Graduate Student Told to ‘Lose Christianity or Face Expulsion’

A lawsuit against Augusta State University in Georgia alleges school officials essentially gave a graduate student in counseling the choice of giving up her Christian beliefs or being expelled from the graduate program. School officials demanded student Jen Keeton, 24, go through a “remediation” program after she asserted homosexuality is a behavioral choice, not a “state of being” as a professor said, according to the complaint. The remediation program was to include “sensitivity training” on homosexual issues, additional outside study on literature promoting homosexuality and the plan that she attend a “gay pride parade” and report on it. The lawsuit, filed by attorneys working with the Alliance Defense Fund, asserted the school cannot violate the Constitution by demanding that a person’s beliefs be changed.

Pro-life Views Cost Bus Driver his Job

A former bus driver has sued his employer for allegedly discriminating against his religious beliefs and terminating his employment. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) represents Edwin Graning, a former driver for the Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS), which is a nine-county transit service that often provides transportation in rural areas surrounding Austin, Texas. Senior attorney Edward White tells OneNewsNow the driver was dispatched in January to transport two women to a Planned Parenthood clinic. “He called up his supervisor and said, ‘You know, I’m an ordained minister…and Planned Parenthood does abortions. And I don’t know if this lady’s going there for an abortion. However, if she is, I want nothing to do with that,'” White accounts. “And so in effect, he was asking for his supervisor to just get one of the other CARTS drivers to pick up this woman.” As the attorney explains, the bus company manager considered that response a resignation, so when Graning arrived back at headquarters, he was fired.

  • Persecution of all things Christian continues to ramp up in the age of “tolerance”

United Kingdom

A new report has found that Christians in Britain are disproportionately targeted by laws intended to prevent religious hate crimes. The Civitas report, “A New Inquisition: Religious Persecution in Britain Today,” criticizes the “oppressive oddity” of judicial attempts to regulate religious hatred, Christian Today reports. The report’s author, Jon Davies, says the vague nature of the laws has led judges to become “surrogate theologians,” essentially establishing a “theocracy by the backdoor.” he asks, “Is the Crown Prosecution Service so prudent in its understanding of ‘religious hatred’ that it should be free, with no penalty for error, to mobilize the power and resources of the state against ordinary citizens who make comments about religion?”

Insurers Kept Surplus while Hiking Premiums

Non-profit Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plans stockpiled billions of dollars during the past decade, yet continued to hit consumers with double-digit premium increases, Consumers Union found in an analysis of 10 of the plans’ finances. Insurers must keep surplus money to ensure they can pay policyholders’ medical bills if unexpected market conditions develop. Yet seven of the plans examined held more than three times the amount regulators consider the minimum needed to do that. The report calls on state insurance regulators to scrutinize surpluses when considering rate increases and set maximum limits for surpluses. In most states, it said, regulators focus only on ensuring companies have minimum surpluses to be financially sound. Consumers Union studied non-profit Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans because they cover one in three Americans with private insurance.

Rules to Ease Consumer Appeals in Health Coverage

Consumers will get new and expanded rights to appeal denials of health insurance claims under federal regulations released Thursday. The rules, part of the nation’s new health care law, will make it easier for consumers to dispute an insurer’s decision within the plan and require coverage to continue during the appeal. Consumers will have the right to an independent, third-party review of insurers’ decisions. Although 44 states allow some form of external appeal, the level of consumer protection varies greatly, and in some states, the outside reviewer is hired by the insurer that denied the claim. Ron Pollack, executive director of the health care consumer group Families USA, said the rules will protect patients from being denied care or getting stuck with huge bills when an insurer wrongfully denies their claims.

Arizona Employees to See Large Health Insurance Costs

State and university employees with families can expect to see their monthly health-insurance costs rise as much as 37 percent next year, depending on the type of plan they choose. Figures provided by the Arizona Department of Administration show that health plans for families and single adults with children will shoulder the most-expensive monthly premium increases beginning Jan. 1, while individuals will pay modest increases. The Department of Administration cited federal health reform as the reason the state’s health plans will carry “greater expenses and higher premiums for members,” according to a June 30 letter sent to about 135,000 state and university employees and their dependents. The letter named two provisions that the state expects will drive health-insurance costs higher. One is a requirement that insurance plans provide coverage for dependent children up to age 26. The other is the federal legislation’s ban on lifetime limits, an insurance-industry practice that cuts coverage once an individual’s medical expenses exceed a set amount over their lifetime.

