill 15-to-eight.
    This bill protects the life of the unborn, with a heartbeat, and at the same time recognizes, under exceptional circumstances, a womans right to choose, said state Sen. Katrina Shealy (R-S.C.).    What happens to her body, is a superior right.
    State representatives are scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster is expected to sign it if passed.

2/17/2021 S.C. House Passes Heartbeat Abortion Bill by OAN Newsroom
Anti-abortion activists participate in the March for Life, an annual event to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade,
which legalized abortion in the US, outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, January 29, 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
    The South Carolina House passed a bill that banned nearly all abortions, bringing it closer to becoming law.    On Wednesday, legislators voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill after nearly all Democrat members of the body walked out in protest.
    The bill requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a fetal heartbeat.    If one is detected, women would be prevented from getting an abortion with some exceptions in cases of rape, incest or if the mothers life is in danger.
    The bill would not punish women who get illegal abortions, but those who perform them could face felony charges.    Republicans blocked more than 100 proposed amendments by Democrats and spoke in favor of the measure.
    Im so tired of these celebrities saying, if I wouldnt have had an abortion, I couldnt have went on with my career, South Carolina State Rep. Melissa Oremus (R) said.    What, what?    Im here.    You can still have your life, its just going to be a little bit harder.
    The bill already passed the Senate and is headed to Governor Henry McMasters (R-S.C.) desk.    He said he plans to sign it into law.
    The legislation will not take effect unless Roe v. Wade is overturned in the Supreme Court.

2/18/2021 Polands Opposition Loosens Abortion Stance To Please Younger Voters
FILE PHOTO:Demonstrators takes part in a protest against the verdict restricting
abortion rights in Warsaw, Poland, January 29, 2021. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel
    WARSAW (Reuters) Polands main opposition party called on Thursday for changes in the law to allow pregnancies to be terminated on demand, in a substantial policy shift amid growing strife over abortion in the predominantly Catholic nation.
    However while the centrist Civic Platform (PO) announced a change in its platform, legislative changes are unlikely in the current parliamentary term, which is due to continue until 2023.
    A Constitutional Court ruling mandating a near total ban on abortion from last October has upturned nearly three decades of broad consensus in Poland that abortion should be allowed only in the case of rape, incest, a threat to the mothers health and foetal abnormality.
    The ruling also exposed growing support among young voters in particular for a liberalisation of abortion rules in line with the European mainstream, despite the nationalist governments backing of the court verdict.
    The PO said on Thursday it wanted women to have access to abortions at up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in difficult situations after consulting with a doctor and psychologist, while also calling for broader access to sex education, birth control, in vitro and prenatal testing.
    This is a response to what our voters expect.    A clear stance on this matter, PO head Borys Budka told a news conference.
    Political observers say young voters, many of whom filled the streets with protests for weeks after the court ruling, may be crucial to the outcome of the next parliamentary election, due in 2023.
    Opinion surveys have shown a sharp turn towards the left among youth, while the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) appeals to older, poorer voters. Budkas PO has relied on centrist voters and moderate conservatives for over two decades.
    A February poll published by Polish daily Dziennik Gazeta Prawna showed that over 40% of Poles, especially younger voters, believe abortion rules should be liberalised.
    An SW Research poll conducted soon after the court ruling indicates that over 70% of Poles were against the decision to further restrict abortion rights in the country.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Frances Kerry)

2/19/2021 S.C. House Passes Heartbeat Abortion Bill by OAN Newsroom
Anti-abortion activists participate in the March for Life, an annual event to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade,
which legalized abortion in the US, outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, January 29, 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
    South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed a law banning most abortions in the state.    The South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act restricts doctors from performing abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.
    Our battles are not over, we have a duty, McMaster stated.    It is a duty that we share as Americans and as South Carolinians to protect life above all else.
    The state House approved the measure in a final 79-to-35 vote on Wednesday. While the bill does allow for certain exceptions, including for rape, incest or if the mothers life is put in jeopardy, several are opposed to the law.
    What Ive heard people from saying is I cannot imagine having to make that choice and also think about whether I might be breaking the law or subjecting myself to criminal scrutiny, said Ann Warner of the Womens Rights and Empowerment Network.
    Planned Parenthood announced it was filing a lawsuit minutes after Thursdays vote while arguing the ban blatantly defies nearly five decades of Supreme Court precedent.
    This bill we already know is unconstitutional bill, its going nowhere, stated Rep. Ja Moore (D-S.C.).    Its going to cause the state millions and millions of dollars of litigation just to be unconstitutional and be struck down by their courts.
    A fetal heartbeat can be detected six to eight weeks in pregnancy, which is a time where some women may not realize they are pregnant.
    Doctors found in violation of the law could face felony charges, including jail time and a $10,000 fine.    The measure did not take effect immediately as it is currently being contested in courts.
    South Carolinas move comes after similar bills were passed in dozens of other states, all of which are also tied up in law suits.

2/19/2021 Federal Judge Suspends S.C. New Abortion Ban by OAN Newsroom
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster held up a bill banning almost all abortions in the state after he signed it into law on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Columbia, S.C.
On the same day, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit to stop the measure from going into effect. The state House approved the South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection
from Abortion Act on a 79-35 vote Wednesday and gave it a final procedural vote Thursday before sending it to McMaster. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
    A federal judge suspended a new South Carolina law which banned most abortions.
    Reports on Friday said Judge Mary Geiger Lewis put a 14-day restraining order on the law, just one day after it was signed by the governor.
    The order came at the request of Planned Parenthood, who filed a suit against the ban ahead of the signing.    Planned Parenthood said the order was needed, as over 75 women in the state are scheduled to have abortions over the next three days.
ST LOUIS, MO MAY 28: The exterior of a Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center
is seen on May 28, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
    A hearing is slated for March 9, on Planned Parenthoods request that the law not be enforced until its lawsuit against the state is resolved.

2/20/2021 South Carolina abortion law suspended 1 day after passage
    COLUMBIA, S.C. South Carolinas new law banning most abortions was suspended by a federal judge Friday on its second day in effect.    Judge Mary Geiger Lewis put a 14-day temporary restraining order on the law and will renew it until she can hold a more substantial hearing on March 9 on Planned Parenthoods request that it not be enforced until a lawsuit is resolved.    More than 75 women are scheduled to have abortions in the state over the next three days, and most would be banned under the new law, opponents said.

2/21/2021 Officer reported at anti-abortion protest; LMPD investigating by Emma Austin, Louisville Courier Journal | USA TODAY NETWORK
    The Louisville Metro Police Department said it is investigating after a Twitter account reported an officer participated in an anti-abortion demonstration Saturday morning.
    An account run by volunteers who escort patients and staff to enter and exit EMW Womens Surgical Center, one of Kentuckys only remaining abortion providers, tweeted photos of an LMPD officer and a cruiser parked in front of the clinic at 7 a.m.
    There is an @LMPD police car in front of the clinic, the account said.    The officer, with his gun on his hip, is marching in front of the clinic with 40 days for life sign.
    40 Days for Life is a nonprofit that organizes campaigns against abortion through prayer vigils outside abortion clinics around the world.     LMPD spokeswoman Beth Ruoff said in an emailed statement the department had been made aware of the situation.
    It was brought to our attention that an employee may have participated in a protest or demonstration while in uniform and using an LMPD vehicle, Ruoff said.
    We are investigating the matter and if it is determined that an employee engaged in such activities, they will immediately be placed on administrative reassignment while the investigation proceeds.    It is essential that we maintain a posture of neutrality while representing the department and behavior contrary to this will not be tolerated.
    The clinic escorts volunteer to assist patients and staff entering or exiting the clinic on West Market Street and prevent any potential harassment or danger posed by anti-abortion demonstrators who often gather outside the property, particularly on Saturday mornings.
    Louisville Metro Councilman Jecorey Arthur, D-4th District, responded to the escorts tweet, saying he sent it to LMPD Chief Erika Shields.
    Maybe this is why @LMPD doesnt enforce the law at these protests, Arthur wrote.    Theyre protesting too.
    Arthur, who was elected to the Metro Council last year, is leading an effort to bring back a proposal for legislation allowing the downtown clinic to create a buffer zone extending from the facilitys front entrance to the sidewalk where protesters wouldnt be allowed.
    The ordinance, which advocates have long called for, became more urgent last year as protesters continued to show up outside the clinic, often without masks, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Supporters of the legislation said the issue had become one about safety and public health, but the city ultimately declined to pass the measure in August.
    This was a problem long before the pandemic, its obviously a problem now, and it will be a problem long after the pandemic ends, unless we solve it, Arthur told The Courier Journal earlier this month.
    Having unhealthy conditions outside of a health care facility is like having a buffet of drugs outside of a rehab facility.    Its counterproductive, he said.
    Reach Emma Austin at or on Twitter at @emmacaustin.

2/23/2021 Justices to view Trump-era rules - Challenges to be heard on abortion, immigration by John Fritze USA TODAY
    WASHINGTON The Supreme Court on Monday took up a series of cases challenging federal regulations created during former President Donald Trumps administration, including a hotly contested effort to cut funding to medical centers that refer patients for abortions and a rule designed to limit legal immigration.
    Described by critics as a 'gag rule,' the 2019 abortion referral provision drew condemnation from Democrats at the time and praise from anti-abortion groups that saw the move as a way to reduce funding for Planned Parenthood and similar entities.    Federal appeals courts have been split on the rules>     Supporters say the rule will ensure federal money isnt used for abortions, while opponents say it would restrict the ability of women to obtain abortion counseling.    The decision to take the case may give the new 6-3 conservative majority on the high court its first opportunity to wade into the abortion debate.
    The Trump-era rule 'is designed to target abortion providers to score political points,' said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.    'The gag rules harm is felt most by those who have always faced systemic barriers to health care.'
    The Supreme Court also announced Monday that it will take up a case about another Trump administration regulation that allows federal officials to deny green cards and visas to immigrants if they believe the recipients will receive public benefits like food stamps, Medicaid or housing vouchers.
    Opponents said the regulation amounted to a wealth test for new immigrants.
    The 'public charge' rule was one of several efforts by the Trump administration to reduce legal immigration.    Officials at the time said the rule was intended to ensure that those approved for legal residency support themselves.    A federal appeals court ruled against the regulation in December, dismissing that argument.
    President Joe Biden already has begun to unwind both Trump policies, but he wont be able to move quickly on either because they were implemented through a department-level rulemaking process rather than with an executive order that could be rescinded with a stroke of the new presidents pen.    The court also could decide the constitutionality of the rules should a future president try to implement them again.
    Trump effectively blocked clinics from receiving federal grants through the Title X program if they offered abortion services with other funds.    Created in 1970, the program offers more than $250million in annual federal funding for health services for low-income families and the uninsured.    The money cannot be used to pay for abortion.
    Trump stiffened the rules of the program by also barring referrals for abortion services.    Since those changes, about one-quarter of clinics and other providers that had received federal grants to help the uninsured or low-income patients no longer participate, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.    Advocates say that has reduced access to contraception, cancer screenings and preventive care.
    Other Supreme Court happenings Monday:
Election challenge
    The court rejected a handful of cases related to the 2020 election, including disputes from Pennsylvania that had deeply divided the justices just before the election.
    The cases the justices rejected involved election challenges filed by Trump and his allies in five states Biden won: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
    Other than two Pennsylvania disputes, the justices decision not to hear the cases was unsurprising but ends months of legal wrangling.    The court had previously taken no action in those cases and in January had turned away pleas that the cases be fast-tracked, again suggesting the justices were not interested in hearing them.
    Justice Clarence Thomas called the cases an 'ideal opportunity' to address an important question whether state lawmakers or state courts get the last word about the manner in which federal elections are carried out.    And he called it 'befuddling' and 'inexplicable' that his colleagues were declining to weigh in.
    'We failed to settle this dispute before the election, and thus provide clear rules.    Now we again fail to provide clear rules for future elections.    The decision to leave election law hidden beneath a shroud of doubt is baffling.    By doing nothing, we invite further confusion and erosion of voter confidence,' he wrote.
Florida-Georgia water war
    The court tried to inject some mystery into its second consideration of a long-running dispute between Georgia and Florida over water that flows from the Atlanta suburbs to the Gulf of Mexico.
    Florida is seeking a court order forcing Georgia to limit its use of water from the Flint.
    Justice Amy Coney Barrett wondered whether Georgia could take some steps without incurring too much expense to help revive Apalachicola oysters.    'How do we put a price on an environmental benefit like that?' she asked.
    A decision is expected by late June.
Defamation suit against Trump
    The court rejected an appeal from porn star Stormy Daniels, who sought to revive a defamation lawsuit she filed against Trump.
    The justices did not comment in leaving in place a lower court ruling dismissing the case.
    Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, Trump for defamation after he called her claims of being threatened to keep quiet about a tryst a 'total con job.'
    A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2018 and ordered Daniels to pay nearly $300,000 in attorneys fees.
Contributing: Maureen Groppe, The Associated Press
The Supreme Court made decisions Monday on cases including an abortion 'gag rule' and
a water dispute between two states. J. Scott Applewhite/AP file

2/23/2021 Becerra: I Hope To Find Common Ground On Late-Term Abortions by OAN Newsroom
Xavier Becerra spoke during his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of Health and Human Services before the Senate Health,
Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool via AP)
    Xavier Becerra, Joe Bidens pick for HHS secretary, indicated he will likely keep his progressive views on late-term abortions.    On Tuesday, Becerra said he hopes to reach common ground with Republicans and come together to work toward a solution.
    These comments came after Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) grilled him for his history of supporting late-term abortions.    While serving as a representative of California in 2003, Becerra voted against a bill aiming to ban the practice.
    I understand that we may not always agree on where to go, but I think we can find some common ground on these issues because everyone wants to make sure that if you have an opportunity, youre gonna have a healthy life, Becerra said.
    Becerra is facing a tough road to being confirmed, as senators from both sides of the aisle are reluctant to vote to confirm him.

