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With US President Donald Trump Pick Aboard, Top US Court Tackles Religious Rights

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President Donald Trump watches as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy administers the judicial oath to Judge Neil Gorsuch during a re-enactment in the Rose Garden of the White House White House in Washington, April 10, 2017. VOA

The U.S. Supreme Court is set this week to hear a closely watched case testing the limits of religious rights, and new Justice Neil Gorsuch’s judicial record indicates he could tip the court toward siding with a church challenging Missouri’s ban on state funding of religious entities.

Trinity Lutheran Church, which is located in Columbia, Missouri and runs a preschool and daycare center, said Missouri unlawfully excluded it from a grant program providing state funds to nonprofit groups to buy rubber playground surfaces.

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Missouri’s constitution prohibits “any church, sect or denomination of religion” from receiving state taxpayer money.

Gorsuch, who embraced an expansive view of religious rights as a Colorado-based federal appeals court judge, on Monday hears his first arguments since becoming a justice last week. He will be on the bench on Wednesday when the justices hear the Trinity Lutheran case, one of the most important of their current term. Gorsuch, appointed by President Donald Trump, restored the Supreme Court’s 5-4 conservative majority.

Trinity Lutheran wanted public funds to replace its playground’s gravel with a rubber surface made from recycled tires that would be safer for children to play on.

The U.S. Constitution calls for a separation of church and state and guarantees the free exercise of religion.

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At the very least, a victory for Trinity Lutheran would help religious organizations nationwide win public dollars for certain purposes, such as health and safety.

But it also could bolster the case for using public money for vouchers to help pay for children to attend religious schools rather than public schools in “school choice” programs backed by many conservatives. For example, Colorado’s top court in 2015 found that a Douglas County voucher program violated a state constitutional provision similar to Missouri’s.

Trinity Lutheran’s legal effort is being spearheaded by the Alliance Defending Freedom conservative Christian legal activist group, which argues Missouri’s policy violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of free exercise of religion and equal protection under the law.

If the church wins, “religious organizations cannot be excluded from general public welfare benefits that apply to everybody,” said Erik Stanley, an alliance lawyer representing the church.

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Referring to Gorsuch, Stanley said, “He has definitely been a friend of religious liberty. So we are hopeful that will continue when he’s on the court, and we’re grateful he gets to participate on this important case.”

In 2013, Gorsuch sided with the evangelical Christian owners of arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby and allowed owners of private companies to object on religious grounds to a provision in federal healthcare law requiring employers to provide medical insurance that pays for women’s birth control.

Gorsuch wrote in a concurring opinion that Hobby Lobby’s owners faced a choice “between exercising their faith or saving their business.” The Supreme Court later affirmed the ruling.

Missouri said there is nothing unconstitutional about its grant program.

“Trinity Lutheran remains free, without any public subsidy, to worship, teach, pray and practice any other aspect of its faith however it wishes. The state merely declines to offer financial support,” the state said in legal papers.

The church has drawn support from the religious community including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Mormon Church and Jewish groups.

‘Open the floodgates’

Groups filing legal papers opposing Trinity Lutheran, including the American Civil Liberties Union, said government funding of churches is precisely what the Constitution forbids.

“Forcing states to provide cash to build church property could open the floodgates to programs that coerce taxpayers to underwrite religion,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU’s program on freedom of religion and belief.

Mach said three-quarters of the U.S. states have provisions like Missouri’s.

Alliance Defending Freedom, which also opposes gay marriage, transgender protections and abortion, has another major case involving religion that the Supreme Court could take up in its term beginning in October. It represents a Colorado bakery’s Christian owner who argues the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom means he should not have to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.

Trinity Lutheran sued in federal court in 2012. The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2015 upheld a trial court’s dismissal of the suit. The appeals court said

accepting the church’s arguments would be “unprecedented,” noting the Supreme Court’s 2004 decision in the case Locke v. Davey that upheld a bar on Washington state scholarships for students preparing for the ministry.

The justice who Gorsuch replaced, the late fellow conservative Antonin Scalia, was one of two dissenters in the Locke ruling. When a state withholds a generally available benefit solely on religious grounds, it is like an unconstitutional “special tax” on religion, Scalia said.

Judicial observers have described Gorsuch as very much in the mold of Scalia.

Missouri’s grant program was meant to keep tires out of landfills while also fostering children’s safety. The church’s brief to the high court stated, “A rubber playground surface accomplishes the state’s purposes whether it cushions the fall of the pious or the profane.” (VOA)

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Trump Endorses Short-Term Bipartisan Fix For Obama Care

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Washington, October 18: US President Donald Trump on Wednesday expressed support for a bipartisan initiative to restore the Obama Care subsidies he suspended last week.

“We have been involved and this is a short-term deal because we think ultimately block grants going to the states is going to be the answer,” Trump told reporters at the White House, Efe news reported.

Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wa.) announced on Tuesday an accord “in principle” to re-instate for two years the cost-sharing reduction payments, known as CSRs, that Trump halted last week.

The proposal would at the same time give states “more flexibility in the variety of choices they can give to consumers”, Alexander said.

Alexander, the chair of the Senate Health Committee, received encouragement from the President last weekend for his attempt to find common ground with the Democrats.

