Compiled by SARA RATHOD ’15
Supreme Court to allow prayer in town meetings
A divided court ruled 5-4 in favor of allowing town boards to begin their sessions with sectarian prayer, a decision which both sides said could signal a major shift in the role of religion in the public sphere. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, stated that prayers can serve as a ceremonial mark of solemnity and have long tradition in legislatures dating back to the nation’s founding. “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “Legislative bodies do not engage in impermissible coercion merely by exposing constituents to prayer they would rather not hear and in which they need not participate.” The plaintiffs, Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and Linda Stephens, an atheist, contended that only Christians were delivering the prayers at their local town hall meetings, excluding people of other religious beliefs. Writing the court’s dissent, Justice Elena Kagan argued that opening government meetings month after month with a prayer “steeped in only one faith” violates the separation of church and state and relegates non-Christians to the status of second-class citizens. “In my view, that practice does not square with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government,” she wrote. The decision could affect other public gatherings, such as school board meetings, in the future.
Clippers owner Donald Sterling banned from the NBA for life
Last week, the National Basketball Association (NBA) issued a lifetime ban to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in light of racist comments that he made to his girlfriend, which were released in an audio recording. According to Commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA will try to force Sterling to sell the Clippers. Silver expects to easily garner the three-quarters necessary approval from other team owners. “We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views,” he stated. “They simply have no place in the NBA.” Sterling is quoted as telling his girlfriend not to associate with black people in public and condemning her for posting photos online in which she is seen next to African American men, including Hall of Fame star Magic Johnson. The Clippers team announced their support for the NBA’s decision and staged their own silent protest of Sterling’s statements, wearing their jerseys inside-out to hide the logo. Sterling was also fined $2.5 million, the largest that the NBA bylaws will allow, though this still represents only a fraction of his total wealth, which stands at an estimated $1.9 billion. Despite the national backlash against his behavior, Sterling has reportedly been contacting law firms, preparing to fight to maintain ownership of his team.
United States to aid in finding over 200 girls kidnapped in Nigeria
An estimated 276 teenage girls were abducted from their boarding school in Nigeria over three weeks ago by the terrorist organization Boko Haram, considered the top security threat in the nation. The group, whose name translates to “Western education is sinful,” has threatened to sell the girls into forced marriages. In a video message claiming responsibility for the kidnapping, leader Abubakar Shekau called the girls “slaves” and said that Boko Haram would marry off even those captives as young as nine years old. The kidnapping sparked a nationwide outcry for the Nigerian government to take action, although so far the government has been unable to return the girls. Protesters across the world have since taken to social media to urge an immediate rescue. They also denounced the scant coverage devoted to the abduction in international media during the first two weeks after the girls were taken. In the wake of the mounting public uproar, Secretary of State John Kerry has pledged the U.S. government’s support in finding and returning the girls to their families, stating, “We will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and hold the perpetrators to justice.” At least 53 have managed to escape, leaving over 200 who remain in the hands of their captors.
Escalation of tensions and violence pit pro-Russian separatists against Ukrainian armed forces
Ukrainian security forces attempted to overtake the rebel-controlled city of Slovyansk, leading to a violent battle in which 10 rebels and four soldiers were killed and many more were left injured. Among the civilian casualties was a woman who was shot dead while standing on her balcony which overlooked the scene of the firefight. Government forces managed to gain control of one security checkpoint at Rybkhoz. However, anti-government protesters are still occupying the city and have erected roadblocks of burning tires and fallen trees to curb another military advances. In the meantime, Ukrainian security forces have set up their own checkpoints in preparation for any fighting that may erupt on Friday during a holiday that celebrates the victory over the Nazis in World War II. The battle in Slovyansk was part of the Ukrainian military’s larger effort to dislodge the pro-Russian separatists who have taken over government buildings in nearly a dozen cities and towns across the country. The unrest made its way to the southern city of Odessa on Friday, where riots led to a fire in a government building which killed 40 people. Tensions in the city have remained high ever since, and the spread of violence has called into question the Ukrainian government’s ability to control the widespread protests.