2/23/2021 Poll: 5.6% of US adults identify as LGBTQ - Record 18M reflects how society is changing, says editor at Gallup by Susan Miller, USA TODAY
    A record number of U.S. adults 5.6% identify as LGBTQ, an increase propelled by a younger generation staking out its presence in the world, a poll released Wednesday shows.
    The survey by Gallup marks more than a 1 percentage point jump from the last poll in 2017, in which 4.5% of adults identified as LGBTQ.
    The estimated 18 million adults who identify as LGBTQ represent an upward trajectory since Gallup started tracking identification in 2012, Gallup senior editor Jeff Jones said.
    It reflects what we are seeing in society and the way society is changing, he said.
    One of the biggest headlines in the 2020 poll is the emergence of Generation Z adults, those 18 to 23: 1 in 6, or 15.9%, identify as LGBTQ.    In each older generation, LGBTQ identification is lower, including 2% or less of respondents born before 1965.
    For the first time, Gallup queried respondents on their precise sexual orientation rather than a simple yes or no on whether someone identified as LGBTQ, which allowed more insight into identity, Jones said.
    Among LGBTQ adults, a majority or 54.6% identify as bisexual, the poll shows.    About a quarter, or 24.5%, identify as gay; 11.7% as lesbian; 11.3% as transgender.
    Generation Z again leads the way: 72% who identify as LGBTQ say they are bisexual.
    There are gender differences as well:
Women are more likely than men to identify as LGBTQ (6.4% vs 4.9%.)
Women are more likely to identify as bisexual than men (4.3% vs 1.8%.)
A more accepting reality
    Advocates are not surprised to see more young people identifying as LGBTQ. Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project, cites generational shifts in awareness and acceptance that have reshaped how LGBTQ youths are embraced by families and peers.
    I have had conversations with many older LGBTQ people who break down in tears when they share their coming-out stories of decades ago heart-wrenching stories of family rejection, losing parents, losing siblings, losing jobs, she said.
    Older generations grew up during those times when being LGBTQ could land you in jail, or alone or jobless."
    The younger generations havent experienced this level of fear where often being in the closet felt less like a choice and more like a survival mechanism.
    Parents have created environments where young people not only feel safe in coming out but those on the cusp of adulthood can map futures packed with possibilities, something not seen even a generation ago, she said.
    LGBTQ representation in communities, media, politics and beyond in recent years is significant, said Cathy Renna, communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force: Children are taught prejudice, and when LGBTQ people are part of their lives from the beginning they understand that they can be themselves and are not alone.
    Renna cites a better and more nuanced grasp of sexual orientation and gender identity that has enabled LGBTQ youths to celebrate their full selves.
    Young people do not want to check off a box; they want to be able to express themselves authentically and acknowledge all their identities, she said.
Hardship and bias still exist
    The survey comes amid a cautiously optimistic time for the LGBTQ community.
    President Joe Biden made equality a plank in his campaign, promising an ambitious agenda to advance LGBTQ rights after four years of setbacks and attacks by the previous administration.
    Biden has signed executive orders that prohibit workplace discrimination in the federal government based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and he lifted the transgender military ban.
    And he has pledged to sign the federal Equality Act, recently introduced in the House which provides sweeping protections in housing, education, credit and services in his first 100 days if Congress acts.
    The poll numbers give the battle for equality perspective, Mushovic said.
    Less than 20 years ago, just being in a same-sex relationship could be a crime. Now, LGBTQ people can marry the person they love, she said.
    And the Supreme Court found, just last year, that its not legal to fire someone just for being LGBTQ. So LGBTQ people finally have a little more freedom to be themselves.
    But much work remains, she said. Violence and bias still lurk in society, Mushovic said, hitting communities such as transgender people of color particularly hard.
    The fact that its 2021 and were still pushing for the Equality Act, decades after federal non-discrimination protections were originally introduced, shows that our laws need to catch up to the public on these issues, she said.
LGBTQ supporters gather in front of the Supreme Court on Oct. 8, 2019. There are an estimated
18 million adults who identify as LGBTQ, according to a new survey from Gallup. JACK GRUBER/USA TODAY

2/25/2021 Southern Baptists expel Louisville church by Holly Meyer, Nashville Tennessean and Emma Austin, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    The Southern Baptist Conventions Executive Committee expelled four churches including one in Louisville for affirming LGBTQ people during a Tuesday meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.
    The 80-plus member body, which acts on behalf of the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention when it is not in session, deemed St. Matthews Baptist Church to be no longer in friendly cooperation with the conservative evangelical denomination over its LGBTQ-inclusive policies.
    Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, announced the disfellowships Tuesday afternoon on Twitter and called the actions necessary and proper.
    Anyone who argues that the Bible OT and NT is not clear about the sinfulness of homosexuality is either very confused or deliberately dishonest about the structure of biblical theology and the clear meaning of the texts, Mohler wrote on Twitter.
    Michael Payne, chair of the St. Matthews Baptist Church Administrative Council, said the convention cited its membership policies as the reason for the action.
    The Conventions decision was apparently based on our congregations November 2019 reaffirmation of SMBCs long-standing policy that a belief in Jesus as personal Savior is the sole criterion for membership in our Church, Payne said in a statement.    ... Nothing in the Southern Baptist Conventions decision changes St.     Matthews Baptist Churchs deep commitment to carrying out what God calls us to do in our worship and spiritual growth, as well as in ministries to those in need and fellowship within our Church family.
    Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, Georgia, was removed from the convention for the same reason.    Antioch Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tennessee, and Westside Baptist Church in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, were removed for employing pastors convicted of sex offenses.
    The churches are the latest to be expelled from the largest Protestant denomination in America through its new Credentials Committee process.
    While the committee can consider an array of compatibility issues, it was created in 2019 as an answer to the Southern Baptist sexual abuse crisis exposed in news reports.
    We take no pleasure in recommending that a church is not in friendly cooperation with the convention, Credentials Committee Chairman Mike Lawson told Baptist Press, the conventions publication.    We would like nothing more than for all our churches to be in harmony on such vital issues.    But when the available information shows clearly that we are not, it is necessary to take action.
    The Southern Baptist Convention is not the only entity to sever ties with the Louisville church over its support of LGBTQ people.
    The Kentucky Baptist Convention in 2018 ended its relationship with St. Matthews and about a dozen other churches also affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which had lifted its ban on hiring staff who identified as LGBTQ.
    Payne said the Louisville congregation in 2018 adopted the policy of maintaining its existing denominational relationships unless and until a partner chooses to disaffiliate with the church.
    We continue to stand by that policy as we seek to work collaboratively with others for the greater good, Payne said.
    Reach Emma Austin at
St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville GOOGLE MAPS

2/25/2021 Equality Act about updating civil rights - House to vote on bill to add LGBTQ protections by Nicholas Wu, USA TODAY
    WASHINGTON The House on Thursday is set to pass sweeping legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, though it faces an uncertain future in the Senate.
    The Equality Act would amend existing federal civil rights laws to extend protections for LGBTQ Americans in what Democratic lawmakers and advocates say would make significant progress toward legal protections for all Americans.    It is one of President Joe Bidens top legislative priorities.
    Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said he was excited to see the likely passage of the bill in the House.
    Nine members of the House openly identify as LGBTQ and two in the Senate, amounting to about 2% of each chamber.    A recent Gallup Poll showed a record 5.6% of U.S. adults identified as LGBTQ.
    The legislation amends civil rights laws such as the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which had banned discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion and national origin, to include protections on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.    It also would prohibit such discrimination in public places, on transportation and in government-funded programs.
    Although many states have enacted anti-discrimination laws, advocates such as the Human Rights Campaign argue that todays patchwork of laws across states leaves LGBTQ Americans vulnerable to discrimination.
    The Supreme Courts ruling last June in the case Bostock v. Clay County extended workplace protections to LGBTQ Americans, but groups such as the National Womens Law Center say the legislation would codify the courts decision and create explicit federal protections for LGBTQ Americans beyond the workplace.
    The House passed a similar bill in May 2019, but it died in the then-Republican- controlled Senate.    Eight Republicans voted for it in 2019, though no Republicans have co-sponsored this years version of the legislation.
    House Republican leaders are recommending a vote against the legislation, but they arent pushing members on the decision, calling it a vote of conscience, according to a House Republican leadership aide not authorized to speak on the record.
    The White House says it supports the bill, and Biden has pledged to sign it into law in his first 100 days in office.
    Some conservatives have expressed concerns that the legislation could infringe upon religious liberty or lead to inequality in athletic competitions if transgender women compete against cisgender women.    The conservative Heritage Foundation, which opposes the bill, says it could threaten religious freedoms, give transgender athletes an unfair advantage and harm constitutional freedoms.
    Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who opposes the legislation, disrupted a procedural debate over the measure on Wednesday, drawing the ire of Democrats.    Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., whose office sits across from Greenes, put a transgender flag outside her office so she can look at it every time she opens her door.
    The bill would face an uncertain future in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democratic caucus members, with Vice President Kamala Harris in a tiebreaking role.    It would need at least 10 Republicans to vote with all Democrats to advance the bill past a filibuster.
    Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who introduced the Senates version of the bill, said he wanted the Senate to act in a bipartisan fashion as they had with other legislation ending forms of discrimination in the workplace.

2/25/2021 Iraqi Christians, Decimated By Islamist Violence, Prepare For Popes Visit by Charlotte Bruneau
Choir members practice at St. Joseph Chaldean Cathedral, where Pope Francis will hold a mass,
ahead of his planned visit to Iraq, in Baghdad, Iraq February 23, 2021. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) Iraqi Christians are busy scrubbing churches, practising hymns and preparing for mass ahead of the first ever papal visit to the country, a four-day trip next month that is going ahead despite the coronavirus pandemic and security risks.
    The minority community of several hundred thousand was decimated first by al Qaedas rise in the early 2000s and later by Islamic State, the extremist group that brutally persecuted them and other minority faiths and sects from 2014-2017.
    For many of those who remained, or have returned to Iraq where free worship is again possible, Pope Francis visit from March 5-8 is welcome recognition of how they have suffered for their beliefs.
    We hope that after the popes visit, the situation of Christians will improve, said Amer Abdelahad, a Christian in Erbil, as he registered to attend a mass for 10,000 people in the northern city on Sunday, March 7.
    Christians in Iraq suffered a lot over the past years, they are emigrating.    The pope will come and see this reality on the ground, he added, accompanied by his wife and daughter who will also be at the gathering.
    The trip by the 84-year-old leader of the worlds Catholics was announced in December, and will take in the capital Baghdad, as well as Ur, a city linked to the Old Testament figure of Abraham, and Erbil, Mosul and Qaraqosh in the plain of Nineveh.
    A twin suicide attack in Baghdad killed at least 32 people in January, a reminder of Iraqs ongoing security risks despite the defeat of Islamic State and a general reduction in militant violence.    The pope condemned the bombing.
    Although some of Iraqs Christians, who include Catholics and Orthodox, have moved back to homes they fled during the upheaval of the last two decades, others foresee further problems and are looking to leave.
    Father Dankha Joola, one of the main organisers of the visit to Erbil, said that more than 8,000 people had registered for the mass already.
    His biggest challenge is to implement social distancing at the outdoor stadium where the pope will lead the service.    The venue has a capacity of around 30,000, but numbers are limited to one third of that due to COVID-19 restrictions.
    Daniella Rafiq is one of more than 200 volunteers lending him a hand.    For her, the visit is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the pope.
    Over the last few years, whenever there was a meeting with the pope in different countries, especially with young people, we were deprived, she said, referring to difficulties she and other Iraqis faced in obtaining visas to travel in the past.
    Father Naswhan Cola, who is organising the religious service, said it would be unique, with prayers in Italian and an orchestra and choir of about 80 local volunteers performing hymns in Arabic and Syriac, the neo-Aramaic language spoken by Christians in northern Iraq.
    Before the mass in Erbil, Pope Francis will visit the city of Mosul and the nearby town of Qaraqosh, both under Islamic State occupation for three years.
    Mosuls once thriving Christian community is today reduced to no more than 70 families, while in Qaraqosh a relatively large number have returned, partly thanks to the churchs role in leading reconstruction efforts and mobilising Christians.
    Dozens of volunteers were proud at the prospect of receiving the pope in the Grand Immaculate Church, Iraqs biggest, which doubled as a shooting range for Islamic State fighters before being ravaged by fire.     Some wiped the stone floor, stopping only to dance to Christian songs that resonated through the cavernous grey-stone edifice, still virtually empty since it was restored.
    The popes visit is not only for Iraqs Christians, but for the whole country, said Father Francis, who was helping put up posters of the pope around the streets of Qaraqosh.
(Editing by Mike Collett-White)

2/25/2021 HHS Secy Nominee Grilled Over Nun Lawsuit by OAN Newsroom
Xavier Becerra, nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, answers questions during his Senate Finance Committee nomination hearing on February 24, 2021
at Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. If confirmed, Becerra would be the first Latino secretary of HHS. (Photo by GREG NASH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    A hearing before the Senate Finance Committee heated up as Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and HHS Secretary nominee Xavier Becerra (D) squared off over a controversial case Becerra argued as Californias attorney general. During his confirmation hearing Wednesday, the senator from Nebraska asked Becerra to try and explain his decision to target a Catholic religious order called The Little Sisters of the Poor as part of a 2017 lawsuit against the Trump administration.
    Mr. Becerra, you said a little while ago that youve never sued the nuns, which is a pretty interesting way of reframing your bullying, Sasse said.    You actually sued the federal government, who had given an exception to the nuns.    Can you explain to us what The Little Sisters of the Poor were doing wrong?
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., questions William Burns, nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director, during his Senate Select Intelligence Committee confirmation
hearing in Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on on February 24, 2021. (Photo by TOM WILLIAMS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    So, senator, as I tried to explain, Becerra answered.    My actions were against the federal government. We never alleged that The Little Sisters of the Poor did anything wrong.    Our problem was that the federal government was not abiding by the law as we saw it.
    Sasse asked the HHS Secretary nominee to clarify.
    What were the nuns doing that made it impossible for California to administer their program? questioned the Nebraska senator.    That was just a complete nonsense answer.
    Becerra tried to dodge, but was caught in seconds and redirected.    He tried to slip loose of the senators line of questioning by repeating the same non-answer again.
    As I said, Becerra claimed.    Our action was against the federal government.
    Sasse was undeterred and pushed on, asking Becerra about the nuns once more.
    What did the federal government do? demanded the Republican.    It was about the nuns.    This is nonsense.    What youre saying isnt true.
    Becerra attempted to get a different result by repeating the same information.
    Senator, the actions of the state of California and I was defending the actions of our state and the laws that were in place, Becerra said.    The federal government took actions [and] changed the way that we would have administered the programs that we had under the Affordable Care Act.
    Sasse was not satisfied with Becerras attempt to answer.
    So again a whole bunch of words, Sasse noted.    But you know well youre an incredibly smart man you know well that what the federal government did was make sure that you couldnt target the nuns.    So you can put 17 layers of you were following the law to go after the federal government for administering the program or doing X or doing Y that made it difficult for California law to administer the program.'
    The volley continued for several minutes.    Sasse attempted five more times to get Becerra to explain how he could rationalize that a lawsuit named after The Little Sisters of the Poor had nothing to do with them.    Sasse emphasized Becerra targeted religious liberty.
    With his confirmation approaching, Democrats are worried Becerra wont support their Medicare for All push.    Additionally, Republicans have condemned his plan to restore federal funding to Planned Parenthood.    As a result, senators on both sides of the aisle expressed concerns that his career choices may make him too polarizing to explain to their constituents back home.

2/25/2021 Rep. Taylor Greene Urges Lawmakers To Oppose Unconstitutional Equality Act by OAN Newsroom
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
    Conservatives have continued to challenge the Biden administrations attempts to pass the Equality Act.    They believe it would promote the most comprehensive assault on Christianity ever written into law.
    On Wednesday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) took to Twitter to reiterate her opposition to the Democrat-backed bill and called on proponents to reconsider their stance.
    If the House passes the legislation this week, the legal definition of sex would be altered to include sexual orientation and gender identity.    It would also expand the governments regulatory reach on transgender protections by requiring health care facilities to provide hormone therapies and surgical procedures related to sex changes without regard for the beliefs of health care workers.
    Republicans like Taylor Greene have stressed that this could cost everyday Americans their freedom, specifically religious freedom, not to mention hamper womens rights.
    The Equality Act completely destroys womens rights, girls rights, womens sports and religious freedoms, stated the Georgia lawmaker.    I hope that every colleague of mine will put aside their political differences and realize putting on the Equality Act is the wrong thing to do.
    During a recent interview, Catholic League President Bill Donohue pointed out how two transgender females in Connecticut easily placed first and second in a girls track and field state competition.
    Donohue went on to say the Equality Act would be the end of Catholic adoption agencies.    While Catholic hospitals currently have the right to deny abortion based off religious concerns, this bill would eliminate that.
    The Catholic League head warned if the Equality Act is passed, virtually every religious institution would be expected to fall in line with this radical legislation.    He added, its hard for the public to understand how Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, two self-declared devout Catholics, would want to champion such patently anti-Christian legislation when it undermines so many religious liberties.

2/25/2021 House Approves Gender Equality Act In 224-206 Vote by OAN Newsroom
WASHINGTON, DC FEBRUARY 25: Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks as Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY),
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) (L), Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-MN), Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) (R) listen during
a news conference ahead of the House vote on the Equality Act on Capitol Hill on February 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images)
    The House passed the so-called Equality Act after heavy criticism from Republicans. On Thursday, the bill passed 224 to 206. Three Republicans sided with the Democrats.
    The proposal equates biological gender to so-called gender identity among other provisions.    Democrats have been pushing various versions of the Equality Act since 2015 as theyve claimed it would protect LGBTQA+ rights.    However, the House Freedom Caucus said the bill was a direct attack on womens rights, womens sports and religious freedom.
A sign posted outside US congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greenes, R-GA, office on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC,
on February 25, 2021, in escalation of anti-Equality Act attack. (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
    Mosques should be able to keep men and women separate how they choose because of their religious freedom, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said."    The Equality Act wipes that out.    You see, no one is talking about all of the consequences that come with the Equality Act, but theyre very real.    All you have to do is read the text to the bill, which the Democrats lie and tell you that it wont destroy religious freedoms and it wont destroy womens rights.    Media, I dare you to print the text.
    The Equality Act is headed to the Senate where it faces an uphill battle to get Republicans on board to pass it.    60 votes are needed for this type of legislation.

