Friday December 15, 2017
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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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US to begin Jerusalem Embassy move preparations: Tillerson

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Photo: wikimedia commons

Washington, Dec 7. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has stated that the State Department will “immediately” act on President Donald Trump’s order and start preparations to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Earlier on Wednesday, Trump announced in a televised speech that he officially recognises Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and instructed the State Department to relocate the US embassy to the city, reports Xinhua news agency. (Read: Trump to Announce US Recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli Capital, Move Embassy)

Tillerson, who is on a Europe visit, said in a statement on Wednesday night that the US has consulted with “many friends, partners and allies” about the relocation ahead of Trump’s decision.

Though hailed by Israel, Trump’s announcement immediately drew strong opposition and widespread criticism from Arab and European countries that such a move would inflame tensions and fuel violence in the Middle East.

Tillerson said that the US had taken measures to protect Americans in the region.

“The safety of Americans is the State Department’s highest priority, and in concert with other federal agencies, we’ve implemented robust security plans to protect the safety of Americans in affected regions.”

Trump’s announcement marked a dramatic departure from his predecessors’ foreign policy.

Although the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 which required the relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, former Presidents, including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, consistently renewed a presidential waiver to delay the relocation out of consideration for national security interests.

The status of Jerusalem, revered by Muslims as the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest site by Jews, lies at the core of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

The international community does not recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and no foreign countries have their embassies in the city.(IANS)

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Sulabh International unveils World’s biggest Toilet Pot model

The NGO gave 95 new household toilets to the residents of the village.

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Sulabh launched biggest pot toilet models
Sulabh International in working towards improving sanitation. Wikimedia Commons

Sulabh International on Sunday launched the “world’s biggest” toilet pot model in Haryana’s Marora village — popularly known as ‘Trump village’ — on the occasion of World Toilet Day.

As per a release by the non-profit, the mega Indian-style pot, made of iron, fibre, wood and plaster of Paris, measuring 20×10 feet, was unveiled to create awareness about the use of toilets in the village dedicated to US President Donald Trump.

Sanitation expert and founder of Sulabh International, Bindeshwar Pathak, also dedicated 95 new household toilets to the residents of the village.

“This large pot replica will be shifted to Delhi’s Sulabh Toilet Museum,” the release quoted Pathak as saying.

He said the idea behind naming a village after Trump was to highlight the issue of sanitation and cleanliness globally.

Puneet Ahluwalia, a member of the ruling Republican Party in the US, said that such an initiative would go a long way to motivate masses towards cleanliness and safe sanitation. (IANS)

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Exposed! Paradise Papers reveal Tax-haven Secrets of the Super-rich! Even Queen Elizabeth II hasn’t been spared!

The publication of this investigation for which more than 380 journalists have spent a year combing through data that stretches back 70 years comes at a time of growing global income inequality.

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paradise papers
Paradise Papers expose tax haven secrets of ultra-wealthy, including Queen Elizabeth. The details come from a leak of 13.4 million files that expose the global environments in which tax abuses can thrive - and the complex and seemingly artificial ways the wealthiest corporations can legally protect their wealth. VOA

London, November 6, 2017 : A huge new leak of financial documents has revealed how the powerful and ultra-wealthy including Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II’s private estate secretly invest vast amounts of cash in different offshore tax havens, media reports said on Monday.

The details come from a leak of 13.4 million files in the Paradise Papers on Sunday that expose the global environments in which tax abuses can thrive – and the complex and seemingly artificial ways the wealthiest corporations can legally protect their wealth.

The material which has come from two offshore service providers and the company registries of 19 tax havens was obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) with 100 other media organisations including the Guardian, the BBC and The New York Times.

Some of the revelations in the Paradise Papers include millions of pounds from Queen Elizabeth II’s private estate that has been invested in a Cayman Islands fund and some of her money that went to a retailer accused of exploiting poor families and vulnerable people.

Paradise Papers detail extensive offshore dealings by US President Donald Trump’s cabinet members advisers and donors including substantial payments from a firm co-owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law to the shipping group of the US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

The leak shows how social media giants Twitter and Facebook received millions in investments that can be traced back to Russian state financial institutions along with aggressive tax avoidance by multinational corporations including Nike and Apple.

It also includes information about a tax-avoiding Cayman Islands trust managed by the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief wealth manager.

The leak also includes how some of the biggest names in the film and TV industries protect their wealth with an array of offshore schemes and the complex offshore webs used by two Russian billionaires to buy stakes in Arsenal and Everton football clubs.

The disclosures will put pressure on world leaders including Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May who have both pledged to curb aggressive tax avoidance schemes.

The publication of this investigation for which more than 380 journalists have spent a year combing through data that stretches back 70 years comes at a time of growing global income inequality.

Offshore finance is about a place outside of one’s own nation’s regulations to which companies or individuals can reroute money assets or profits to take advantage of lower taxes reports the BBC.

These jurisdictions are known as tax havens to the layman or the more stately offshore financial centres (OFCs) to the industry. They are generally stable secretive and reliable often small islands but not exclusively so and can vary on how rigorously they carry out checks on wrongdoing. (IANS)