National Briefs

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School district learns a free speech lesson

(WNS)–What began as a demonstration against abortion in front of a Pennsylvania high school became a lesson in constitutionally protected free speech for Downingtown Area School District students and staff. A Holocaust symposium at Downingtown West High School on April 21 offered an opportune venue for siblings Lauren and Conner Haines, ages 19 and 16, to share their views on another holocaust—the millions of lives lost to abortion. The homeschool students set out to that campus with the gospel message and three pro-life posters, including one with an image of an aborted baby. During an 18-minute recorded encounter with STEM Academy Vice Principal Zach Ruff, he repeatedly told the siblings to leave, saying they and the babies represented on the poster could “go to hell.” At one point, Ruff attempted to grab the signs, an act of assault under Pennsylvania law. Students and parents witnessed the alleged verbal and physical assault. Ruff’s actions earned him an unpaid suspension and ultimately cost him his job.


Transgender military ban on hold?

(WNS)–Three weeks ago, President Donald Trump declared in an unexpected tweet that transgender Americans could no longer serve in the military in any capacity. Trump’s announcement pleased many social conservatives who disagreed with the Obama administration’s openness to transgender military personnel, but the president created confusion for the Pentagon. He tweeted the policy change without coordinating the logistics with U.S. military leaders. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on Monday he has received no direction from Trump on how to carry out the order. This leaves transgender service members untouched until further notice. “The policy is going to address whether or not transgenders can serve, under what conditions, what medical support they require, how much time would they be perhaps non-deployable, leaving others to pick up their share of everything,” Mattis said. “There’s a host of issues, and I’m learning more about this than I ever thought I would.”


Headed down the slippery slope

(WNS)–Researchers in Oregon have for the first time in the United States created genetically modified human embryos, showing they could possibly correct defective genes that cause diseases, MIT Technology Review reported. The researchers used the CRISPR gene-editing tool to edit the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos, which they discarded a few days later. The MIT Technology Review hailed the experiment as “a milestone on what may prove to be an inevitable journey toward the birth of the first genetically modified humans.” Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine issued ethical guidelines regarding editing reproductive cells, eggs, sperm, or embryos. The committee advised caution but also emphasized caution did not mean prohibition. Many ethicists warned the noncommittal statement would open the door for scientists to engineer genetically modified humans and eventually designer babies with physical enhancements.


States rally around Ten Commandments monument

(WNS)–Bloomfield, N.M., is a small town taking on a big opponent—the American Civil Liberties Union. But 22 state attorneys general and two governors have come to the city’s aid in its fight to keep a small, privately funded Ten Commandments monument on city hall grounds.

An amicus brief filed Aug. 11 by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asks the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify its Establishment Clause doctrine related to Ten Commandment displays on public property. The brief cites two 2005 high court decisions that are at odds with each other. The conflict has led to disparate decisions by lower courts and “encourages costly and time-consuming litigation against governmental entities and actors.” The Bloomfield Ten Commandments display sits among monuments memorializing the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, and the Declaration of Independence—all privately funded. Two residents represented by the ACLU claim the Ten Commandments display is offensive and exclusionary. They sued in 2012 to have it removed. The city appealed to the high court in July.


David Daleiden takes pro-life legal fight to Supreme Court

(WNS)–Lawyers for David Daleiden appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in early August over the ongoing litigation suppressing his undercover videos. During the 2014 and 2015 National Abortion Federation (NAF) annual conventions, the 28-year-old pro-life activist filmed undercover videos of Planned Parenthood workers discussing the illegal fetal tissue trade and late term abortion procedures. In 2015, NAF filed suit, and Judge William Orrick issued a gag order to prevent the videos’ release. Orrick ruled that if Daleiden released the videos to the public, Planned Parenthood and its affiliates could face “harassment, intimidation, violence, invasion of privacy, and injury to reputation.” But Thomas More Society attorney Tom Brejcha, who helped craft the latest appeal, said journalists’ free speech rights are more important.


Veteran sues Air Force over free speech investigation

(WNS)–Attorneys for veteran Oscar Rodriguez, forcibly dragged from a friend’s retirement ceremony over his planned speech, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force on July 27 for refusing to turn over the results of its investigation into the incident. Freedom of Information Act requests made last year to the department have languished for more than 200 days—well beyond the 20-day response mandated by federal law. Mike Berry, director of military affairs for First Liberty Institute, accuses the Air Force of trying to hide information. He said the department investigations into the March 2016 incident at Travis Air Force Base in Sacramento, Calif., are complete. But the Air Force has ignored repeated requests for the results, which could vindicate Rodriguez and address the religious liberty issues at the heart of the case.


Trump administration readies for affirmative action fight

(WNS)–The Trump administration unintentionally fired a shot across the bow of liberal academia last week when The New York Times revealed Justice Department plans to take up the charge against affirmative action. According to a document leaked to Times reporters, the Justice Department is looking for in-house lawyers to join a new project on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.” Affirmative action programs have long been subject to court challenges. The latest group to sue: Asian-American students who didn’t get into Harvard University. They could have a powerful new ally in the Trump administration. A Justice Department spokeswoman told The Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, the new project would focus specifically on claims against the Ivy League school. The Justice Department has not “received or issued” any instructions about going after university admissions processes in general, spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement aimed to tamp down alarm about a widespread attack on affirmative action.


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