2/26/2021 Paul compares transitioning youth to genital mutilation by Mary Ramsey, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    U.S. Sen. Rand Paul compared transgender minors going through transition to genital mutilation during a confirmation hearing for President Joe Bidens nominee for assistant health secretary, a trans woman.
    The Kentucky Republican compared societal acceptance of gender affirmation therapies to support for the widely condemned human rights abuse when questioning Dr. Rachel Levine at a Thursday hearing.
    American culture is now normalizing the idea that minors can be given hormones to prevent the biological development of their secondary sexual characteristics, he said.    Dr. Levine, you have supported both allowing minors to be given hormone blockers to prevent them from going through puberty as well as surgical destruction of a minors genitalia. ... Do you believe minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing ones sex?    In response, Levine said transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care.
    Health care providers generally dont prescribe hormone therapy to or perform genital surgery on prepubescent transgender minors, and there are existing guidelines for transgender health care and gender affirmation therapy backed by the American Medical Association and other groups.
    Paul continued to question Levine about whether she supports allowing minors to transition.
    Im alarmed that poor kids with no parents, that are homeless and distraught, you would just go through this and allow that to happen to a minor, Paul said.
    Levine then reiterated that she would be willing to meet with Paul to discuss specific standards of care in transgender medicine.
    If confirmed, Levine, who serves as Pennsylvanias top health official, would be the highest-ranking openly transgender person in the federal government.
    Sen. Patty Murray, chairman of the committee holding the hearing, later criticized Pauls comments.
    It is really critical to me that our nominees be treated with respect and that our questions focus on their qualifications and the work ahead of us, rather than on ideological and harmful misrepresentations like those we heard from Sen. Paul earlier, Murray, DWash., said. Its not the first time Paul has brought up transgender rights during a hearing for one of Bidens cabinet nominees.
    He slammed policies allowing transgender students to compete in school sponsored athletics in accordance with their gender identities during a confirmation hearing for Bidens pick to lead the U.S. Department of Education.
    Do you think its fair to have boys running in the girls track meet? Paul asked that nominee, Miguel Cardona, after claiming transgender participation will destroys girls sports.
    Reach reporter Mary Ramsey at, and follow her on Twitter @mcolleen1996.

2/26/2021 House OKs LGBTQ legal safeguards by Kevin Freking, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    WASHINGTON The Democratic led House passed a bill Thursday that would enshrine LGBTQ protections in the nations labor and civil rights laws, a top priority of President Joe Biden, though the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
    The bill passed by a vote of 224-206, with three Republicans joining Democrats in voting yes.
    The Equality Act amends existing civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identification as protected characteristics.    The protections would extend to employment, housing, loan applications, education, public accommodations and other areas.    Supporters say the law before the House on Thursday is long overdue and would ensure that every person is treated equally under the law.
    The LGBT community has waited long enough, said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., who is gay and the bills lead sponsor.    The time has come to extend the blessings of liberty and equality to all of Americans regardless of who they are and who they love.
    Republicans broadly opposed the legislation.    They echoed concerns from religious groups and social conservatives who worry the bill would force people to take actions that contradict their religious beliefs.    They warned that faith-based adoption agencies seeking to place children with a married mother and father could be forced to close, or that private schools would have to hire staff whose conduct violates tenets of the schools faith.
    This is unprecedented.    Its dangerous.    Its an attack on our first freedom, the first freedom listed in the Bill of Rights, religious liberty, said Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La.
    The House passed the Equality Act in the last Congress with unanimous Democratic support and the backing of eight Republicans, but Donald Trumps White House opposed the measure and it was not considered in the Senate, where 60 votes will be needed to overcome procedural hurdles.    Democrats are trying to revive it now that they have control of Congress and the White House, but passage still appears unlikely in the evenly divided Senate.
    The Supreme Court provided the LGBTQ community with a resounding victory last year in a 6-3 ruling that said the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applied to LGBTQ workers when it comes to barring discrimination on the basis of sex. Civil rights groups have encouraged Congress to follow up that decision and ensure that anti-bias protections addressing such areas as housing, public accommodations and public services are applied in all 50 states.
    Biden made clear his support for the Equality Act in the lead-up to last years election, saying it would be one of his first priorities.
    Democratic Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., said the Equality Act is needed to end the patchwork of state laws around gay rights and create uniform nationwide protection.
    Its been personal since my baby sister came out to me almost 40 years ago, Scanlon said.    For many people all across this country and across this House, that is when the fight hits home.
Equality Act lead sponsor Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., watches as Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.,
speaks about the bill Thursday on Capitol Hill. JACQUELYN MARTIN/AP

2/26/2021 In Iraqs Biblical Lands, Scattered Christians Ask Should I Stay Or Go? by John Davison
Thanoun Yahya, an Iraqi Christian is seen near his home which he reclaimed when Islamic State
militants was driven out, in Mosul, Iraq February 21, 2021. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
    MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) A jihadist message, Islamic State endures, is still graffitied on the front gate of Thanoun Yahya, an Iraqi Christian from the northern city of Mosul, scrawled by Islamist militants who occupied his home for three years when they ruled the city.
    He refuses to remove it, partly in defiance of the militants who were eventually beaten by Iraqi forces, but also as a reminder that Iraqs scattered and dwindling Christian community still lives a precarious existence.
    Theyre gone, they cant hurt us, said the 59-year-old, sitting in his home which he reclaimed when Islamic State was driven out in 2017.    But there arent many of us left.    The younger generation want to leave.
    The stark choice facing many Christians in Muslim-majority Iraq will be highlighted during the first ever papal visit to the Biblical nation.     Pope Franciss trip runs from March 5-8 and will include a stop in Mosul.
    Yahya sold the familys metalwork shop to pay a ransom for his brother, kidnapped by al Qaeda militants in 2004 at a time when Christians were being abducted and executed.
    Since then, he has watched siblings leave for foreign countries and work and income dry up.
    Of 20 relatives who once lived in the neighbourhood, only his family of six remain.
    Iraqs Christians have endured unrest over centuries, but a mass exodus began after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and accelerated during the reign of Islamic State, which brutalised minorities and Muslims alike.
    Hundreds of thousands left for nearby areas and Western countries.
    Across Iraqs northern Nineveh Plains, home to some of the oldest churches and monasteries in the world, the remaining Christians often live displaced in villages that fell easily to Islamic State in 2014 or in enclaves of bigger cities such as Mosul and the nearby self-run Kurdish region.
    The Islamists rule over almost a third of Iraq, with Mosul as their capital, ended in 2017 in a destructive battle with security forces.
    Physical and economic ruin remain.    Iraqi authorities have struggled to rebuild areas decimated by war, and armed groups that the government has not been able to control vie for territory and resources, including Christian heartlands.
    Christians say they are left with a dilemma whether to return to damaged homes, resettle inside Iraq or migrate from a country that experience has shown cannot protect them.
    In 2014, Christians thought their displacement would last a few days, said Cardinal Louis Sako, head of Iraqs Chaldean Catholic Church.
    It lasted three years.    Many lost hope and migrated.    Theres no security or stability.
    Iraqs indigenous Christians are estimated to number around 300,000, a fifth of the 1.5 million who lived in the country before the 2003 invasion that toppled Sunni Muslim leader Saddam Hussein.
    Christians were tolerated under Hussein, but singled out for kidnappings and killings in the communal bloodshed of the mid-2000s onwards.
    Pope Francis is to visit Iraq on an historic trip that eluded his predecessors.    He will say a prayer for the victims of conflict at a site in Mosul where old churches lie in ruins, once used as religious tribunals by Islamic State.
    Christians welcome the visit, but do not believe it will improve their lot.
    The pope cant help us, only God can, Yahya said.
    Yahyas family, who fled to Iraqs northern Kurdistan region during Islamic States rule, is one of just a few dozen that have returned to Mosul out of an original population of some 50,000 Christians, according to local clergy.
    His two teenage sons help out at the local church, the only one fully repaired in Mosul, which fills to about half its modest capacity on Sundays.
    Firas, his eldest, finds little more than a day a week of casual labour and sees no future in Mosul, Iraqs second-largest city.
    If I want to marry, Ill have to leave.    Christian women from here are displaced to other areas and dont want to come back, he said.    Ideally, Id go to the West.
    The experience of Islamic State, which told Christians to convert, pay a tax or be killed, and the inability of Iraqi and Kurdish security forces to prevent the group marauding through their hometowns, has left many Christians distrustful of any but their own.
    The nearby Christian town of Hamdaniya boasts its own militia, which local officials say is necessary because of the proliferation of Shiite Muslim paramilitary groups which seek control of land, and Islamic State militants who remain in hideouts across northern Iraq.
    If there were no Christian militia here, no one would come back.    Why should we rely on outside forces to protect us? said a local militia leader, who requested anonymity.
    Nearly 30,000 Christians, half of Hamdaniyas population, have returned, including a small number from abroad, and began rebuilding infrastructure thanks to foreign aid.    It is a rare bright spot.
    In the neighbouring village, Christian leader Sako said most Christians were unable or unwilling to return out of fear of a local Shiite militia, and because non-Christians had bought their property in their absence.
    Some have showed interest in resettling in Hamdaniya, but local officials generally reject this, fearing it would weaken Iraqi Christians presence.
    If people move here from their own villages, it empties those areas of Christians, said Isam Daaboul, the mayor of Hamdaniya.
    This threatens our existence in areas weve been for generations.
(Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

2/27/2021 Amendment against right to an abortion advances in House by Joe Sonka Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    FRANKFORT The Kentucky House passed a proposed constitutional amendment by a wide margin Thursday to declare there is no right to an abortion in Kentucky, the second consecutive year the chamber passed the legislation.
    House Bill 91, sponsored by Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, passed by a 76-20 vote, a slightly larger margin than the House vote last year.
    The legislation seeks to create a new section to the Kentucky Constitution declaring: 'To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.'
    If approved by the Senate, the amendment would be put on the ballot in November 2022 for voters to either approve or reject in a statewide referendum.
    Fischer has stated the bill is necessary so that judges in Kentucky do not 'invent' a right to abortion within the state constitution, claiming courts in other states such as Kansas have done so in recent years.
    Asked by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, if the amendment would contain abortion exceptions for the life of the mother or other reasons, Fischer said no.
    Marzian and four other female Democratic legislators spoke forcefully against the amendment, decrying the lack of exceptions and what they called hypocrisy of small-government conservatives supporting the legislation.
    Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville, gave a long, personal speech about the struggles of pregnancy and childbirth, while Rep. Rachel Roberts, D-Newport, recounted her sexual assault at the age of 14 and the lack of any exception for rape in the legislation.
    'Im telling you my truth, something Ive never stated publicly ever before, because when you vote today, I want you to know that if you vote this through with no consideration for rape, incest or the life of a mother, you would be damning a 14-year old version of me to God knows what,' Roberts said.
    Rep. Bill Wesley, a freshman Republican from Ravenna, said he is '100% pro life' and 'would shut every abortion clinic down' in Kentucky if he could, then held up a tiny plastic model of a fetus and said, 'Im holding a baby.'
    Wesley was gaveled down by House Speaker Pro Tem David Meade, R-Stanford, who said, according to House rules, 'we cant have props on the floor,' asking him 'to put it down for right now.'
    The Senate never took up the bill last year after the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the legislative session was cut short.
    Fischer also sponsored another anti-abortion bill that passed into law earlier this session, giving the attorney general new power to independently regulate abortion clinics in the state.    Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed the bill but it was later overridden by the legislature.
    Reach reporter Joe Sonka at and follow him on Twitter at @joesonka.
The EMW Womens Surgical Center on West Market Street in Louisville is one of Kentuckys two abortion providers. Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal

2/28/2021 Kentuckiana Pride Festival moved to October this year by Ayana Archie USA TODAY NETWORK
    The 2021 Kentuckiana Pride Festival will be moved from its usual dates in June to October due to the coronavirus pandemic, the organization overseeing the event announced Wednesday.     The two-day event will now happen Oct. 8-9 on the Big Four Lawn at Louisvilles waterfront.
    'The health safety of attendees, staff, vendors entertainers has been our priority,' Kentuckiana Pride tweeted.    'Safety info will be released close to the event.'
    Kentuckiana Pride President Rodney Coffman said the organization is 'hoping for better news come October.'
    'Its hard to say how we see us looking at that time because I think some things are going to change,' he said.    'Im being optimistic and hoping that it gets better, but honestly right now, its a hard question to answer because I dont know all the guidelines yet.'
    The event will follow whatever COVID-19 protocols the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state have in place at the time, he said.
    He added the organization has had events since the pandemic began and has invited representatives from the state health department 'because we want them to see that were being responsible.'
    Kentuckiana Pride chose the October dates because they fall on the weekend before National Coming Out Day, which is Oct. 11.
    However, the organization has been discussing ways to celebrate Pride in its official month of June.
    It is holding an upcoming meeting to brainstorm some virtual ideas, Coffman said.
    Kentuckiana Pride was unable to celebrate the festivals 20th anniversary last year, as the event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.    'See you in 2021,' it said at the time.
    But the 2018 and 2019 Kentuckiana Pride Festivals were held at Louisvilles Waterfront Park to accommodate growing crowds.    A parade through the city, with thousands of participants, has also been a part of the celebration.
    This year the organizations goal is to be more inclusive and to provide a refuge from the struggles of the pandemic.
    'We felt it was important, and that the community needed to have a Pride,' Coffman said.    'We need something to bring us all together and celebrate life in general, no matter if youre part of the LGBT community or an ally or whatever.    Everyone is welcome.'
    Contact Ayana Archie at or follow-on Twitter @AyanaArchie.
People attend the Louisville Pride Festival in 2019. This years Kentuckiana Pride Festival
will be moved from June to October. Scott Utterback/ Courier Journal file

2/28/2021 Female Athlete Speaks Out Against Bidens LGBTQA+ Bill by OAN Newsroom
WILMINGTON, DELAWARE JULY 14: Joe Biden spoke at the Chase Center July 14, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
    A female athlete spoke out on the negative impacts of Joe Bidens Equality Act on womens sports.    In a CPAC interview on Sunday, NCAA athlete Linnea Saltz said she feels women will be watching their own sports from the sidelines if the Biden-backed bill becomes a law.
    The act would give men who identify as women the ability to compete in female sports.    Saltz said this would discourage women, because it could create an uneven playing field.    She added, biological males may have physiological advantages that could prevail over the dedication of women to their sports.
    Gender identity doesnt erase physiological differences and thats just something we have to remember, Saltz stated.
    The athlete went on to say she is looking for proposed solutions that are inclusive to everyone, but do not come at the exclusion of biological women.

3/1/2021 Experts hint against papal trip to Iraq by Nicole Winfield and Samya Kullab, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    VATICAN CITY Infectious disease experts are expressing concern about Pope Francis upcoming trip to Iraq, given a sharp rise in coronavirus infections there, a fragile health care system and the unavoidable likelihood that Iraqis will crowd to see him.
    No one wants to tell Francis to call it off, and the Iraqi government has every interest in showing off its relative stability by for the first time welcoming a pope to the birthplace of Abraham.    The March 5-8 trip is expected to provide a sorely needed spiritual boost to Iraqs beleaguered Christians while furthering the Vaticans bridge-building efforts with the Muslim world.
    But from a purely epidemiological standpoint, as well as the public health message it sends, a papal trip to Iraq amid a global pandemic is not advisable, health experts say.
    Their concerns were reinforced with the news Sunday that the Vatican ambassador to Iraq, who would have escorted Francis to his appointments during the trip, tested positive for the coronavirus and was self-isolating.
    The embassy said Archbishop Mitja Leskovars symptoms were mild.

3/1/2021 Mexicos Lockdowns Fuel Rise In Drug-Trafficking, Forced Prostitution by OAN Newsroom
A health worker is escorted by soldiers as she arrives to the Sports Center with a cooler containing doses of the Russian COVID-19
vaccine Sputnik V in the Xochimilco borough of Mexico City, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)
    Human rights groups have warned thousands of Mexicans are turning to the sex industry due to economic desolation caused by COVID-19 lockdowns.
    Because of hunger and necessity, and not having any savings or income to eat or pay rent, all that pushed me back after 10 years to return to work as a sex worker, stated an unidentified Mexican national.
    According to reports, the Mexican economy has experienced a rise in unemployment and poverty, in turn, forcing thousands of men and women into sex work.
    Human rights activists have stressed that economic lockdowns violate peoples right to work and provide for themselves.
    And the new ones, which are the other 40 percent, they would cry because they would say, I dont want to do this but I must bring food for my children,' explained Elvira Madrid, director of Brigada Callejera (Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women).    The other 20 percent that shocked us even more were housewives.
    According to economists, coronavirus lockdowns in Mexico gave a boost to illegal businesses such as drugs and human trafficking while legal sources of income were shut down for many citizens.