Judge Hears Arguments over Arizona Immigration Law

The Arizona immigration law came under new legal scrutiny in a packed courtroom Thursday as a federal judge considered whether the crackdown should take effect next week amid a flurry of legal challenges. Judge Susan Bolton did not issue a ruling after two court hearings stemming from lawsuits brought against the law, which has reignited the national immigration debate. Bolton has been asked to block the law from taking effect July 29th as she hears several lawsuits that question the constitutionality of the measure. Opponents say the law will lead to racial profiling and trample on the rights of the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in Arizona. Supporters say the law is a necessary response to combat the litany of problems brought on by illegal immigration and the federal government’s inability to secure the border. Bolton did make one thing clear: She has no intention of invalidating the entire law but is considering halting the enactment of a handful of its 14 sections. Seven opponents of the law were arrested after they sat in the middle of a busy thoroughfare outside the courthouse and unfurled a massive banner that said “We will not comply.”

Tropical Storm Disrupts Oil Spill Efforts

Work to permanently choke off the oil well that had been spewing into the Gulf of Mexico was at a standstill Friday after ships around the site were ordered to evacuate ahead of the approaching Tropical Storm Bonnie. There had been worries that the cap that has mostly contained the oil would have to be reopened and left gushing if a major storm came through. But engineers were confident enough in the strength of the cap that they decided to leave it sealed while most of the ships on the surface were told to leave the area. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen ordered an evacuation Thursday night “due to the risk that Tropical Storm Bonnie poses to the safety of the nearly 2,000 people responding to the BP oil spill at the well site.” The storm, which blossomed over the Bahamas and was to enter the Gulf of Mexico by the weekend, could delay by another 12 days the push to plug the broken well for good.

Dispersants Don’t Seem to Disrupt Marine Life

Dispersants used to battle the Gulf oil spill don’t appear to interfere with reproduction, development and other biological processes in marine life, concludes a study by the Environmental Protection Agency reported Wednesday. The possibility of hormonal changes to marine life has been a major concern about the more than 1.8 million gallons of dispersants used in the Gulf oil cleanup effort. In the study, reported in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, none of the eight dispersants tested displayed “biologically significant endocrine activity.” The dispersant used in the Gulf, Corexit 9500, was found not to affect either the estrogen or androgen receptors used in the tests. The biggest concern has been about a class of chemicals used to break up blobs of oil into millions of smaller droplets. These chemicals, called nonylphenol ethoxylates, can break down into nonylphenol, which can disrupt normal hormonal activity. The tests looked at how toxic the dispersants are to cells. The study used the same tests the EPA employs as part of Tox21, a federal program to screen thousands of chemicals for many types of toxicity. Nothing in the dispersants triggered alarms.

  • Relying on short-term studies has proven to be the Achilles heal of the FDA which is why there have been so many recent drug recalls.

Dems Forced to Abandon Greenhouse-Gas Bill

Conceding they can’t find enough votes for the measure, Senate Democrats on Thursday abandoned efforts to put together a comprehensive energy bill that would seek to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, delivering a potentially fatal blow to a proposal Democrats have long touted and President Barack Obama campaigned on. Instead, Democrats will push for a more limited bill that would seek to increase liability costs that oil companies would pay following spills such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico, create additional incentives for the development of natural-gas vehicles and provide rebates to people who buy products that reduce home-energy use. They did not release details of the proposal, but Senate Democrats said they expect to find GOP support and pass it in the next two weeks.

Confidence in Obama Administration Fading

The latest Gallup Poll on U.S. institutions shows that President Obama retains the confidence of only 36% of Americans. He can take heart from the fact that the rating is still better than that of Congress; only 11% of Americans have a great deal or a lot of confidence in it, dead last among the 16 groups surveyed. Confidence in the presidency also ranks higher than newspapers (25%) and television news (22%). However, the presidential rating fell the furthest among the groups surveyed; last year, 51% had confidence in the presidency, but that rating has fallen 15 points. Topping the confidence list: The military, small business, and police.

Mental Illness Costing Military Soldiers

The number of soldiers forced to leave the Army solely because of a mental disorder has increased by 64% from 2005 to 2009 and accounts for one in nine medical discharges, according to Army statistics. Last year, 1,224 soldiers with a mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, received a medical discharge. That was an increase from 745 soldiers in 2005. The trend matches other recent indicators that show a growing emotional toll on a military that has been fighting for seven years in Iraq and nine years in Afghanistan, the Army and veterans advocates say. Soldiers discharged for having both a mental and a physical disability increased 174% during the past five years from 1,397 in 2005 to 3,831 in 2009, according to the statistics.