“Lamar has been working very, very hard with … his colleagues on the other side, and, Patty Murray is one of them in particular, and they’re coming up, and they’re fairly close to a short-term solution. The solution will be for about a year or two years, and it will get us over this intermediate hump,” Trump said on Tuesday.

Trump signed an executive order last Thursday loosening some of the requirements set down for health insurance plans by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the signature domestic policy initiative of his predecessor Barack Obama.

He signed another directive terminating the CSR payments late Thursday night.

The President, who vowed to repeal and replace the ACA – popularly known as ObamaCare – has grown frustrated by the failure of the Republican-controlled Congress to pass a bill undoing the 2010 legislation.

“This takes care of the next two years,” Alexander said of his and Murray’s proposal. “After that, we can have a full-fledged debate on where we go long-term on health care.”

Murray, meanwhile, said that the plan would protect people from sharp increases in premiums resulting from Trump’s decision to end the CSR payments.

“Overall we are very pleased with this agreement,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said, praising the deal for including “anti-sabotage provisions” to prevent the administration from undermining the ACA.

The Republican lawmakers were reluctant to comment on the Alexander-Murray accord.

“We haven’t had a chance to think about the way forward yet,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after meeting with his Republican colleagues.

Despite his encouraging words for Alexander, Trump kept up his criticism of the ACA.

“Obama Care is virtually dead. At best you could say it’s in its final legs. The premiums are going through the roof. The deductibles are so high that people don’t get to use it. Obama Care is a disgrace to our nation and we are solving the problem of Obama Care,” he said. (IANS)

 

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Donald Trump Expands Travel Ban, Restricts Visitors from 8 Countries

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President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before boarding Air Force One at Morristown,Municipal airportN.J. (source: VOA)

Washington, September 25:— The revised US travel ban will restrict travellers from eight countries to visit the United States, says an order signed by President Donald Trump on Sunday. The new travel ban, which takes effect on, October 18, will restrict residents of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen.

According to the U.S. officials, these countries have refused to share information about terrorism and other issues with the United States.The new travel ban drops Sudan from the list but adds Chad, Venezuela and North Korea to the original six Muslim-majority countries.

The announcement late Sunday came as Trump’s previous temporary travel ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries was expiring, 90 days after it went into effect. The earlier order had barred citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S. unless they had a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

US President Donald Trump’s travel ban inflicts “Significant harm” on Muslim Americans

Reaction to the president’s order from human-rights organizations and other groups that work with immigrants was largely negative.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, said the latest version of the “Muslim ban” that Trump tried to introduce on taking office earlier this year as part of the administration’s “ugly white supremacist agenda.”

Trump said in the new proclamation: “As president, I must act to protect the security and interests of the United States and its people. The restrictions announced are tough and tailored, and they send a message to foreign governments that they must work with us to enhance security.”

Trump last week called for a “tougher” travel ban after a bomb partially exploded on a London subway.Trump last week called for a “tougher” travel ban after a bomb partially exploded on a London subway.

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US will Provide $32 Million to Rohingyas As Humanitarian Aid Package

The United States state department will provide a humanitarian aid package to the Rohingya Muslim minority who have fled violence in Myanmar and crossed into neighbouring Bangladesh

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The US will provide a humanitarian aid package worth $32 million to the Rohingya Muslim minority Source: Wikimedia Common

New York, September 21, 2017: The US will provide a humanitarian aid package worth $32 million to the Rohingya Muslim minority who have fled violence in Myanmar and crossed into neighbouring Bangladesh, the State Department announced.

The funding “reflects the US commitment to help address the unprecedented magnitude of suffering and urgent humanitarian needs of the Rohingya people,” said the State Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw on Wednesday at the ongoing UN General Assembly here.

He added that the US hoped its contribution would encourage other countries to provide more funding as well, reports CNN.

The aid package comes a day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke with Myanmar de facto leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi and “welcomed the Myanmar government’s commitment to end the violence in Rakhine state and to allow those displaced by the violence to return home,” according to the State Department.

Tillerson “urged the Myanmar government and military to facilitate humanitarian aid for displaced people in the affected areas, and to address deeply troubling allegations of human rights abuses and violations”.

The State Department also said the aid “will help provide emergency shelter, food security, nutritional assistance, health assistance, psychosocial support, water, sanitation and hygiene, livelihoods, social inclusion, non-food items, disaster and crisis risk reduction, restoring family links, and protection to the over 400,000 displaced persons”.

ALSO READ: Melbourne Sikhs join protests in Australia against Rohingya Muslims massacre.

Henshaw said Wednesday’s announcement brought the total US aid to Myanmar refugees, including Rohingya, to nearly $95 million in fiscal year 2017.

Some 415,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since the ongoing violence broke out on August 25 when Rohingya rebels attacked police checkposts in Rakhine resulting in the deaths os 12 security personnel, CNN reported.

Speaking at the UN Security Council on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence called on the world body “to take strong and swift action to bring this crisis” of violence against the Rohingya people in Myanmar to an end.

“The United States renews our call on Burma’s security forces to end their violence immediately and support diplomatic efforts for a long-term solution.

“President (Donald) Trump and I also call on this security council and the United Nations to take strong and swift action to bring this crisis to an end.”

Pence also spoke about how the violence in Myanmar is a perfect example of the kind of problem the UN should help solve. (IANS)