3/2/2021 Popes Risky Trip To Iraq Defies Sceptics by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis meets Iraqi President Barham Salih at the Vatican,
January 25, 2020. Domenico Stinellis/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) Rockets have hit Iraqi cities and COVID-19 has flared,yet, barring last-minute changes, Pope Francis will embark on a whirlwind four-day trip starting on Friday to show solidarity with the countrys devastated Christian community.
    Keen to get on the road again after the pandemic put paid to several planned trips, he convinced some perplexed Vatican aides that it is worth the risk and that, in any case, his mind was made up, three Vatican sources said.
    He is itching to get back out on the road after such a long period, said one Vatican official.    Despite some misgivings, the general mood in here is that all systems are go.
    The March 5-8 trip will be Francis first outside Italy since November 2019, when he visited Thailand and Japan.    Four trips planned for 2020 were cancelled because of COVID-19.
    He really feels that need to reach out to people on their home ground, said the official, a Vatican prelate who is familiar with Iraq and who spoke on condition of anonymity.
    Vatican officials and local Church leaders say they are satisfied that Iraqi forces will be able to provide adequate security for the pope and his entourage.
    The pope knows where he is going.    He is deliberately coming to an area marked by war and violence to bring a message of peace, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil told reporters on a recent conference call.
    The authorities are taking the popes security very seriously, with 10,000 security personnel deployed for the purpose, he said.
    Conflict in Iraq, birthplace of the Prophet Abraham who is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews made a trip by Francis predecessors elusive.
    But while wars have ended, violence continues.
    A twin suicide attack in Baghdad killed at least 32 people in January.    The pope condemned the bombings.
    Last Monday, rockets hit Baghdads fortified Green Zone, which hosts government buildings and foreign embassies.    There were no casualties.
    Another shadow hanging over the trip is the coronavirus pandemic, which, along with security measures, will drastically limit the number of people who will see the pope in person.
    Officials banned most travel within provinces after more than 4,000 new cases were detected on Thursday, for a total of more than 600,000 cases so far.
    Francis, 84, has said it is important to make the trip even if most Iraqi Christians will see him only on television.
    They will see the pope is there in their country, he told Catholic News Service last month, adding: I am the pastor of people who are suffering, Several Vatican and Iraqi Church officials say they are doing everything possible to ensure that papal appearances do not turn out to be super-spreader events.
    The pope and his entourage, including the accompanying press corps, have been vaccinated.    But most people who will attend papal events have not.    A first batch of 50,000 doses is due to arrive in Iraq from China on Monday.
    Two gatherings at churches in Baghdad will be limited to about 100 people each, with social distancing and masks required.
    Up to 10,000 people will have numbered seats for a papal Mass in a stadium in Erbil that has a capacity of 30,000, and contact tracing will be possible if there is an outbreak, Warda>     Vatican and Iraqi planners of the trip got a sobering reminder of the spread of coronavirus in Iraq on Saturday when Archbishop Mitja Leskovar, the Vaticans ambassador there, said he had tested positive and had gone into self-isolation.
    Leskovar has been the key planner of the trip and he had been due to be at the popes side throughout the visit.
    This is not going to influence the popes program, which is going on as planned, Leskovar told>     For security reasons and so as not to draw crowds, the pope will use a closed car and not a popemobile on the streets, a Vatican source said. (Additional reporting by Charlotte Bruneau and John Davison in Baghdad; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

3/3/2021 Conservative Group Urges Democrat Senators To Vote Against HHS Secy. Nominee Xavier Becerra by OAN Newsroom
Xavier Becerra appears during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on his nomination to be secretary of
Health and Human Services on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)
    A conservative group has urged three senators who could be the decisive votes on Joe Bidens pick to lead the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department to reject the nominee.
    On Wednesday, Heritage Action announced its running a $500,000 ad campaign in West Virginia and Arizona in an effort to target Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.).
    The ad slams HHS secretary nominee Xavier Becerra over his positions on issues like guns, coal and immigration.    They also took aim at his poor track record as California attorney general.
    Many GOP senators have indicated they will not vote for Becerra, which means he will likely need the votes of the three moderate Democrats to be confirmed.

3/5/2021 Pope, Starting Risky Trip, Urges Iraq To End Violence by Philip Pullella and John Davison
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi walks with Pope Francis upon his arrival at
Baghdad International Airport, in Baghdad, Iraq March 5, 2021. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) Pope Francis began his most risky foreign trip on Friday, flying into Iraq amid the tightest security ever seen for a papal visit to appeal to the countrys leaders and people to end militant violence and religious strife.
    The country has deployed thousands of security personnel to protect him during the visit, which comes after a spate of rocket and suicide bomb attacks and a spike in COVID-19 cases.
    Even before he landed, Francis told reporters on his plane that he felt duty-bound to make what he called an emblematic trip despite the difficulties because the country has been martyred for so many years.
    At the official welcome in the presidential palace, the 84-year-old Francis, limping from what appeared to be a fresh flare-up of his painful sciatica, made an impassioned call for Iraqi to finally give peacemakers chance.
    May the clash of arms be silenced may there be an end to acts of violence and extremism, he said.
    President Barham Salih thanked the pope for making the first-ever papal visit to Iraq despite the many recommendations to delay because of the pandemic and other challenges in our wounded country.
    The fact that the pope came anyway multiplies the value of this visit for the Iraqi people, the president said.
    Hundreds of people gathered in small clusters to see him being driven into Baghdad in bulletproof BMW, a departure for a pope who normally insists on using small, normal cars.
    A motorcade of dozens of vehicles accompanied him out of the airport compound, which recently came under rocket fire from militia groups.
    In his speech at the palace, Francis, looking tired at the start of his first foreign trip in 16 months, criticized factional and foreign interests that have destabilised Iraq and the wider region and hit ordinary people the hardest.
    Iraq has suffered the disastrous effects of wars, the scourge of terrorism and sectarian conflicts often grounded in a fundamentalism incapable of accepting the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups, Francis said.>br>     He later paid tribute to people killed in attacks motivated by religion, visiting a Baghdad church where Islamist gunmen killed about 50 worshippers in 2010.
    Their deaths were a reminder that violence or the shedding of blood are incompatible with authentic religious teachings, he said.
    Iraqs security has improved since the defeat of Islamic State in 2017, but the country continues to be a theatre for global and regional score-settling, especially a bitter U.S.-Iran rivalry that has played out on Iraqi soil.
    The U.S. invasion of 2003, after years of international sanctions and a devastating war with Iran instigated by former leader Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, plunged Iraq into sectarian conflict and chronic mismanagement that has plagued it since.
    The popes whirlwind four-day tour will take him by plane, helicopter and cars to four cities, including areas that most foreign dignitaries are unable to reach, let alone in such a short space of time.
    This visit is one of a kind.    We are excited, and we all need this visit, all Iraqis do, said an Iraqi Christian from Baghdad, Magin Derius.
    Iraqs Christian community, one of the oldest in the world, has fallen to about 300,000 from about 1.5 million about 20 years ago.
    On Saturday the pope will hold an unprecedented meeting with Iraqs top Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the southern city of Najaf.    He will also visit Ur, birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, who is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, and will return to say Mass in Baghdad.
    On Sunday Francis travels north to Mosul, a former stronghold of Islamic State, where churches and other buildings there still bear the scars of conflict.
    Since the defeat of the Islamic State militants in 2017, Iraq has seen a greater degree of security, though violence persists, often in the form of rocket attacks by Iran-aligned militias on U.S. targets, and U.S. military action in response.
    Islamic State remains a threat. In January, a suicide attack claimed by the Sunni militant group killed 32 people in Baghdads deadliest such attack for years.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella and John Davison in Baghdad; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Gareth Jones and Frances Kerry)

3/6/2021 Pope asks Iraq to embrace Christians by Nicole Winfield and Samya Kullab, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BAGHDAD Pope Francis opened the first-ever papal visit to Iraq on Friday with a plea for the country to protect its centuries-old diversity, urging Muslims to embrace their Christian neighbors as a precious resource and asking the embattled Christian community though small like a mustard seed to persevere.
    Francis brushed aside concerns over security and the coronavirus pandemic to resume his globe-trotting papacy after a yearlong hiatus spent under lockdown in Vatican City.    His primary aim is to encourage Iraqs dwindling Christian population, which was violently persecuted by the Islamic State group and still faces discrimination by the Muslim majority, to stay and help rebuild the country devastated by wars and strife.
    Only if we learn to look beyond our differences and see each other as members of the same human family, Francis told Iraqi authorities in his welcoming address, will we be able to begin an effective process of rebuilding and leave to future generations a better, more just and more humane world.
    The 84-year-old pope donned a mask during the flight from Rome and throughout all his protocol visits, as did his hosts.    But the masks came off when the leaders sat down to talk, and social distancing and other health measures appeared lax at the airport and on the streets of Baghdad, despite the countrys worsening COVID-19 outbreak.
    The government is eager to show off the relative stability it has achieved after the defeat of the IS caliphate.    Still, security measures were tight.
    But Francis told reporters aboard the papal plane that he was happy to be resuming his travels again and said it was particularly symbolic that his first trip was to Iraq, the traditional birthplace of Abraham, revered by Muslims, Christians and Jews.
    This is an emblematic journey, he said.    It is also a duty to a land tormented by many years.
    Francis, who relishes plunging into crowds and likes to travel in an open sided popemobile, was transported around Baghdad in an armored black BMWi750, flanked by rows of motorcycle police. It was believed to be the first time Francis had used a bulletproof car both to protect him and to keep crowds from forming.
    At a pomp-filled gathering with President Barham Salih at a palace inside Baghdads heavily fortified Green Zone, Francis said Christians and other minorities in Iraq deserve the same rights and protections as the Shiite Muslim majority.
    The religious, cultural and ethnic diversity that has been a hallmark of Iraqi society for millennia is a precious resource on which to draw, not an obstacle to eliminate, he said.    Iraq today is called to show everyone, especially in the Middle East, that diversity, instead of giving rise to conflict, should lead to harmonious cooperation in the life of society.
    Salih, a member of Iraqs ethnic Kurdish minority, echoed his call.
    The East cannot be imagined without Christians, Salih said.    The continued migration of Christians from the countries of the east will have dire consequences for the ability of the people from the same region to live together.
An Iraqi youth in a wheelchair offers Pope Francis a garland during a stop
at a Baghdad cathedral on Friday. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

3/6/2021 17M Americans Ineligible For Stimulus Payments, Reduced Payment Amount And Narrowed Cutoff Leaves Critics Fuming by OAN Newsroom
WASHINGTON, DC MARCH 06: President Joe Biden speaks from the State Dining Room following the passage of the American Rescue
Plan in the U.S. Senate at the White House on March 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
    After the COVID relief package passed in the upper chamber, critics pointed out how many Americans will actually miss out on getting a stimulus check.
    The complaints started early on after Joe Biden campaigned for Senate candidates in Georgia.    He promised that if they were elected, $2,000 in stimulus payments would go out to citizens right away.
    Their election will put an end to the block in Washington on that $2,000 stimulus check, Biden claimed at the time.    That money that will go out the door immediately.
    Following the election, the number quickly dropped from $2,000 to $1,400 in addition to the $600 already passed.    This didnt sit well with many people, including members of the so-called Squad, as Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) called Biden out for the change.    She pointed out: $2,000 means $2,000, not $1,400.
    The number changed even further after Democrats moved to make the stimulus more targeted by modifying the income requirements.    The amount initially started phasing out at $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples, but ultimately landed on $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for couples.
    Anyone making more than that would get essentially nothing, which marks around 17 million Americans who will not benefit from the stimulus.
    House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth admitted there will be people who could use the direct payment but wont get it.    However, he said this is acceptable because 250 million people will receive payment.    Yarmuth argued the benefit will ultimately come in the form of money allotted to state and local governments.
    They can use that money in a variety of ways, Yarmuth stated.    They can set up assistance operations and plans for people in need.    The fact is that you cant use, as many people have said, a scalpel to do national legislation.    You have to make broad decisions and come up with answers and this is one of the things that we have to do.
    Critics argued the figures were mostly based on income amounts before the pandemic, so they dont take into account individuals who may have had their incomes severely reduced or lost jobs during the economic downturn.    Opponents further argued $80,000 is sometimes not a large amount, particularly for single parents living in large cities where yearly costs can exceed $100,000 or more.
    Supporters of the original $2,000 payments also pointed out that if the $1,400 is finishing the job of the original $600 payments, the new payment should go to everyone who was eligible for the initial payment.

3/6/2021 Calif. Proposes Gender-Neutral Toy Sections, Candace Owens Slams Bill by OAN Newsroom
(Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images)
    California introduced a new bill, which would require big retailers to organize toys in a gender-neutral section.    All stores with 500 or more employees would fall under the proposal, which applies to childcare items such as kids clothes and toys.
    The bill targets the categorization of toys as boys or girls and would ban any signs that designate which sex or gender theyre for.    Retailers would be expected to maintain undivided areas of the sales floor to create a safe space for children.
    Businesses based online would be required to designate a section titled kids, unisex, or gender-neutral.    Supporters of the bill claimed the proposal could reduce bullying and shame amongst kids when picking out toys.
    The measure was introduced in early March.
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
    Conservative commentator and activist Candace Owens condemned the new proposal.    In a tweet on Saturday, Owens slammed the Golden States bill, calling the Democrat state lawmakers despicable.
    Retailers would face a fine of up to $1,000 if they refused to de-gender their clothing and toy sections.    If passed, the bill would go into effect on January 1 of 2024.

3/8/2021 Hawaii lawmakers advance bill to allow abortions by nurses
    HONOLULU Hawaii lawmakers have advanced a bill that would allow nurses to perform abortions.    The decision Thursday by the state House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee will advance the legislation to the full state House for consideration.    The measure would allow advanced practice registered nurses to end a pregnancy by medication or aspiration, a medical procedure that uses suction to conduct an abortion.    Hawaii would join 12 other states that allow nurses to perform abortions.