Officials Rule out Foul Play in Arizona Dam Break

Officials in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe are ruling out foul play after a tear in a rubberized dam sent millions of gallons of water spilling from a man-made lake. Tempe City Manager Charlie Meyer said Wednesday that police determined there’s no criminal activity involved in the failure of the dam at Tempe Town Lake. A 16-foot-high section of dam broke Tuesday night, sending a wall of water gushing downstream into the normally dry Salt River. There were no immediate reports of injuries and authorities said no structures were in danger. The lake will likely be closed until the fall as the city makes repairs and replaces the dam while the lake is empty.

Mother-to-Infant HIV Spread could be Prevented

Approximately 400,000 infants still get HIV/AIDS from their mothers each year despite the availability of drugs that can block “nearly all” mother-to-child transmission, researchers reported Tuesday. Giving mothers and newborns potent anti-HIV drugs has all but eliminated mother-to-infant HIV transmission in the USA and developed countries. The World Health Organization also says that HIV-infected women can safely breastfeed without transmitting HIV to their newborns as long as they or their infants take antiviral medication. Virtual elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV by 2015 is possible,” Paul De Lay, deputy director of the United Nations Joint AIDS Programme, said in a statement at the 18 International AIDS Conference in Vienna. Worldwide, 355,000 children with HIV were able to obtain life-saving HIV drug treatment by the end of 2009, up from 276,000 in 2008, but many more lives could be saved if more infants started on medication earlier, the WHO says.

States Get Set to Resume Unemployment Benefits

State unemployment agencies are gearing up to resume sending unemployment payments to millions of people as Congress moves to ship President Obama a measure to restore lapsed benefits. After months of increasingly bitter stalemate, the Senate passed the measure Wednesday by a 59-39 vote. Obama is poised to sign the measure into law after a final House vote scheduled for Thursday. It’s a welcome relief to 2½ million people who have been out of work for six months or more and have seen their benefits lapse. They can expect retroactive payments as early as next week in some states. In other states, it will take longer, possibly as long as six weeks. Economists say the measure will likely have a modest beneficial effect on the economy. It represents less than one-quarter of 1% of the size of the $14.6 trillion economy and is far smaller than last year’s $862 billion stimulus legislation.

Bernanke Urges Congress to Renew Bush Tax Cuts

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dropped a major bombshell on Democrats seeking massive new revenues to narrow the deficit, announcing Thursday that he favors preserving the Bush administration tax cuts to help a faltering U.S. economy. “In the short term I would believe that we ought to maintain a reasonable degree of fiscal support, stimulus for the economy,” Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee. “There are many ways to do that. This is one way.” Bernanke’s statement put him directly at odds with White House officials and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who favor raising taxes on wealthy Americans by letting the tax cuts the Bush administration passed in 2001 and 2003 expire.

Economic News

The Treasury Department says it will sell 1.5 billion shares of Citigroup stock over the next two months, the latest effort to recoup money from the government’s $700 billion financial bailout. The government has already sold 2.6 billion shares for $10.5 billion. Citigroup received $45 billion in taxpayer support in one of the largest bank rescues by the government. Of the $45 billion, $25 billion was converted to a government-ownership stake. The government is now selling that off. The bank repaid the other $20 billion last December.

Increased housing commitments swelled U.S. taxpayers’ total support for the financial system by $700 billion in the past year to around $3.7 trillion, a government watchdog said on Wednesday. The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program said the increase was due largely to the government’s pledges to supply capital to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and to guarantee more mortgages to the support the housing market. the current outstanding balance of overall Federal support for the nation’s financial system … has actually increased more than 23% over the past year, from approximately $3.0 trillion to $3.7 trillion — the equivalent of a fully deployed TARP program — largely without congressional action. So far, TARP has cost $45,000 for every man, woman and child in America, according to the August Review.

New jobless claims in the U.S. jumped last week by the most since February, reversing a sharp fall two weeks ago. The rise is partly a result of seasonal factors but also reflects the job market’s weakness. The Labor Department says new claims for unemployment insurance jumped by 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 464,000. Requests for unemployment insurance have been stuck near 450,000 since the beginning of the year, after falling steadily from a peak of 651,000 in March 2009. In a healthy economy with rapid hiring, claims usually fall below 400,000.

Mortgage rates fell to a record low for the fourth time in five weeks. But low rates haven’t been enough to lift a struggling housing market. The average rate for 30-year fixed loans this week was 4.56%, down from 4.57% last week. That’s the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking rates in 1971. However, low rates have yet to spark home sales and refinancing activity remains moderate.

