National Briefs

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Christian geologist wins fight over Grand Canyon rocks

(WNS)–The National Park Service has finally agreed to let a Christian geologist collect rock samples from the Grand Canyon for research. Andrew Snelling, who has a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Sydney, tried for four years to get permission to collect the samples. The park service only agreed after lawyers with Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit.

“When the government refuses to allow a Christian geologist simply to collect information because it dislikes his views, it undercuts science and violates the law,” said Gary McCaleb, a senior counsel with ADF and one of Snelling’s lawyers.


Florida fortifies religious freedom in public schools

(WNS)–Florida public school students will have added protection for expressing their faith on campus during the upcoming school year, thanks to a new law that went into effect July 1. Supporters say the bill just reiterates existing constitutional protections for religious liberty by listing specific practices with which educators cannot interfere. Opponents say the bill goes too far and could unleash a rash of lawsuits. The Religious Expression in Public Schools Act forbids school districts from discriminating against students, parents, or staff members for their religious views or expression. It specifies students are free to refer to religion in their schoolwork, pray without interference, and wear religious symbols without fear of punishment. The Florida House passed its version of the bill unanimously, but Republicans in the state Senate insisted on adding a provision that would require schools to allow student-led prayers during the school day and at school-sanctioned events, like sporting events and assemblies. It passed mostly along party lines.


Up next, designer babies

(WNS)–When so-called three-parent babies first became possible, many researchers touted the technique as a way to help women with mitochondrial disease give birth to healthy children. Ethicists warned it was the beginning of a slippery slope and soon doctors would use the procedure for applications other than preventing disease. A U.S. fertility doctor, John Zhang, who owns a biotech company called Darwin Life, is now plummeting down that slope with plans to use the three-parent baby technique to help women over 40 become pregnant by shifting their DNA into a young woman’s egg, MIT Technology Review reports. And Zhang doesn’t plan to stop there. Despite warnings from ethicists and experts’ concerns about the safety of the procedure, Zhang has profit-making designer babies in his sights. “Everything we do is a step toward designer babies,” he told MIT Technology Review. The procedure is illegal in the United States, so Zhang plans to offer it overseas only.


Monkeying around with personhood

(WNS)–Governments have granted legal personhood to rivers, and a New York court has heard a case arguing for human rights for two chimpanzees. Now the craziness continues as a California federal appeals court just heard arguments on whether Naruto, a monkey who has learned how to take selfies, should be allowed to hold a copyright to the photos. The court is expected to make a decision soon.


Daleiden’s lawyers found in contempt

(WNS)–A federal court in San Francisco found David Daleiden’s two lawyers, Steve Cooley and Brentford Ferreira, in contempt of court for releasing a video under a preliminary injunction issued by Judge William Orrick. The video, one of many produced by Daleiden’s pro-life organization the Center for Medical Progress, depicted abortionists laughing about dead baby body parts and admitting their work amounts to violent killing. YouTube removed the video under Orrick’s order. Daleiden’s lawyers contend they acted in good faith to defend their client against the 15 felony charges Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed in March. A court dismissed 14 of those charges, but Becerra refiled them.


Drinking during pregnancy may put grandkids at risk

(WNS)–Research has consistently shown women who consume alcohol while pregnant put their babies at risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). But a new study, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, indicates moms who drink alcohol during pregnancy may also be putting their grandchildren and great-grandchildren at risk.

The researchers found mice exposed to alcohol in utero suffered brain changes that could be passed down to future generations. The offspring of mice exposed to alcohol before birth showed the same increased anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as the sensory-motor deficits, of their parent, even though they were never exposed to alcohol themselves.

The results “suggest that FASD may be a heritable condition in humans,” lead researcher Kelly Huffman said in a statement.


Venture capital college

(WNS)–Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, hailed as a political innovator, has taken his free-market conservatism to higher education. Now president of Purdue University, Daniels is championing a different way for students to finance their education without racking up crushing amounts of debt. Income sharing agreements (ISAs) allow investors to pay for a student’s education in exchange for a portion of the graduate’s future earnings. Although Purdue isn’t the first university to use ISAs, it’s the biggest and most prominent. And its model forms the basis for federal legislation that aims to encourage other schools to adopt similar programs by setting some regulatory guidelines.


A tricky question

(WNS)–The Education Department just can’t win when it comes to pleasing transgender advocates. The agency announced last week it would change the tense of a gender-related question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) after someone complained the present-tense wording might confuse transgender students. Instead of asking, “Are you male or female?” the department plans to ask, “Were you born male or female?” Gender is important because all FAFSAs filed by male applicants must be checked against Selective Service registration, a requirement for getting any federal aid. But transgender advocates say asking about an applicant’s birth gender could “out” some transgender students while also suggesting transgenderism isn’t a real thing. They offered to meet with Education Department representatives to help them get the question “right.” But a simple tense change probably won’t fix the problem. Nothing short of a total rejection of biological reality seems likely to suffice.


Oregon poised to make abortion free

(WNS)–Oregon taxpayers will soon be paying for abortion, contraceptives, and sterilization under a new law Gov. Kate Brown vowed to sign. The Reproductive Health Equity Act, recently passed by legislators, forbids health insurance plans from imposing “a deductible, coinsurance, copayment, or any other cost-sharing requirement” for abortion, STD screening, prenatal care, post-natal care, and all forms of contraception. Churches and religious nonprofits will be exempt from the law if they notify employees they don’t cover contraceptives or abortion. Their employees may turn to Oregon’s general fund, padded with more than $10 million, to cover contraceptives and abortion. The bill also allocates $500,000 to cover abortions and contraceptives for illegal immigrants.


Still waiting on the international religious liberty report

(WNS)–Last year’s Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act moved up the release date for the State Department’s religious freedom report to May 1. More than two months later, it still hasn’t appeared. International religious freedom advocates are lobbying the State Department to release it soon. “There are letters going into the administration asking them to release it. … I think it’s finished,” said Wolf, now a distinguished fellow at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. “The fact that it’s not been released is … I mean, it’s shocking. I still don’t understand it.” Wolf and other advocates think the delay is related to the lack of an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom—which they believe will be Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Since Congress is only in session for three weeks before the August recess, it looks increasingly likely the ambassador position won’t be filled until at least the fall.


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