3/8/2021 Pope: Oppression of Islamic State should be forgiven by John Bacon, USA TODAY
    Pope Francis visited Iraq on Sunday, drawing thousands to rebuilt churches, squares and an open-air sports venue as he urged Christians to forgive the oppression wrought during the brutal reign of the Islamic State group.
    The nation of 40 million people includes just a few hundred thousand Christians, a fraction of the number before nearly two decades of war since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
    In 2014, the Islamic State group seized Mosul and many Christian towns in the region, killing thousands and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee.    Scores of historical sites were severely damaged or destroyed.
    Here in Mosul, the tragic consequences of war and hostility are all too evident, the pope said at Church Square.    How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, who were cruelly eliminated by terrorism, and others forcibly displaced or killed.
    Francis said fraternity is more durable than fratricide and peace is more powerful than war.
    Francis was on a four-day visit to Iraq, brushing aside rising coronavirus infections in the Arab country to show support for its shrinking Christian community.
    On Saturday, Francis met Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, spiritual leader of Iraqs Shiite Muslims, at his home in Najaf.    Francis remarked on the dark clouds of terrorism, war and violence in Iraq, saying all its ethnic and religious communities have suffered.
    Yet, even at that dark time, some stars kept shining, the pope said.    I think of the young Muslim volunteers of Mosul, who helped to repair churches and monasteries, building fraternal friendships on the rubble of hatred, and those Christians and Muslims who today are restoring mosques and churches together.
    Sistani said the responsibility to present a unified message to prevent persecution falls on religious leaders of all faiths.
Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at the Franso Hariri Stadium in Irbil, Kurdistan
region of Iraq on Sunday. ANDREW MEDICHINI/AP

3/8/2021 Miss. lawmakers look to limit trans athletes - Bill would ban transgender players from girls teams by Emily Wagster Pettus, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    JACKSON, Miss. The Mississippi House has voted to ban transgender athletes from competing on girls or womens sports teams in the states schools and universities.    The bill heads to Republican Gov. Tate Reeves in the next several days, and he is expected to sign it into law.
    Mississippi is one of more than 20 states with lawmakers proposing restrictions on athletics or gender-affirming health care for transgender minors this year.    Democratic President Joe Biden signed an executive order Jan. 20 the day he took office that bans discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere.    Transgender rights advocates say the wave of bills aimed at trans athletes is an all-out attack on trans participation in an integral part of society.
    Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field, Republican Rep. Becky Currie read from a text as she explained the bill to the Mississippi House.    Allowing males to compete in girls sports destroys fair competition and womens athletic opportunities.
    Currie said she would not take questions from colleagues because she believed everyone had already decided how to vote.    Im not interested in getting into an argument with you on whos boys and whos girls and who thinks theyre what, Currie said.
    Transgender athlete advocates such as cyclist Veronica Ivy, 38, of Charleston, South Carolina, assert that for all intents and purposes, they are women.    The extra stress that this puts on me on top of being an athlete is a burden that other women athletes dont have to bear, Ivy, told USA TODAY.
    South Carolinas legislature is considering a ban on transgender athletes from middle and high school teams.
    The Mississippi House voted 81-28 Wednesday to pass Senate Bill 2536.    Six representatives did not vote, and seven voted present, which counts neither for nor against the bill.    The Republicancontrolled state Senate passed the bill 34-9 on Feb. 11, with five senators not voting and four voting present.
    During the Senate debate, nobody asked whether any transgender athletes were competing in Mississippi.    The sponsor, Republican Sen. Angela Hill of Picayune, did not volunteer such information but said numerous coaches had called her wanting a ban.
    Brandon Jones, Mississippi policy director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that the proposed ban is reckless and hurtful.
    Transgender collegiate athletes should be allowed equal opportunities to play any sport they choose as their authentic selves and reap the same benefits, just like any other student.    Our laws and the lawmakers who write them should work to protect Mississippis transgender youth, not encourage discrimination against them.
    Reeves is the father of three daughters.    In response to Bidens executive order on Feb. 4, the governor tweeted: I am so disappointed over President Bidens actions to force young girls like them to compete with biological males for access to athletics.    Advocates like Ivy reject language such as biological males and arguments saying trans girls and women have a competitive advantage over cisgender girls and women due to size and strength.
    People always conveniently forget about the massive diversity within bodies of women in sport, said Ivy, whose research has appeared before the International Olympic Committee.    So it is not as simple as looking at bodies and saying, which is fair and unfair.
Contributing: Claire Thornton
    More than 20 states are seeking to restrict sports or gender-affirming health care for transgender minors.

3/8/2021 Iraq PM Urges National Dialogue After Love And Tolerance Of Pope Visit
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi walks with Pope Francis upon his arrival at
Baghdad International Airport, in Baghdad, Iraq March 5, 2021. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) Iraqs prime minister on Monday called on the countrys rival political groups to use dialogue to solve their differences, a move he said would reflect the love and tolerance shown by Pope Francis historic visit to the country.
    Iraq suffers from chronic mismanagement and corruption, and a steady level of violence often linked to the rivalry between Iran and the United States in the region 18 years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
    In the atmosphere of love and tolerance promoted by the visit of His Holiness the Pope to the land of Iraq, we present today the call for a national dialogue,     Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said in a televised speech.
    Many in Iraq hope the Papal visit will garner more international support for Kadhimis government to handle sensitive crises, including reining in Iran-backed militias whose power and influence Kadhimi has sought to curb since taking office in May 2020.
    The prime minister said dialogue would help to reduce tension in his country and pave the way for a successful early election.
    Controlling armed groups which operate out of state control is still an significant challenge for the prime minister.
    Pope Francis ended his tour, the first ever papal visit to Iraq, on Monday after visiting conflict-torn cities, meeting Muslim and Christian leaders and preaching peace and coexistence over war.    The visit had started on Friday.
    The pontiff also made a rare first event in meeting Iraqs Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraqs top Shiite Muslim cleric who is one of the most important figures in Shiite Islam, both within Iraq and beyond.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed, Editing by William Maclean)

3/8/2021 Pope Francis Ends Epic Iraq Tour Where He Preached Peace
Pope Francis is accompanied by Iraq's President Barham Salih and his wife Sarbagh Salih before departing
for Rome, at Baghdad International Airport in Baghdad, Iraq March 8, 2021. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) Pope Francis ended his historic tour of Iraq on Monday, departing by plane from Baghdad after visiting conflict-torn cities, meeting Muslim and Christian leaders and preaching peace and coexistence over war.
    Francis waved one last time from before boarding a plane flying the Vatican and Iraqi flags from its cockpit windows.    President Barham Salih accompanied the 84-year-old pontiff down a red carpet to his flight.
    During Franciss trip, the first ever papal visit to Iraq, he toured four cities, including Mosul, the former Islamic State stronghold where vast areas still lie in ruins, telling Iraqis that peace is more powerful than war.
    He said Iraq would always remain with me, in my heart.
    The pontiff, who walked with a limp during parts of the frantic tour, also made a historical first in meeting Iraqs Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraqs top Shiite Muslim cleric.
    Iraqis welcomed the pope and said it was a chance for the world to see their perpetually crisis-hit nation in a new light.
    Iraq suffers from chronic mismanagement and corruption, and a steady level of violence often linked to the regions U.S.-Iran rivalry 18 years after the United States invaded.
(Reporting by John Davison in Baghdad, Phil Pullella aboard the papal plane. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

3/8/2021 Pope Defends Iraqi Trip Despite COVID-19 Risk, Says God Will Provide by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis gives a news conference aboard the papal plane on his flight back after visiting Iraq, March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/Pool
    ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) Pope Francis said on Monday that he decided to visit Iraq despite a rise in COVID-19 cases after much prayer and contemplation and suggested God would protect those who came to see him from the virus.
    Speaking to reporters on the plane returning from his trip, Francis also said he realised that some conservative Catholics would see his meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, as one step from heresy but that sometimes it was necessary to take a risk in inter-religious relations.
    The 84-year-old Francis, speaking while standing for about 50 minutes, said the trip, his first foreign visit in 16 months, had left him much more fatigued than previous ones.
    But he said he felt reborn after feeling like I was imprisoned by coronavirus restrictions.    He added that 84 years do not come without baggage and that he could not say if he would make fewer trips in the future.
While mask and social distancing regulations were respected at some indoor papal gatherings, where participation was limited, thousands of mostly young people attended a Mass at Erbil stadium on Sunday night and most were not abiding by the rules.
    The pope has often urged people to respect guidelines of local authorities and the Vatican said before the trip they were confident that Iraqi officials would be able to make people follow the rules.
    A reporter asked if he worried that people who came to see him could get sick and possibly even die.
    Trips cook slowly over time in my conscience. And this (the virus threat) is one of the things that most made me think perhaps, perhaps, Francis said.
    I thought about it a lot, I prayed a lot over this.    And in the end I took the decision freely.    It came from within and I said the one who allows me to decide this way will look after the people, he said, apparently referring to God.
    That is how I made the decision, after prayer and after awareness of the risks, he said.
    One of the most significant moments of the trip was the popes meeting on Saturday in the holy city of Najaf with the 90-year-old Sistani, one of the most influential figures in Shiite Islam, both within Iraq and beyond.
    Sometimes you just have to take a risk, he said of the meeting.
    There are some critics who say that the pope is not courageous, but reckless, that he is doing things against Catholic doctrine that are one step away from heresy, he said.
    Throughout his papacy, conservatives have criticised his opening to the Muslim world, including the signing in 2019 of a joint document on inter-religious fraternity during a visit to Abu Dhabi.    That visit was the first by a pope to the Arabian peninsula, home of Islams most sacred sites.
    These are risks but these decision are always taken in prayer, he said, adding that he found Sistani to be a great sage, a man of God, and that the meeting did my soul good.
    On Sunday morning in Mosul, Francis heard Muslim and Christian residents in the ruined city tell of their lives under Islamic State, which occupied it from 2014 to 2017.
    He told reporters the visit to Mosul, where he sat surrounded by the wreckage of buildings, dangling concrete staircases, and cratered ancient churches, had left him shocked by the unbelievable cruelty that took place.
    Francis said he badly wanted to make a visit to Lebanon as soon as possible to show solidarity with the people of all religions suffering there.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/9/2021 Biden orders address gender equity by Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY
    WASHINGTON President Joe Biden marked International Womens Day Monday by signing two executive orders creating a Gender Policy Council and reviewing Trump-era changes to Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in education.
    The first order establishes the White House Gender Policy Council to work with other policy councils to advance gender equality in domestic and foreign policy development, combat systemic bias and discrimination, including sexual harassment, and focus on increasing female participation in the labor force and decreasing wage and wealth gaps.
    The council will also focus on transgender rights and supporting care workers, predominantly women of color.
    Officials pointed out the COVID-19 pandemic has hit women the hardest: 2.5 million left the workforce in 2020 compared with 1.8 million men.    The U.S. Department of Labors February jobs report released Friday found Black and Hispanic women showed the greatest declines in labor force participation.
    In a statement released by the White House, Biden said the world is seeing decades of womens economic gains erased by this pandemic.
    These global trends damage all of us, because we know that governments, economies, and communities are stronger when they include the full participation of women no country can recover from this pandemic if it leaves half of its population behind, he said.
    The Gender Policy Council, led by Julissa Reynoso, chief of staff to first lady Jill Biden, and Jennifer Klein, former chief strategy and policy officer for the anti-sexual-harassment group Times Up, will work with all Cabinet secretaries and submit an annual report to the president to measure progress on prioritizing gender equality across the government.    Biden is likely to name a special assistant and senior adviser on gender-based violence.
    The president signed a second order directing the Department of Education to review all of its regulations, orders and guidance to ensure they are consistent with the administrations promise that all students are guaranteed education free from sexual violence.
    The order directs the department to evaluate Title IX changes by President Donald Trumps education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who dismantled Obamaera rules on sexual discrimination and harassment in federally funded education programs.    She implemented regulations that altered the handling of sexual assault allegations on college campuses, giving schools more latitude in deciding whether to report accusations to the Title IX office.
    As vice president, Biden led the Obama administrations Its On Us campaign to prevent sexual assault on campus, often visiting colleges to raise awareness.    The president said the Violence Against Women Act of 1990, which aims to protect women from gender-based violence, was one of the pieces of legislation he was most proud of during his 36 years in the Senate.
    Biden pledged to reverse the changes DeVos made at the Education Department.    DeVos lifted a policy that limited federal funding to for-profit institutions based on students debt and salary levels and argued that allowing transgender athletes to compete as girls violates Title IX regulations.
President Joe Biden said the world is seeing decades of womens economic gains
erased by this pandemic. SAMUEL CORUM/GETTY IMAGES

3/9/2021 High court revives ex-students suit against Georgia college
    WASHINGTON The Supreme Court is reviving a lawsuit brought by a Georgia college student who sued after being prevented from distributing Christian literature on campus.    The high court sided 8-1 with Chike Uzuegbunam and against Georgia Gwinnett College.    Uzuegbunam has since graduated, and the school in Lawrenceville has changed its policies.    Lower courts said the case was moot, but the Supreme Court disagreed.    At issue was whether Uzuegbunams case could continue because he was only seeking damages of $1.

3/9/2021 Equality Act may boost LGBTQ classwork - Bill would protect teachers and curriculum by Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAY
    The Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, is moving to the Senate after being passed by the House of Representatives and it could affect whats taught in classrooms.
    The Equality Act would enable protections within education, particularly on how teachers implement LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum.    It signals to educators who are not part of our community that they, too, can hopefully implement language, representation and curriculum that is LGBTQ inclusive, Sophia Arredondo, director of Education and Youth Programs at the LGBTQ education advocacy group GLSEN, told USA TODAY.
    LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum is lacking in many classrooms.    Nationally, 19.4% of respondents to GLSENs 2019 National School Climate Survey said they had been taught positive representations of LGBTQ people, history or events in their schools.
    In California, where the first U.S. law mandating LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum (the FAIR Education Act) was passed nearly 10 years ago, 31% of students reported being taught this history in 2019.
    When it was passed, advocates hoped the bill would lead to equitable and complete learning about the contributions and accomplishments of LGBTQ people throughout history and into the present.
    But the FAIR Education Act was roadblocked in California for years.
    Fewer than 20% of teachers integrate LGBTQ history in the state, said Erik Adamian, associate director of education for the ONE Archives Foundation.
    Theres not this base to build knowledge on, he said.
    The ONE Archives Foundation is the host of the largest repository of LGBTQ+ resources in the world, housed at the University of Southern California.    The oldest LGBTQ rights organization in the nation, it works with teachers to introduce LGBTQ-inclusive content into the classroom.
    LGBTQ+ history is American history and world history.    And its time that our education system approaches it as such by making the space and providing the resources needed for teaching the next generation a more inclusive and just version of history, Adamian said.    But you know, I would also imagine thats the reason why theres resistance in it.
    Five states Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas have laws that forbid teachers from discussing LGBTQ topics in a positive light.    In contrast, five states California, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon, as well as some counties in Maryland and Virginia have laws that mandate LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum.
    Even in states where restrictive laws dont exist, some teachers dont feel comfortable teaching these topics because of lack of support on the micro level within their school districts, from their principal or from the parents.    If there was pushback from one of these levels, there could be actual repercussions, said Shannon Snapp, professor of psychology at California State University- Monterey Bay.
    The Equality Act would safeguard job protections for LGBTQ teachers and could empower other educators to teach inclusively without fear of being fired, Arredondo said.
    Students in schools with LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum are 82% more likely to report that their classmates accept LGBTQ people than students in schools without LGBTQ-inclusive curriculums, according to the GLSEN National School Climate Survey.
    Jaiden Blancaflor, a California high school senior, remembers the impacts to learning about the Stonewall riots as a part of his freshman U.S. history class.
    There are so many figures like Duke Ellington(s collaborators) and Marsha P. Johnson that so many people overlook, he said.    His teachers always made sure to include if (historical figures) identified as something because its important that we have historical figures that we can relate to.
    Blancaflor said inclusive education in schools benefits the general population.
    Especially since its history, you cant really just disregard parts of it, said Blancaflor, who serves on GLSENs National Student Council.
    A survey from the Trevor Project, a national group focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ young people, shows that positive school environments make the biggest difference in kids lives, compared with other environments such as home, community and work.
    Sam Long, a high school science teacher from Colorado, told USA TODAY students are more interested in his classes when he talks about the diverse gender, sex and sexuality presented in nature.
    Students who arent taught that way either check out mentally or check out physically and dont attend class, he said.
    My concern for science students who dont have a teacher and a curriculum that is gender-inclusive is that were missing out on a lot of opportunities to support and to validate our students, he said.    We could give them the one reason that they need to continue going to school.
    In GLSENs 2019 survey, about a third of LGBTQ students who considered dropping out of school said it was related to a hostile climate created by school policies and practices.    LGBTQ students who feel safe and supported at school have better educational outcomes.
    Long is on Commission 1192, which develops recommendations for the expansion of inclusive civics and history education requirements in Colorado.
    For educators to integrate LGBTQ+inclusive curriculum, Long said, they have to stop teaching the way you were taught and actively seek authenticity.
    The Equality Act would help with that mission, Arredondo said.
    And for students, I think it also signals that they can show up as their full selves.
Contributing: Claire Thornton
Some states require that schools teach LGBTQ history. GETTY IMAGES

3/11/2021 Ark. adopts strict abortion ban - Supporters hope to raise challenge to Roe v. Wade by Andrew DeMillo, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law legislation banning nearly all abortions in the state, a sweeping measure that supporters hope will force the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its landmark Roe v. Wade decision but opponents vow to block before it takes effect later this year.
    The Republican governor had expressed reservations about the bill, which he signed Tuesday.    It allows the procedure only to save the life of the mother and does not provide exceptions for those impregnated by rape or incest.    Arkansas is one of at least 14 states where legislators have proposed outright abortion bans this year.
    The bans are being pushed by Republicans who want the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.    Conservatives believe the court is more open to striking down the decision after former President Donald Trumps three appointments to the court.
    Hutchinson has signed several major abortion restrictions into law since taking office in 2015, but he had voiced concerns that this bill directly challenges Roe and the lack of rape and incest exceptions.
    The legislation wont take effect until 90 days after the majority-Republican Legislature adjourns this years session.    That means it cant be enforced until this summer at the earliest.    Abortion rights supporters said they plan to challenge the ban in court before then.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has concerns about the bill. STATON BREIDENTHAL/AP

3/10/2021 Poll: 53% Support Ban On Transgender Athletes In Womens Sports by OAN Newsroom
Nike celebrates the Black Women in Sport on one of the largest digital Billboards in Los Angeles,
on March 8, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)
    A new survey revealed a majority of Americans supported banning transgender athletes from competing in womens sports.    According to the recent poll by Politico and Morning Consult, 53 percent of those surveyed supported a ban while only a third were opposed.
    Critics said Joe Bidens Day One Executive Order, which required schools to include biological males in womens sports, effectively eliminated womens sports. President Trump addressed the matter during his appearance at CPAC in February.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)
held in the Hyatt Regency on February 28, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
    Joe Biden and the Democrats are even pushing policies that would destroy womens sports, Trump stated.    A lot of new records are being broken in womens sports.    You know, for years, the weight lifting, every ounce is like a big deal for many years.    All of a sudden, somebody comes along and beats it by 100 pounds. Its not good for womens sports, which worked so long and so hard to get to where they are.
    Critics said Bidens order has taken away womens opportunities on and off the field.