Iran

For months, top U.S. military leaders have accused Iran of supplying weapons and training to Taliban fighters battling American and Afghan troops. What should be done about it is in debate. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander in Afghanistan, said shortly before he resigned last month that there is clear evidence that Iran is arming and training the Taliban. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in March that the Iranians were playing a “double game” inside Afghanistan by striving for good relations with Kabul while undermining the U.S. effort. Weeks later, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there was evidence that Iran was smuggling weapons into Afghanistan. The U.S. military has not made public evidence supporting its suspicions, but some analysts say that if the allegations are true, that means Iran and the Taliban are willing to work with a traditional religious Muslim rival to get the Americans.

  • These disclosures further make the case to sanction and even participate in the bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities

Afghanistan

An offensive on Kandahar City has been on hold as hundreds of servicemembers who are part of a U.S. surge ordered by President Obama arrive. Kandahar City is the birthplace of the Taliban, which took over Afghanistan in the 1990s. The clerics who headed the movement terrorized Afghans with harsh Islamic rule and gave safe haven to Osama bin Laden until they were ousted in the U.S.-led invasion of late 2001. The city of 400,000 people is second only to the capital, Kabul, in size. It is the hometown of the Taliban’s leader, Mohammed Omar, and a lair for Taliban forces fighting to return to power, the Pentagon says. On Wednesday, U.S. soldiers, along with troops from the Afghan national army and Afghan national police, set up a combat outpost in an orchard just outside the city. Troops encountered no resistance while heading in on MRAPs, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Armstrong, commander of the 2-508’s Bravo Company, part of the 82nd Airborne, said village leaders had been told the U.S. forces would be coming but not when.

Iraq

Four al-Qaeda-linked detainees have escaped from a Baghdad area prison that was handed over by the U.S. to Iraqi authorities a week ago. The four, awaiting trial on terrorism charges, escaped from the prison formerly known as Camp Cropper. The escape is a major embarrassment for Iraq, which took over control of the prison from U.S. forces on July 15. The handover of the facility marked a milestone for Iraq’s push to regain full sovereignty as the U.S. pulls out the last of its combat forces by the end of next month.

A rocket attack on Baghdad‘s heavily fortified Green Zone has killed three foreign security contractors. Another 15 people, including two Americans, were wounded when a rocket struck the area, home to the offices of the Iraqi government and the large U.S. Embassy. Insurgent attacks have tapered off since 2008 amid improving security, but Thursday’s attack is evidence of the insurgents’ enduring capability to stage attacks.

Pakistan

ASSIST News Service reports that two Christian brothers who were gunned down outside district courts Faisalabad on Monday have been laid to rest. A large number of Christians paid tribute to Rashid Emmanuel, 30, and his brother Sajid, 27, at the memorial service on Tuesday, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, in Faisalabad, and later at their burial on Tuesday. The brothers had been accused of distributing pamphlet containing derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad, a charge they both denied. According to Babar Sahotra of Christian Strategic Institute (CSI) Pakistan, the situation remained tense late on Monday night as rioters from both sides maintained their presence on the roads. He said the Catholic Church seemed to be acting at the behest of government “who wanted to ensure burial of Rashid and Sajid Emmanuel as quickly as possible.”

Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has broken diplomatic relations with neighboring Colombia, accusing the close U.S. ally of fabricating reports that Colombian rebels find safe haven inside Venezuela. Souring already poor relations even more, Chavez said Thursday that he was forced to sever ties because Colombian officials insist he has failed to move against leftist rebels who allegedly have taken shelter on Venezuelan territory. Neither Chavez nor his OAS ambassador directly responded to the Colombian challenge to let people visit the alleged camps.

Weather

A series of severe thunderstorms moved across Connecticut on Wednesday afternoon, knocking down trees and utility wires and blowing out windows There were no immediate reports of serious injuries. A tornado warning was issued for Litchfield, Hartford and New Haven counties during the afternoon and there were unconfirmed reports of a tornado in Litchfield County. A gas station collapsed on Route 6 in Bristol, and merchants in that town cleaning up glass from some blown out windows.

A search continues in eastern Kentucky where flash flooding swept away a mobile home with a woman inside. The woman wasn’t found in the wreckage of her home. Torrential rains set off flash flooding on Wednesday in central and eastern Kentucky. Officials rescued people from flooded vehicles in Lexington and the roof of an electronics supplier collapsed from heavy rain.

Two people were killed as Typhoon Chanthu made landfall in southern China’s Guangdong province, sending debris flying through the air and bringing rain that could aggravate the country’s worst floods in a decade. Winds, which reached 78 miles per hour at the storm’s center, knocked over a wall in Guangdong’s Wuchuan city, killing two people. By Friday morning, the storm had moved north to Nanning, the capital of the Guangxi region and been downgraded to a tropical storm. Chanthu comes as China grapples with severe flooding that has left more than 701 people dead and 347 missing so far this year,.

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