Opponents: Gay Hate Crimes Bill Could Target Churches

Baptist Press reports that a bill extending hate crimes protections to homosexuals and transgendered individuals has been approved in the House of Representatives and faces little opposition in the Senate. “This bill puts Christians and many other religious groups in the government’s crosshairs,” said Barrett Duke, a vice president with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “While we should never condone acts of violence against anyone, for whatever reason… this bill proposes to prosecute someone based on their belief about homosexuality and therefore makes religious belief a germane issue in this debate.” Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, called the bill “a backdoor tool… to shut down legitimate free speech from Christians and others who oppose their lifestyle.” He told the Christian Post, “Pastors in Europe and Canada have already been arrested for preaching against homosexuality based on similar legislation.”

Abortion Rights Not a Top Obama Priority

President Obama made clear on Wednesday that a controversial abortion rights law is not among his top priorities, despite a campaign promise to make signing the controversial abortion bill his first act in office. In his third prime-time news conference marking his 100th day as president, Obama said he was more interested in finding ways to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, especially teen pregnancies. “The Freedom of Choice Act is not my highest legislative priority,” Obama said. That was a sharp departure from his comments at an address before Planned Parenthood in the summer of 2007. “The first thing I will do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act,” he said at the time. On Wednesday, Obama said both sides must recognize abortion is both a moral and an ethical issue, adding that proponents of abortion rights are mistaken when they say abortion is merely “about women’s freedom” without recognizing any other consideration.

  • Can it be that the President has seen the light? Or is he just another politician saying whatever he thinks people want to hear? Most likely the latter, but keep praying.

Souter to Leave the Supreme Court

Supreme Court Justice David Souter has told the White House he will retire at the end of the term in June, the Associated Press reported, handing President Obama the chance to make the first Democratic appointment to the high court in 15 years. A Souter resignation might not lead to a significant shift in the balance of the deeply divided Supreme Court because President Obama would likely name someone who is at least as liberal as Souter. Yet Obama’s opportunity for a lifetime appointment is bound to set off an intense, politically charged competition.

Study: Many of Non-Religious Adults Still Searching

A new study shows that many adults who were raised in an unaffiliated home later became Christian, mainly because they found themselves searching, Baptist Press reports. The finding is part of a study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life that examined why Americans change their religious affiliation. According to Pew’s 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, unaffiliated adults make up 16 percent of the population. That same survey also found that, among those who were raised unaffiliated — a category which includes agnostics and atheists — only 46 percent remain unaffiliated. That retention rate is far lower than Protestants (80 percent of whom remain Protestants) and Catholics (68 percent of whom remain Catholic). “It does suggest that many people who are unaffiliated and who are raised unaffiliated are open to religion,” said Gregory A. Smith, research fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Swine Flu

The world moved to the brink of an global influenza pandemic Wednesday as the fast-spreading swine flu, which has gained at least a toehold in nine countries, claimed its first victim in the USA, a Mexican toddler visiting in Texas. The World Health Organization raised its global alert level to phase 5, just one level below 6, or “global pandemic,” because the virus appears to be spreading easily person-to-person and cases are appearing that have no link to Mexico. The new level signifies that “all countries should immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans,” World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan said.

As of Wednesday, WHO was reporting a total of 114 cases worldwide. Those are conservative numbers because they represent only cases that have been verified by WHO-confirmed laboratories. Mexico, for example, reports 159 people dead and 1,300 possibly infected. U.S. officials are “actively” questioning visitors at the border, asking questions about “whether they are ill, their travel history and the like,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.

Across Mexico, residents are snapping up DVDs, renting video games and stocking up on food for what is shaping up to be a massive five-day quarantine as the government tries to contain the deadly swine flu virus.

The CDC said today it has confirmed 111 cases of swine flu in the United States, an increase of 18 from its previous report. Only one death has been confirmed. The virus has been confirmed in 11 states. Arizona state health officials said a total of four swine-flu cases have been verified, and the number of school closures increased to three. As of late Thursday, nearly 300 of the nation’s 132,000 public and private schools had been closed because of flu cases or fears of contagion. .