3/10/2021 Ark. Advances Bill To Protect Female Athletes
Leslie Rutledge, Arkansas Attorney General. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
    Arkansas joined a number of states across the country, which seek to protect female athletes to ensure they have the ability to compete on a level playing field.
    SB354, otherwise known as the Fairness in Womens Sports Act, advanced out of the states Senate Education Committee on Monday in a five-to-three vote.    The bill aims to prohibit state government entities, licensing organizations and athletic associations from taking adverse actions against schools that maintain separate sports based on gender.
    It would apply to public schools, private schools that play public schools and intramural and club sports.    The bills sponsor, GOP State Senator Missy Irvin, recently brushed off claims that the measure is anti-transgender, describing it instead as pro-women.
    Irvin said the bill simply makes sure that women have the ability to compete on a level playing field.    Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said the legislation creates a protected space for girls and womens sports.
    This legislation will create a space for womens sports and will provide opportunities for women to demonstrate their skills, strength and athletic abilities against other females of the same biological stature, Rutledge said.
    Meanwhile, several female athletes have argued biological males hold innate physical advantages in sports, including Idaho State student-athlete Madison Kenyon.
    I competed against biological males five times throughout cross country and indoor track, Kenyon said.    And its just very discouraging and frustrating because when youre at the collegiate level youre training as hard as you can, putting everything out there, skipping other opportunities to run and train.    And you know that the biological male is doing the same thing, but due to the biological differences between the male body and the female body, they triumph over us in athletics.
    Arkansas is just one of a number of states that have considered legislation to ban transgender athletes from women sports.

3/11/2021 S.D. Lawmakers Pass Measure To Allow Medical Marijuana by OAN Newsroom
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
    South Dakota moved to legalize medical marijuana after a dispute between the House and Senate to delay the process.    On Wednesday, South Dakota Legislature could not agree on a way to rework a House bill that intended to push back the timeline to allow medical marijuana to late 2022.
    Because of the dispute, Initiated Measure 46 will take effect July 1, 2021, and will legalize the use of marijuana for people with debilitating health conditions.    This includes cancer, anorexia and>
South Dakota Gov. Krisit Noem (R-S.D.) (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)
    Gov. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) said she is most concerned about the provisions that allow people to grow marijuana at home.
    So that is the challenge, Noem stated.    The amount of conditions that it can be prescribed for.    Once a doctor writes that prescription, an unlimited amount of plants can be grown at home and how do we contain that and not make sure it is being utilized for different purposes?
    About 70 percent of voters in the 2020 elections were in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational and medical use.    However, Noem has opposed recreational marijuana and a decision on that is now pending in court.

3/14/2021 Governors Sign, Consider Legislation To Protect Womens Sports by OAN Newsroom
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed the first state bill in the U.S. this year to ban transgender athletes from competing
on female sports teams on Thursday, March 11, 2021, at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
    In response to Joe Bidens executive order to allow transgender athletes to compete with the gender of their choice, state officials nationwide are now taking matters into their own hands to protect womens sports.
    This week in Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) signed a bill to ban transgender athletes from competing on girls or womens sports teams.    The move came after the state Senate and House swiftly passed the bill.
    Reeves said its important to protect young girls from competing with biological males for athletic opportunities.    He also called out Joe Bidens executive order as just wrong.    The legislation applies to K-12 schools, colleges and universities.    It will take effect July 1.
    As of now, over a dozen states have now created their own related bills to separate womens and mens sports.
    In the South, Georgia and Alabama are advancing bills that would ban athletes from competing with genders different from their birth certificate.
    Other states include Utah, Michigan and North Dakota.    Supporters of these bills have said athletic organizations are denying equal opportunities to all of their athletes, especially women.
    Too many athletic leagues and policy makers are giving in to an ideology that simply ignores biological reality and denies equal opportunities to women, Roger Brooks, senior council with the Alliance Defending Freedom said.
    The Montana State Legislature introduced the Save Womens Sports Act, which will head to the state Senate this week.
    In Texas, Congress members introduced a similar bill called the Fairness in Womens Sports Act.    Texas also recently filed a bill that would make it a crime for doctors and mental health providers to give minors puberty blockers, gender conforming surgeries or hormone therapies.
    The governor of Tennessee, who passed similar legislation for his own state, said transgender athletes competing with women could even take opportunities away.
    Transgenders participating in womens sports, will destroy womens sports, Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tenn.) stated.    It will ruin the opportunity for girls to earn scholarships, it will put a glass ceiling back over women that hasnt been there.
    Critics argued language in the bills could be considered discriminatory, and that there are relatively few cases of transgender athletes causing any issues in sports.    However, the bills have garnered support from several lawmakers across the country looking to overturn just one of Bidens many controversial executive orders.

3/16/2021 Pope: No blessing for same-sex unions by John Bacon, USA TODAY
    The Catholic Church and its priests cannot bless same-sex unions because God cannot bless sin, the Vatican said Monday.
    The Vaticans orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said it was responding to questions about gay unions.    The two-page statement published in seven languages was approved by Pope Francis.
    The blessing of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit, the statement said, adding that there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to Gods plan for marriage and family.
    The church and priests can still bless people who are gay who live in fidelity, the statement said.    Rather, it declares illicit any form of blessing that tends to acknowledge their unions.
    Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an LGBTQcentered Catholic ministry, told USA TODAY that the statement was disappointing but not surprising.    Catholics, he said, will continue to find creative ways to bless the couples they love and support.
    What the Vatican doesnt realize is that the Catholic faithful are not satisfied with that answer, DeBernardo said.    Catholic people recognize the holiness of the love between committed samesex couples and recognize this love as divinely inspired and divinely supported and thus meets the standard to be blessed.
    Mondays statement from the Vatican comes less than six months after revelations of Pope Francis stunning endorsement of same-sex civil unions were made public.
    Homosexual people have the right to be in a family.    They are children of God, Francis said in a 2019 interview for the documentary Francesco.    What we have to have is a civil union law.    That way they are legally covered.
    Legally covered, but not churchsanctioned.    Francis made the comment during an interview with a Mexican broadcaster, Televisa.    It was cut by the Vatican but later appeared in a documentary.
    Mondays Vatican statement says God never ceases to bless all people, including people who are gay.
    But he does not and cannot bless sin, the statement said.    He blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him. ... The Church does not have, and cannot have, the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex.
    Jim Bretzke, a priest, author and professor of theology at John Carroll University in Ohio, said the Vaticans latest statement on the question appears to be attempting to thread a needle in its acceptance of gay people but not gay unions.
    The Church explicitly says gay men and women can be blessed, he said.    But that the domestic union of a gay couple should not be liturgically blessed, lest people misinterpret this blessing as a form of Catholic marriage lite. Catholics generally are among the more accepting sects of Christianity when it comes to same-sex unions.    A Pew survey found that more than half of Catholics in the United States, along with mainline Protestants and Orthodox Christians, support same-sex marriage.
Contributing: Associated Press
Pope Francis has endorsed same-sex civil unions, but a Vatican statement Monday reminds that
homosexual unions are not similar or even remotely analogous to Gods plan for marriage and family. TIZIANA FABI/AP

3/16/2021 Pope says priests cant bless same-sex unions - Pontiff: Church does not see them as Gods plan by John Bacon, USA TODAY
    The Catholic Church and its priests cannot bless same-sex unions because God cannot bless sin, the Vatican said Monday.
    The Vaticans orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said it was responding to questions about gay unions.    The two-page statement published in seven languages was approved by Pope>     The blessing of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit, the statement says, adding that there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to Gods plan for marriage and family.
    The church and priests can still bless people who are gay who live in fidelity, the statement says.    Rather, it declares illicit any form of blessing that tends to acknowledge their unions.
    Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an LGBTQ-centered Catholic ministry, told USA TODAY the statement was disappointing but not surprising.    Catholics, he said, will continue to find creative ways to bless the couples they love and support.
    What the Vatican doesnt realize is that the Catholic faithful are not satisfied with that answer, DeBernardo said.    Catholic people recognize the holiness of the love between committed same-sex couples and recognize this love as divinely inspired and divinely supported and thus meets the standard to be blessed.
    Mondays statement from the Vatican comes less than six months after revelations of Pope Francis stunning endorsement of same-sex civil unions were made public.
    Homosexual people have the right to be in a family.    They are children of God, Francis said in a 2019 interview for the documentary Francesco.    What we have to have is a civil union law.    That way they are legally covered.
    Legally covered, but not church sanctioned.    Francis made the comment during an interview with a Mexican broadcaster, Televisa.    It was cut by the Vatican but later appeared in a documentary.
    Mondays Vatican statement says God never ceases to bless all people, including people who are gay.
    But he does not and cannot bless sin, the statement says.    He blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him. ... The Church does not have, and cannot have, the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex.
    Jim Bretzke, a priest, author and professor of theology at John Carroll University in Ohio, said the Vaticans latest statement appears to be attempting to thread a needle in its acceptance of gay people but not gay unions.
    The Church explicitly says gay men and women can be blessed, he said.    But that the domestic union of a gay couple should not be liturgically blessed, lest people misinterpret this blessing as a form of Catholic marriage lite."
    Catholics are among the more accepting sects of Christianity when it comes to same-sex unions.    A Pew survey found more than half of Catholics in the United States, along with Mainline Protestants and Orthodox Christians, support same-sex marriage.
    The pope has a complicated history with the LGBTQ community, specifically on same-sex marriage.    As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, he endorsed civil unions for gay couples in lieu of same-sex marriages.    Months into his papacy, he was quoted as saying: If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?
    But Francis also has repeatedly condemned same-sex marriage during his time as pope emphasizing the Catholic dictum of marriage remaining between a man and a woman in multiple statements.
    The declaration of the unlawfulness of blessings of unions between persons of the same sex is not ... intended to be a form of unjust discrimination, the statement Monday says.    But rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite.
Contributing: The Associated Press
    The blessing of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit. Pope Francis
The statement approved by Pope Francis said gay people who live in fidelity
can be blessed, but their unions cannot. TIZIANA FABI/AP

3/16/2021 COVID-19 cases stir fight over gay rights - Court watchers predict how justices may rule by John Fritze, USA TODAY
    WASHINGTON As religious freedom emerges as a major theme at the Supreme Court this year, some court watchers predict a series of opinions involving COVID-19 restrictions have put that issue on a collision course with gay rights.
    In nine cases since November, the high court has sided with churches and synagogues that sued over coronavirus regulations limiting the number of worshippers who can attend services.    The disputes have put religious freedom center stage and may provide clues about how the justices will handle a blockbuster case involving same-sex couples.
    The Supreme Court is set to rule this year on a major case questioning whether Philadelphia can stop working with a Catholic charity that declined to screen same-sex couples as foster parents, Fulton v. Philadelphia.    Some legal scholars said the COVID-19 disputes show the Catholic group may have momentum on its side.
    This voting lineup makes clear that Fulton is going to be reversed, predicted Douglas Laycock, a University of Virginia law professor and expert on religious liberty.    At least five, and maybe all six, of the conservatives will protect the Catholic Church from having to place children with same-sex couples or else losing its foster-care mission entirely.     Even before Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett took her seat on the court in October, adding another conservative voice to the bench, the justices have looked kindly on religion in high-profile cases.    The court allowed taxpayer money to be directed to religious entities in some situations, exempted employers with religious objections from requirements that they provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives and let a massive Latin cross stay on government land within a few minutes drive from the nations capital.
Anti-abortion activists with Bound 4 Life demonstrate at the Supreme Court in
Washington on Oct. 5, 2020, as the justices begin a new term. J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP
    More recently, the court overturned coronavirus regulations that curtail indoor religious services because they included exceptions for secular businesses, such as retail stores and hair salons.    Those decisions have come through the courts so-called shadow docket, meaning they have been decided quickly without oral argument and often without an opinion from the court.
    Those cases have represented a huge win for evangelical Christian congregations and other religious groups who say the government shouldnt be able to force them to take positions that conflict with their belief.
    People felt more excited than usual because there was nothing to fear, Adelheid Waumboldt, a spokeswoman and parishioner at Harvest Rock Church in California, said as she described services after the church won a case at the Supreme Court last month.    There was no fear of being arrested or fear of persecution.
Same-sex foster parents
    Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin sat in stunned silence for a few seconds when the person on the other end of the line told them that if they wanted to qualify as foster parents, their home would need to mirror the Holy Family.    For a second, they werent completely sure what that meant.    It became clear soon enough.
    Marouf, director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at Texas A&M School of Law, works professionally with Catholic Charities Fort Worth and had toured the center where the organization helps care for unaccompanied refugee children for the federal government.    In 2017, she and Esplin, a bioethics professor at the University of North Texas, decided they wanted to help in a more direct way.
    Catholic Charities was the only foster agency available for the migrant children.
    The prohibition, Esplin said, not only shrinks the pool of potential foster parents, it also assumes there are no LBGT children who might benefit from samesex parents.
    One of the questions raised by the Fulton case is whether government contractors, such as the Catholic foster care agency, may object to anti-discrimination requirements after all, they work for the government.    Another question is whether the government must offer exceptions to religious groups if they offer them to secular organizations.
    The foster agency case pits Philadelphias position that it can prohibit same-sex discrimination by its contractors against Catholic Social Services, which asserts it cannot screen samesex couples to be foster parents because it opposes gay marriage on religious grounds.    The court heard arguments in November.
    Part of the issue is what test the court will use to determine whether a law violates the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.    The outcome could turn on whether the court finds that any secular exceptions to a law say, allowing people into a hardware store during the pandemic means there must be exemptions for religious activity, such as attending Sunday morning services.
    The opinions were seeing and the votes were seeing in the shadow docket coronavirus and church closing cases suggest that in the Fulton case, the court is going to come out in favor of the Catholic adoption agency, said Richard Garnett, director of the University of Notre Dame law school program on church, state and society.    They do involve a similar question of, Once you open the door, then what?    Attorneys for the Catholic charity said the citys other foster care agencies benefit from exemptions to the citys nondiscrimination rules.    They might not place a disabled child with a family if the would-be parents dont have the means to care for her.    If the city allows that, attorneys said, it must allow religious exemptions.
    Others said thats not the same as Catholic Social Services declining all same-sex couples.
    Patrick Elliott, senior counsel at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, conceded that the Supreme Court has been willing to give special preferences to religion even when that causes harm to third parties.
    But Elliott disputed that the church cases have anything to do with Fulton.
    Philadelphias rules requiring nondiscrimination are altogether different, he said.    CSS has a complete ban against same-sex couples providing a loving home for foster care children.    Philadelphia has neutral rules that prohibit that type of discrimination in the foster care certification process. Controversial precedent
    The Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that a government can impose restrictions that affect a religious entity as long as they are applied equally to religious and secular activities.    A city can impose a 30 mph speed limit, for instance, and if someone claims his religion requires him to drive 60 mph, too bad. The claim gets tossed.
    Some conservatives want to overturn the precedent which, ironically, was written by Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, a stalwart conservative in his time on the bench.    Critics said the opinion, Employment Division v. Smith, reduced religious protections provided by the First Amendment.
    Three years after Smith, the court invalidated a Florida citys attempt to stop a church from performing animal sacrifices.    The justices found laws that are not applied equally must receive far more scrutiny and secular exceptions to a law restricting religion signal that the higher scrutiny should apply.
    In other words, if a city tried to ban animal killings in a church because of objections from neighbors but exempted a slaughterhouse from that rule, it would probably be in for a much tougher fight in federal courts.
    Snap forward 30 years to a world besieged by a pandemic that has killed more than 535,000 people in the USA and that sent officials scrambling to pass restrictions on gatherings. Many of those regulations affected churches, and many included exemptions for essential secular activities.
    Lori Windham, an attorney who represents Catholic Social Services in the Fulton litigation, said that when a government begins making exceptions for secular activity, its going to have to find a really good reason for why it doesnt make similar accommodations for religious organizations or activities.
Some legal scholars said the COVID-19 disputes show religious groups may have
momentum on their side. ANDREW JANSEN/USA TODAY NETWORK