It’s not exactly like making a silk purse out of a pig’s ear, but U.S. public health officials have dropped the term “swine flu” in favor of “2009 H1N1 flu” because of concerns that the term “swine flu” was hurting pork sales. The emerging H1N1 virus strain is a mixture of genetic material from swine, bird and human flu strains.

Egypt began slaughtering the roughly 300,000 pigs in the country Wednesday as a precaution against swine flu even though no cases have been reported here, infuriating farmers who blocked streets and stoned vehicles of Health Ministry workers who came to carry out the government’s order. The measure was a stark expression of the panic the deadly outbreak is spreading around the world, especially in poor countries with weak public health systems.

Senate Votes Down Foreclosure Mortgage Relief Bill

The Democratic-controlled Senate on Thursday defeated a plan to spare hundreds of thousands of homeowners from foreclosure through bankruptcy, a bill President Barack Obama embraced but did little to see it through. A dozen Democrats joined Republicans in the 45-51 vote to scuttle the bill, which Obama had said was important to saving the economy and promised to push through Congress. But facing stiff opposition from banks, Obama did little to pressure lawmakers who worried it would encourage bankruptcy filings and spike interest rates.

Economic News

The U.S. economy contracted at a swift pace in the beginning of 2009 as sharp drops in business spending, inventories and exports more than offset the biggest increase in consumer spending in two years. Gross domestic product, the broadest gauge of U.S. economic activity, fell at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.1% in the January-March quarter after dropping at a 6.3% rate in the fourth quarter of 2008. It was the first time GDP contracted for three consecutive quarters since 1974-1975. The first-quarter decline was worse than estimated by economists. Consumer spending rose at a 2.2% annual rate in the January-March quarter, biggest increase since the first quarter 2007.

The government said the number of newly laid-off U.S. workers signing up for unemployment benefits posted an expected drop last week. The Labor Department says new applications for unemployment insurance fell to a seasonally adjusted 631,000 last week from the prior week’s 645,000. Before the recession, new claims were about 300,000. The number of people continuing to draw unemployment benefits jumped to 6.27 million, highest on records dating back to 1967 and steeper than economists expected.

A two-month low in requests for loans to purchase homes was especially disappointing, coming in the midst of the important spring sales season when potential buyers usually emerge from winter hiatus,. First-time buyers accounted for more than half of all home sales in March, with activity concentrated in lower price ranges. Up to 45% of homes being purchased today are distressed homes and fixer-uppers.

The Commerce Department says consumer spending dropped 0.2% in March. Incomes, reflecting the continued wave of layoffs, dropped 0.3%.

Bankruptcy Ahead as Chrysler Talks Break Off

Chrysler will file for bankruptcy after talks with a small group of creditors crumbled just a day before a government deadline for the automaker to come up with a restructuring plan, two administration officials said Thursday. The Obama administration had long hoped to stave off bankruptcy for Chrysler, but it became clear that a holdout group wouldn’t budge on proposals to reduce Chrysler’s $6.9 billion in secured debt. Bankruptcy doesn’t mean the third-largest U.S. automaker will shut down, but rather give it breathing room from its creditors to restructure under court supervision.

AG Holder Urges Allies to Take some Detainees

The United States and its allies must make sacrifices to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday in a high-profile appeal for Europe’s help. There are currently 241 inmates at the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Holder spent the past several days privately asking European leaders in London, Prague, and Berlin for help relocating detainees the United States wants to set free.

Iraq

Two car bombs tore through a crowded commercial district in Baghdad’s main Shiite district on Wednesday, killing at least 41 people. The blasts went off in quick succession less than a week after bombings claimed more than 150 lives over a two-day span. The attacks have raised fears that suspected Sunni insurgents are regrouping and trying to reignite sectarian strife as the U.S. military begins to withdraw.

Afghanistan

American commanders are planning to cut off the Taliban’s main source of money, the country’s multimillion-dollar opium crop, by pouring thousands of troops into the three provinces that bankroll much of the group’s operations. The plan to send 20,000 Marines and soldiers into Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul Provinces this summer promises weeks and perhaps months of heavy fighting, since American officers expect the Taliban to vigorously defend what makes up the economic engine for the insurgency. The additional troops, the centerpiece of President Obama’s effort to reverse the course of the seven-year war, will roughly double the number already in southern Afghanistan.

A top Taliban commander warned Wednesday that militants would unleash a wave of ambushes, roadside bombs and suicide attacks in a new spring offensive. In a possible harbinger of coming violence, coalition and Afghan troops killed 42 militants in three operations, officials said. Taliban militants have increased attacks in the last three years after what appeared to be an initial defeat of the radical Islamist regime, which was toppled by the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Pakistan

A slew of gun attacks in Pakistan’s biggest city killed at least 34 people, officials said Thursday, further rattling a country already tense over a military offensive against Taliban militants in a district near the capital. Pakistan’s president urged the public to support the army’s offensive against Taliban fighters so that Pakistan would remain “a moderate, modern and democratic state.” Ethnic tension was the suspected spark for the gun attacks Wednesday in Karachi, a teeming southern port city with a volatile history. Much of the tension has been between the Pashtun population, who dominate the country’s militant-infested northwest, and Urdu-speakers descended from migrants from India.

Pakistani airstrikes killed dozens of Taliban fighters in a fierce struggle to drive them from a district near the capital, while the militants took over police stations and kidnapped more than 50 security forces, the army said. Pakistan is acting under intense U.S. pressure to take a tougher line against Islamist militants expanding from strongholds along the Afghan border, where al-Qaeda leaders including Osama bin Laden may also be hiding.

Moderate Earthquake Jolts Iran

Iran’s seismological center says a 5.2-magnitude earthquake has struck a sparsely populated area in southeastern Iran near the Pakistani border. Thursday’s report says the earthquake hit Zaboli district, some 950 miles southeast of the capital, Tehran. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated the earthquake’s strength at 5.6-magnitude. A 5-magnitude earthquake usually shatters windows and causes cracks in old buildings.

Wildfire Risk High in South, West

Wildfire experts are predicting a fierce summer fire season, particularly in drought-stricken areas of the South and West. At highest risk are parts of Florida, Texas, California and Washington. The season is off to a scorching start. Nearly 32,000 wildfires have been reported since Jan. 1, charring 1.1 million acres. Drought is one of the best predictors of wildfires. The U.S. Drought Monitor, made up of several federal agencies, said Thursday that the worst drought conditions are in three of the four most populous states: Texas, Florida, and California, where nearly 80 million people live.

Weather

Floodwaters drenched Houston streets early Tuesday after heavy overnight rains, forcing high-water rescues, soaking homes, closing schools and stranding motorists during rush-hour traffic. Some freeway and toll road stretches were closed after at least six inches of rain fell. According to emergency management officials, a rain gauge on Buffalo Bayou in far western Houston collected more than six inches overnight and nearly nine inches in 24 hours. The disrupted commute prompted some school districts to cancel classes for the day. About 200 motorists were stranded for a couple of hours in a parking lot near Interstate 610 and U.S. 59 after they sought refuge from rising floodwaters on frontage roads. The rains came a day after tornadoes left damage in Corsicana and near Austin and Victoria.

The death toll from days of heavy rain in Kansas rose to five Wednesday when authorities found the bodies of two people in a car submerged in a flooded creek. The five storm-related deaths have occurred in northeast, southeast and south-central Kansas since Saturday. More rain was expected Thursday and flood warnings were posted for communities along several eastern Kansas rivers.

At least 18 people have died in a scorching heat wave that has swept through more than a dozen Indian states, the weather department and officials said Friday. The highest temperature of about 118 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded Thursday at Khandua in the central Madhya Pradesh state.

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