3/16/2021 Rebel Priests Defy Vatican, Vow To Bless Same-Sex Couples
FILE PHOTO: Austrian priest Helmut Schueller arrives for a mass at the Nepomuk chapel in Bregenz October 11, 2013. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler/
    VIENNA (Reuters) A dissident band of Roman Catholic priests leading a disobedience campaign against the Vatican said on Tuesday they would carry on blessing same-sex couples in defiance of Church orders.
    The Vatican said on Monday that priests cannot bless same-sex unions and that such blessings are not valid, in a ruling that disappointed gay Catholics who had hoped their Church was becoming more welcoming under Pope Francis.
    In some countries, parishes and ministers have begun blessing same-sex unions in lieu of marriage, and there have been calls for bishops to institutionalise de facto such blessings. Conservatives in the 1.3 billion-member Roman Catholic Church have expressed alarm over such practices.
    We members of the Parish Priests Initiative are deeply appalled by the new Roman decree that seeks to prohibit the blessing of same-sex loving couples.    This is a relapse into times that we had hoped to have overcome with Pope Francis, the Austrian-based group said in a statement.
    We will in solidarity with so many not reject any loving couple in the future who ask to celebrate Gods blessing, which they experience every day, also in a worship service.
    The Parish Priests Initiative led by Father Helmut Schueller has long been a thorn in the side of the Vatican.    The group wants Church rules changed so that priests can marry and women can become priests.
    It has said it will break Church rules by giving communion to Protestants and divorced Catholics who remarry.
    Founded in 2006 by nine priests, the initiative says it now has around 350 members from the ranks of the official Church and more than 3,000 lay supporters.
    The Vatican in 2012 cracked down on Schueller, stripping him of the right to use the title monsignor and saying he was also no longer a Chaplain of His Holi nowness.
    Schueller, a former deputy to Vienna archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, had been given the honorary title in his capacity as head of the Austrian branch of the Catholic charity group Caritas.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Gareth Jones)
[1 John 2:18 is true and you cannot walk on the middle of the fence forever you must get off to one side or the other.].
    1 John 2:18: "Children, it is the last hour; and just as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have appeared.    This is how we know that it is the last hour."
    Romans 1:21: "because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened."

3/18/2021 Kan. Senate Passes Bill Banning Trans-Athletes In Womens Sports by OAN Newsroom
Kansas state Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, speaks near the end of a hearing on a bill that would bar transgender
students from participating in girls or womens school sports, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Baumgardner
is the chair of the Senate Education Committee, which has the bill before it. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
    The Sunflower State has made strides to preserve fairness in womens sports.    On Wednesday, Kansas state senators voted to pass a bill that could restrict public schools from allowing biological males to compete in womens athletics.
    The move came after the Biden administration signed an executive order allowing trans-athletes to compete in sports with their preferred gender.    While speaking in an interview Wednesday, Republican state Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R) weighed-in on the issue.
    What we heard in testimony is that there are parents and there are student athletes that want to compete against folks that have that same physical makeup, explained the Republican lawmaker.
    The bill will now head to the Republican-controlled House for a vote.

3/18/2021 In Landmark Ruling, Japan Court Says It Is Unconstitutional To Bar Same-Sex Marriage by Elaine Lies and Rikako Maruyama
Plaintiffs' lawyers and supporters show a banner stating the ruling found the government measures unconstitutional, after a district court ruled on the legality of same-sex marriages
outside Sapporo district court in Sapporo, Hokkaido, northern Japan March 17, 2021, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) A Japanese court ruled on Wednesday that not allowing same-sex couples to get married is unconstitutional, setting a precedent in the only G7 nation not to fully recognise same-sex partnership.
    The ruling by a district court, the first in Japan on the legality of same-sex marriages, is a major symbolic victory in a country where the constitution still defines marriage as being based on the mutual consent of both sexes.
    Following the ruling, plaintiffs and supporters unfurled rainbow flags and banners in front of the court.
    While a new law will be needed before same-sex marriages can actually take place which could take some time in socially conservative Japan the plaintiffs lawyer called the ruling revolutionary, while LGBT activists deemed it life-changing.
    Its value is absolutely measureless, said 44-year old Gon Matsunaka, director of activist group Marriage for All Japan and representative of Pride House Tokyo.
    Until the ruling was announced, we didnt know this was what wed get and Im just overjoyed.
    While Japanese law is considered relatively liberal by Asian standards, social attitudes have kept the LGBT community largely invisible in the worlds third largest economy.    Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalise same-sex marriages in 2019.
    Under the current rules in Japan, same-sex couples are not allowed to legally marry, cant inherit their partners assets such as the house they may have shared and also have no parental rights over their partners children.
    Though partnership certificates issued by individual municipalities help same-sex couples to rent a place together and have hospital visitation rights, they still dont give them the same full legal rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.
    Sexual orientation cannot be changed or selected by a persons will, the ruling said.    It is discriminatory treatment that they cannot receive even some of the legal benefits that heterosexuals do.
    The Sapporo District Court threw out the demand for damages by the six plaintiffs two couples of men and one of women who had asked that the Japanese government pay 1 million yen ($9,168.42) each in acknowledgment of the pain they suffered by not being able to legally marry.
    But Takeharu Kato, the lawyer of the plaintiffs, called the verdict overall revolutionary, while urging parliament to quickly start working on a law to make same-sex marriage possible.
    We praise this ruling for taking in the plaintiffs earnest appeals, the lawyer told a news conference.
    Similar cases are currently being heard in four other courts around Japan and this ruling may indirectly influence their outcome.
    Only because the gender of the person we love is different, we cant get married.    We live the same lives as heterosexuals, have the same troubles and the same joys, said one of the plaintiffs, a woman known only as E.
    Though our lives are exactly the same, the nation wouldnt recognise this.
    Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a news conference he had not read the ruling in detail but that the government would carefully watch the outcomes of the other court cases.
    While homosexual sex has been legal in Japan since 1880, social stigma means many have yet to come out even to their families.    The Japanese ruling also came just days after the Vatican said priests cannot bless same-sex unions.
    Some in the business world say Japanese rules not allowing same-sex marriage hurt the countrys competitive advantage, by making it difficult for companies, especially foreign companies, to attract and keep highly-skilled labour in an increasingly international economy.
    Tokyo residents also welcomed the ruling, saying it was about time things changed.
    Japan has always been conservative, but these days things are becoming more open, said 60-year old dentist Kyoko Enomoto.    I think it will open up a lot more from now on.
(Additional reporting by Akira Tomoshige and Daniel Leussink; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

3/19/2021 In Dominican Republic, Proposal To Ease Abortion Ban Polarizes Nation by Ezequiel Abiu Lopez
Abortion rights activists sit outside tents set up in front of the National Palace during a protest to pressure parliament over a proposed reform
to the penal code that could end the total ban on abortion, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic March 18, 2021. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
    SANTO DOMINGO (Reuters) As the abortion rights movement gains pace across Latin America, the issue is heating up in the Dominican Republic one of the few countries in the region with a total ban on abortion where activists were camped for an eighth day on Friday outside the presidents palace.
    Latin America, where the Catholic Church has held cultural and political sway for centuries, has some of the most stringent abortion laws in the world.    Argentina legalized the medical procedure in December and abortion rights activists hope it will give impetus to a regional movement.
    In the Dominican Republic, a group of presidential advisors on Tuesday recommended a pending update of the countrys 19th century penal code stalled since the end of the 1990s over the issue revise its stance.
    The advisors recommended the code allow terminations when a womans life is in danger, the pregnancy is not viable or in cases of rape or incest similar to the easing of abortion laws conservative Chile approved in 2017.
    But the justice commission of the chamber of deputies rejected that on Wednesday, proposing instead that the penal code allow abortion only where the mothers life is threatened.
    Although the proposal is not yet scheduled for debate, it has sparked the ire both of religious groups that want to maintain the total ban and abortion rights activists who say abortion should be allowed in all three circumstances proposed by the presidential advisers.
    Without change, abortion rights activists say, women will simply continue resorting instead to dangerous clandestine abortions that account for 13 percent of maternal deaths in the Caribbean country.
    We are the women dying, we are the women in danger, said Margarita Mercedes, one of the dozens of activists that set up camp seven days ago outside the national palace in downtown Santo Domingo.
    Their protest comes ahead of a march some Christian and civil society groups plan on holding in the capital on March 27 to show support for upholding the absolute ban on abortion.
    All three instances (in which the advisors suggested allowing abortion) are murder, the Archbishop of Santo Domingo, Francisco Ozoria, said on Thursday.    If they approve any one of them, whichever it is, its a murder.
    Christian groups already once thwarted an attempt to ease the countrys abortion ban, when they won a case at the Supreme Court challenging a new penal code approved by Congress in 2014 on the basis of errors in legal proceedings.
    The update to the penal code was subsequently withdrawn and the debate over abortion died down until now.
(Reporting by Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo; Writing by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Alex Richardson)

3/21/2021 S.D. Gov. Noem Rejects Transgender Sports Bill, Sends Back For Lawmakers To Revise by OAN Newsroom
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)
    The governor of South Dakota rejected a transgender sports bill introduced by her party.    On Friday, GOP Governor Kristi Noem declined to sign a bill, which would ban transgender girls from participating in girls high school sports.
    She said she sent the bill back for lawmakers to make changes.    Noem added, it should not apply to collegiate athletics because it would conflict with college athletic associations and their rules.
    Noem took to Twitter to elaborate. She said she believes boys should play boys sports and girls should play girls sports, but she was concerned about the vague language used, especially in regard to performance-enhancing drugs.
    The governor received backlash from Rep. Rhonda Milstead (R-S.D.), who said legislators are the ones who make the laws and governors sign them.

3/22/2021 EU Sanctions Russians Over Rights Abuses In Chechnya
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters
in Brussels, Belgium August 21, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) The European Union imposed sanctions on Monday on two Russians accused of persecuting gay and lesbian people in the southern Russian region of Chechnya, the blocs toughest response to attacks on Russian citizens because of their sexuality.
    Russian authorities in the autonomous region deny what human rights groups, media and filmmakers have described as a purge, with dozens of LGBT+ people rounded-up and tortured since 2017.
    The EU blacklisted Aiub Vakhaevich Kataev, a senior official at the Russian Internal Affairs Ministry in Chechnya, and Abuzaid Dzhandarovich Vismuradov, deputy prime minister of the Chechnya region and the commander of a special security unit that the EU said was responsible for persecution. Vismuradov is already under U.S. sanctions.
    The repressions are directed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, those presumed to belong to LGBTI groups, the EU said in its Official Journal, where it published the asset freezes and travel bans.
    The EU said gay and lesbian individuals were wrongly accused of being opponents of Ramzan Kadyrov, who is the leader of Russias Muslim-majority Chechnya region and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    Kadyrov is also under U.S. sanctions for rights abuses, which he denies.    His spokesman has said there could be no attacks on gay men because there were no such people in Chechnya.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Giles Elgood)

3/22/2021 Catholic Bidens Policies Contradict Moral Law, Says Ariz. Priest by OAN Newsroom
President Joe Biden departs after attending Mass at St. Joseph on the Brandywine
Catholic Church in Wilmington, Del., Saturday, March 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
    A Catholic priest from Arizona has gone viral on social media for his harsh criticism of Joe Biden and his policies.    In his sermon earlier this month, Father William Kosco denounced Biden over his support of abortion while asserting its an abominable crime.
    Weve just elected a Catholic president who is diametrically opposed to all of the basic moral principles that are proclaimed by the Roman Catholic Church, he stated.
    The priest noted, every year abortion clinics are killing more people than totalitarian death camps and Biden is all for it.    He then pointed out that hes outraged because Biden has claimed to be a devout Catholic, all while furthering pro-abortion policies that contradict the churchs values.
    Hes the most powerful man in the world and he is absolutely opposed to the basic understanding that God is the author of life, Kosco stated.    How in the world did this happen?
    The priest stressed that while Biden is welcome to come to masses, his ideas are not welcome.    He added, if Mitt Romney had become president in 2012 and acted against his Mormon churchs values they would not have tolerated it.
    Kosco called on Biden to set a better example for the millions of young people in the Catholic community who are watching.    He added, he does not want to see women suffer the traumatizing mental health implications of abortion procedures.
    The Catholic priest suggested that his fellow priests and all members of the Catholic Church should stand up to Biden as well as his policies.

3/22/2021 The Light Of Hope: Japanese Same-Sex Couple Overjoyed By Marriage Ruling by Akira Tomoshige
Lesbian couple Jenny and Narumi share a light moment at Jenny's parents' house in Tokyo,
Japan, March 19, 2021. Picture taken March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Akira Tomoshige
    TOKYO (Reuters) Jenny and Narumi wept for happiness last week when a Japanese court ruled that barring same-sex marriages was unconstitutional, a decision that allowed them to move a step closer to a legal marriage and starting a family.
    The ruling by the Sapporo district court, the first in Japan on the legality of same-sex marriages, was a major symbolic victory in Japan, the only country in the Group of Seven major nations to not fully recognise same-sex partnerships.
    For Jenny and Narumi, who plan on a life together and have held a non-legally binding marriage ceremony, it was much more personal.
    I felt light, the light of hope, said Narumi, 27. Both she and Jenny declined to give their last names to Reuters due to Japans still-conservative views on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples.
    It was a soft hope that perhaps soon, I dont know when, I might be able to marry Jenny in Japan.
    It was love at first sight for Jenny, 28, when she met Narumi in January 2020 via a dating app.
    Their romance developed quickly, and by August they were living together and had taken out a partnership certificate, which helps with renting apartments and hospital visits but doesnt provide legal guarantees such as inheritance rights or custody of a partners children.
    Were really happy, said Jenny, who is half-American and half-Japanese.    But if we could get legally married, for example, we could become parents.
    As it is, the child would be legally registered as having only one of us as its parent.
    The two have discussed moving to the United States if nothing changes in Japan, since Jenny is a U.S. citizen.
    Last weeks ruling was on one of five similar ongoing cases in Japan.    The ruling could set a precedent that influences other cases, but for same-sex marriage to be allowed, a new law needs to be put in place, which is likely to take some time.
    Public thinking is changing, though.    A weekend opinion poll by the Asahi Shimbun found 65% of respondents supported the ruling.
    Both women said a big part of their joy was a sense the voices of LGBT Japanese residents had finally been heard in high places.
    I felt something long suppressed within myself come bursting out, that wed finally been recognised, Narumi said.
    Jenny said she realises being able to marry legally could take some time, but she is holding onto her dreams.
    If we could have the same legal guarantees as everyone else, Id like to have children and live with Naru-chan, she said, using an affectionate nickname.
    Id like to live in a house full of children, dogs and cats, a warm place full of laughter.
(Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Karishma Singh)

3/23/2021 S.D. Governor Launches National Coalition To Challenge Policies On Transgender Participation In Womens Sports by OAN Newsroom
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem in Sioux Falls on Monday, March, 22, 2021, discusses an initiative for protecting fairness
in womens sports by banning transgender women from participating in womens sports leagues. Herschel Walker, a retired
professional football player, joined the news conference through a video call. (Argus Leader via AP)
    Conservative women are taking strides in their effort to preserve Title IX protections for female athletes.
    During a press conference on Monday, Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced shes launching a national coalition of stakeholders, which will protect women from being forced to compete with biological males in school sports.
    This comes amid anticipation of legal backlash as the state passes a bill to counter Joe Bidens executive order allowing transgender athletes to compete with whatever gender they identify with.
    Noem stressed that while she also wants to challenge the Democrats policy, shes not signing House Bill 1217 just yet.    She then described it as a trial lawyers dream.
    So we could pass a law, then we could get punished, then we could face expensive litigation at taxpayer expense and then we could lose, stated the governor.    Wed have nothing but a participation trophy to show for it or we could take a different path entirely.
    Noem has called on supporters to commit to working together in the coalition, adding at least two other governors and numerous female students athletes are on board with more expected to join.
    Once we have enough states on board, a coalition brought big enough where the NCAA cannot possibly punish us all, then we can guarantee fairness at the collegiate level, she explained.
    Member and college athlete McKenna Prouty then pointed out she has the opportunity to compete in university sports this fall, but Bidens policy has put this dream at risk.    While shes happy to compete with men academically, Prouty added, sheer biological differences put women at an inherent disadvantage athletically.
    Prouty stressed no one wants to go into a competition if they only have a chance for second place.    She also pointed out that this is not meant to disrespect anyone, but rather is a request for women to have their own space.
    We are asking for a fair playing field where we all have the chance to become champion, she stated.    Im asking those of you who have the ability to make these decisions to consider truth, fact and science, and the dreams of your children and your grandchildren.
    In a statement, former LPGA champion and active coalition member Nancy Lopez also weighed in.    She said ever since she was a young girl she has fought for herself and her three daughters to have equal opportunity.    Lopez then warned, anything that diminishes Title IX undermines the rights and opportunities of young girls and women all over this country.

3/24/2021 Pope Names Prominent Chilean Clerical Abuse Survivor To Vatican Panel by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Alleged abuse victim Juan Carlos Cruz speaks to the media outside the Vatican in Rome, Italy February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) Pope Francis has appointed a prominent Chilean survivor of clerical sex abuse to a Vatican commission which focuses on education to prevent abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
    Juan Carlos Cruz, an international advocate for abuse victims, was abused as a teenager in his native Chile by a notorious paedophile, Father Fernando Karadima.
    I am very grateful to Pope Francis for trusting me with this appointment This renews my commitment to continue working to end the scourge of abuse and for so many survivors who still do not have justice, Cruz said on Twitter.
    During the popes trip to Chile in 2018, Cruz criticised Francis for defending a bishop whom Cruz and other victims accused of having witnessed Karadima abuse them and of covering up for him.
    Days after returning to Rome, the Argentinian-born pope, citing new information, ordered an investigation of the Church in Chile.    It produced a 2,300-page report accusing Chiles bishops of grave negligence in investigating the allegations and said evidence of sex crimes had been destroyed.
    Francis later that year received Cruz and other victims of Karadima in the Vatican and demanded the resignation of all of Chiles bishops.    Francis expelled Karadima, now 90, from the priesthood later in 2018.
    The pope and Cruz, who now lives in the United States, have since had regular contacts to discuss sexual abuse in the Church.
    Most members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors that Cruz has now joined are priests, nuns, academics and psychologists.
    Two past members of the commission, Marie Collins of Ireland and Peter Saunders of Britain, have expressed frustration that it is not doing enough.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/24/2021 Transgender Women Facing Homosexuality Charges In Cameroon Denied Bail
ildred Loic, a local social media celebrity called Shakiro, is seen in this picture obtained
from social media on March 24, 2021. Shakiro237/Facebook/via REUTERS
    DOUALA (Reuters) Two transgender women facing charges of attempted homosexuality in Cameroon were denied bail on Wednesday after a judge adjourned their case and sent them back to jail, their lawyer said.
    Mildred Loic, a local social media celebrity, and Moute Rolland were arrested while eating in a restaurant in the countrys largest city, Douala, on Feb. 8.
    They were arrested for wearing womens clothes and taken to prison two days later, said their lawyer, Richard Tamfu.
    Loic, who has built an online reputation as a cosmetician and has more than 100,000 followers on Facebook, and Rolland also face charges of public indecency and not carrying identification.    They have pled not guilty.
    Rights groups have documented a series of actions against the LGBT community by Cameroonian authorities this year and last, leading to the arrest of dozens of people.
    We have observed a resurgence in homophobic attacks this year, said Ilaria Allegrozzi, researcher at Human Rights Watch.    It is common for people to be abused in detention.
    Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries and punishable by prison time in about half of them.    In Cameroon, a guilty verdict can carry a sentence of up to five years.
    Loic and Rollands case was expected to be heard on Wednesday but was pushed back to April 5 while the prosecution builds its case, Tamfu said.
    State prosecutors could not be immediately reached for comment.
    They were hoping that today everything would come to an end, Tamfu said.    The prosecution has not established concrete evidence We think they should be released.
    He said the defendants were very depressed and staying in overcrowded prison cells where also they risked contracting COVID-19.
(Reporting By Edward McAllister; editing by John Stonestreet)

3/24/2021 Pope Orders Salary Cuts For Cardinals, Clerics, To Save Jobs Of Employees by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis leads Angelus prayer at the library of the Apostolic Palace in
the Vatican March 21, 2021. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -Pope Francis has ordered cardinals to take a 10% pay cut and reduced the salaries of most other clerics working in the Vatican in order to save jobs of employees as the coronavirus pandemic has hit the Holy Sees income.
    The Vatican said on Wednesday that Francis issued a decree introducing proportional cuts starting on April 1.    A spokesman said most lay employees would not be affected by the cuts.
    A senior Vatican prelate said it was believed to be the first time in living memory that a pope had taken such action.
    Francis, 84, and from a working class family, has often insisted he does not want to fire people in difficult economic times, even as the Vatican continues to run up deficits.
    Cardinals who work at the Vatican and live there or in Rome are believed to get salaries of about 4,000 to 5,000 euros ($4,730 to $5,915) a month, and many live in large apartments at well below market rents.
    Most priests and nuns who work in Vatican departments live in religious communities in Rome, such as seminaries, convents, parishes, universities and schools giving them greater protection from economic downturns.
    They have much lower living expenses than lay employees such as police, ushers, firefighters, cleaners, art restorers and maintenance personnel who live in Rome and many of whom have families.
    It is these lay workers who the pope appeared to want to protect, as most of their employment levels were not listed in the papal decree.    Vatican pay grades go from levels 1-10 for most employees.    Senior positions have four grades, from C to C-3.
    Apart from the cardinals, other clerics will see their salaries reduced by between 3% and 8%.    Programmed pay rises for all but the three lowest pay grades will be suspended until March 2023.
    The Vaticans top economic official said earlier this month that the Holy See, the central administrative body of the worldwide Catholic Church, may have to use 40 million euros in reserves for the second straight year as the COVID-19 pandemic burns through its finances.
    It expects a deficit of about 50 million euros this year.    Revenues are expected to be about 213 million euros in 2021, down 30% over 2020.
    St. Peters Basilica and the Vatican Museums, the latter a cash cow that received about 6 million paying visitors in 2019, were closed or only partially open for much of 2020 because of the pandemic.    The museums had been due to reopen this month but remained closed because of a new lockdown by Italy.
    In a seven-point preface to the decree explaining why action was needed now, Francis said the pandemic has negatively affected all the sources of income of the Holy See and the State of Vatican City.
    He said that, while both currently had adequate capitalisation, he felt the duty to guarantee sustainability and equilibrium between income and expenses in the current economic climate.
    Last year, top Vatican administrators ordered a freeze on promotions and hirings and a ban on overtime, travel and large events in an attempt to contain costs.
    The Holy See budget covers entities in Rome that oversee the governing of the 1.3 billion-member worldwide Church, its diplomatic representations, and media operations.
    Vatican City, including the Vatican Museums and the Vatican bank, has a separate budget, although income from both are often transferred to the Holy See to help plug deficits.
    The Holy Sees income is from donations, real estate management and investments.
($1 = 0.8454 euro)
(Reporting by Philip Pullella;Editing by Alison Williams, Janet Lawrence and Jonathan Oatis)

3/26/2021 Vatican Misrepresentations Condemned In Court Defeat Over London Property Case by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: A general view of empty Saint Peter's Square, after a decree orders for the whole of Italy to be on lockdown in an
unprecedented clampdown aimed at beating the coronavirus, as seen from Rome, Italy, March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) A British court has handed the Vatican a major defeat in a case linked to a property transaction in London with Church funds, in a ruling that revealed some of the Holy Sees inner workings and found it had made appalling misrepresentations.
    The Crown Court in Southwark revoked an earlier order that had frozen funds of Gianluigi Torzi, an Italian businessman who the Vatican has charged with extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money laundering.
    Torzi, who denies wrongdoing, was one of the middlemen in a complicated deal by the Vaticans Secretariat of State in the purchase of a building in Chelsea that has since developed into a financial scandal.
    He spent 10 days in a Vatican jail last year.    Five Vatican employees lost their jobs in 2019 over the deal and are still under investigation.
    In the 42-page ruling, issued on March 10 and made public this week after the Vatican tried to keep it private, Judge Tony Baumgartner said he revoked an earlier ruling to freeze some of Torzis funds in London partly because the Vaticans non-disclosures and misrepresentations are so appalling.
    Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said there was no immediate comment on the ruling, adding that the Vaticans investigation was continuing.
    Vatican prosecutors have alleged that Torzi was part of a conspiracy to defraud the Secretariat of State, the Vaticans most important department, and extort millions of euros from it, in part through fees the Vatican called exorbitant.
    Torzis lawyers, Stuart Biggs and James Mullion of Janes Solicitors, said his dealings had been directly or indirectly approved by top Vatican officials, including Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and his deputy for general affairs, Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra.
    The ruling says that during the hearings, Vatican lawyers attempted to show the astonishment of higher authorities over some of the financial details of the deal negotiated by two lower-level officials in the Secretariat, including a monsignor.
    But the judge ruled that if that was the case, both Parolin and Pena Parra must have had the wool pulled completely over their eyes.
    Torzi has always maintained his dealings with the Vatican were above board, his lawyer, Mullion, told Reuters on Friday.
    The judge rightly found very troubling failures by the Vatican to disclose the full facts of the case, Mullion said.    The people who signed the contracts were signing them with the authority of the Vatican.
    He said the Vatican had made a request to keep the details of the ruling private.
    The Vatican hired Torzi in 2018 to negotiate the final purchase of the building at 60 Sloane Avenue and end its relationship with Raffaele Mincione, another Italian middleman used previously for the deal.
    An internal investigation into the purchase of the building became public in October 2019 following a Vatican police raid.    Five Vatican employees were suspended.
    The London ruling showed that, during the case, Torzi claimed that one of the Vatican employees who was suspended, a non-cleric, offered him the services of a prostitute but that he refused.
    Last November, Pope Francis transferred control of the Secretariats funds to another department for financial oversight.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella)

3/26/2021 New Zealands Catholic Church Apologises To Survivors Of Abuse
FILE PHOTO: Newly elevated Cardinal John Atcherley Dew speaks with journalist after taking
part in the Consistory at the Vatican February 14, 2015. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) New Zealands Catholic Church formally apologised on Friday to the survivors of abuse within the church and said its systems and culture must change.
    Cardinal John Dew, who is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Wellington and Metropolitan of New Zealand, made the apology at the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care on behalf of the bishops and congregational leaders in New Zealand.
    Today, recognising the importance of this moment, I apologise to you, on behalf of the bishops and congregational leaders of the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand, said Cardinal Dew, who is also the president of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference.
    I also apologise to you on behalf of those who preceded us as bishops and congregational leaders. We offer no excuses for their actions, or for ours, that have caused you harm.
    Cardinal Dews comments in Auckland was part of witness statements being recorded from faith-based institutions at the Abuse in Care inquiry that is underway to resolve historic and current abuse claims.
    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern set up the Royal Commission in 2018 saying the country needed to confront a dark chapter in its history, and later expanded it to include churches and other faith-based institutions.
    An interim report by the Commission in December found up to a quarter of a million children, young people and vulnerable adults were physically and sexually abused in New Zealands faith-based and state care institutions from the 1960s to early 2000s.
    The inquiry found children, some from as young as nine months old, suffered years of abuse, which included rape and electric shock treatment, by staff at psychiatric and state care facilities, clergy and foster guardians.
    We acknowledge that the systems and culture of the Church allowed abuse to occur.    These systems and culture failed you and must change, said Cardinal Dew.The Royal Commission will make recommendations to the government in its final report later this year.    It is one of longest and most complex commissions of inquiry undertaken in New Zealand.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Michael Perry)

3/30/2021 High court to discuss AGs abortion appeal - High court to discuss AGs abortion appeal - Ruling in question struck down ban on procedure by Deborah Yetter Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
    The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron may appeal a ruling striking down a 2018 state law that bans a type of abortion performed later in a pregnancy.
    The decision announced Monday focuses on a procedural question of whether Cameron may appeal a decision last year by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals striking down the law or whether he tried to intervene in the case too late.
    Cameron, a Republican who opposes abortion, on Monday praised the decision in a news release, saying 'we look forward to making our case before the Supreme Court.'
    'I promised Kentuckians that I would defend our laws all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and thats what weve done,' he said.
    But opponents of the abortion law, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which had challenged it, denounced it as a last-minute effort to 'jump into the case.'
    'The attorney general has shown he will stop at nothing to prevent people from making their own decisions about a pregnancy,' said Andrew Beck, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.
    House Bill 454 bans a procedure known as dilation and evacuation in which the fetus is removed with instruments, generally after the 14th week of pregnancy.
    Abortion opponents including Cameron describe it as fetal 'dismemberment.'
    Abortion rights supporters say it is a safe method for terminating a pregnancy after 14 weeks.
    Abortion after 20 weeks is banned by Kentucky law.
    Abortions performed earlier in a pregnancy can be induced through medication or performed through a suction procedure.
    The method Cameron seeks to challenge accounted for about 300 of the 3,200 abortions performed in Kentucky in 2018, the year the law was passed.
    The law was struck down by a federal judge in Louisville, with the federal appeals court based in Cincinnati upholding the decision last year.
    The appeals decision came after the 2019 transition from the administration of former Gov. Matt Bevin, anti-abortion Republican who supported the law, to Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat who supports abortion rights.
    The Beshear administration last year declined to appeal the 6th Circuit decision striking down Kentuckys law, which would have ended the case.
    But Cameron, who took office in 2020, sought to intervene in the case in order to appeal it. His effort was rejected by the 6th Circuit, which found he attempted to intervene too late, but Cameron took his case to the Supreme Court, asking that he be allowed to challenge the law.
    The Supreme Court granted that request Monday.
    Cameron said he expects to argue his case before the court in the fall with a decision likely later this year or early next year.
    Reach Deborah Yetter at or 502-582-4228.    Find her on Twitter at @d-yetter.    Support strong local journalism by subscribing today:

3/31/2021 SCOTUS To Hear Appeal Over Ky. Abortion Law by OAN Newsroom
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron addresses the media in Frankfort, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
    The Supreme Court agreed to take on a Kentucky case on abortion procedures.    On Monday, state Attorney General Daniel Cameron asked the high court to allow him to defend pro-life laws, including a ban on late term abortions.
    Camerons request came after two lower court rulings said the abortion laws were unconstitutional.    While speaking this week, however, Cameron asserted his fight to protect life is not only an important issue to residents.    It argued its a constitutional right.
    Defending H.B. 454 has been personal for me and my office because I know this bill reflects the the values of Kentuckians across the Commonwealth, noted the attorney general.    Thats why were fighting to defend it and why were pleased that the United States Supreme Court will hear our case this fall.
    The Supreme Court will likely hear the case in its next term, which begins in the fall.

    This page created on 1/1/2021, and updated each month by 1/31/2021, 2/28/2020, 3/31/2021.

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