Saturday, April 27, 2024

News of Mass Graves Isn’t Much News to US Outlets

The bodies of over 300 people were discovered in a mass grave at the Nasser medical complex in Khan Younis, a Gaza city besieged by Israeli forces. The discovery of these Palestinian bodies, many of which were reportedly bound and stripped, is more evidence of "plausible" genocide committed by Israel during its bombardment of Gaza. Over 34,000 Palestinians have died thus far, with more than two-thirds of the casualties being women and children (Al Jazeera, 4/21/24).

Liberal Justices Grill Attorney in Supreme Court Case on Criminalizing Homelessness

"Where are they supposed to sleep? Are they supposed to kill themselves not sleeping?" asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor of unhoused people who have been barred from sleeping outside in Grants Pass, Oregon.

As housing rights advocates and people who have been unhoused themselves rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court Monday to demand an end to the criminalization of homelessness, the court's three liberal justices demanded to know how the city of Grants Pass, Oregon can penalize residents who take part in an act necessary for human survival—sleeping—just because they are forced to do so outside.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The student movement for Palestine intensifies struggle with wave of university encampments

by Natalia Marques 

After Columbia students launched their Gaza Solidarity Encampment, students across the US joined the call to stand in solidarity with Palestine
The Columbia Gaza Solidarity Encampment entered its seventh day on April 23. In the early hours of the morning, students woke up to the sound of three helicopters of major news outlets flying above where they had set up their tents on the campus’s Butler Lawn. 

Columbia Faculty Walk Out Over Student Suspensions, Arrests for Gaza Protests

While expressing gratitude for solidarity actions, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar—whose daughter was suspended—said that "this about the genocide in Gaza and the attention has to remain on that."

Over 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by U.S.-backed Israeli troops, and Columbia University students have been suspended and arrested by New York Police Department officers in recent days for protesting the slaughter—which led to a walkout by the Ivy League institution's faculty on Monday.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Ohio House holds first hearing for new nitrogen gas death penalty method

By Nick Evans

House lawmakers have begun hearings on a controversial new execution method known as nitrogen hypoxia. The protocol, used in Alabama for the first time recently, subjects a prisoner to a high concentration of nitrogen which causes them to eventually suffocate. Right now, four states explicitly allow nitrogen hypoxia and four other allow for “lethal gas” generally. Outside of Ohio, Nebraska lawmakers are considering the approach as well.

In its initial hearing, Reps. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, and Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, presented the proposal as procedural update rather than a wholesale change. Currently there are almost 200 people on death row in Ohio, but executions have been on hold since 2018.

Juvenile sentencing bill in Tennessee House sparks constitutional questions

Kids as young as 14 could get up to five years in prison on top of juvenile sentences without a jury trial

A get-tough-on-juvenile-crime bill is raising concerns among Tennessee juvenile judges, advocates and attorneys, who call portions of the measure “likely unconstitutional.”

The House bill from Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton of Crossville could stack up to five years in adult prison on top of a juvenile sentence for kids as young as 14 who have committed serious crimes.

A separate component of the bill would require juvenile court judges to automatically transfer 16- and 17- year olds facing charges of first and second degree murder, or attempted murder, to adult court.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Iran Launches Drone Attack Against Israel Over Consulate Bombing

By Jessica Corbett

"Netanyahu will use it as the pretext for another provocation, because he's bent on starting this war," one writer predicted.

Iran on Saturday launched several drones and missiles toward Israel in retaliation for the nation's deadly bombing of the Iranian consulate in Syria earlier this month.

According to CNN, this statement from Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps was read on Iranian state-owned Press TV: "In response to the Zionist regime's crime in attacking the consular section of the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, the IRGC's air force hit certain targets in the territories of the Zionist regime with dozens of drones and missiles."

'We Cannot Let the Warmongers Win': US Progressives Reject Calls for Attack on Iran

By Jake Johnson

Progressives in the U.S. Congress on Sunday urged the Biden administration to resist calls for an attack on Iran following the country's retaliation against Israel for the deadly bombing of Tehran's consulate in Syria earlier this month.

Senate clears gallery, passes bill to arm Tennessee teachers

Minutes after clearing the gallery of people opposed to pro-gun legislation, the Senate passed a bill Tuesday allowing teachers to go armed at school.

The bill’s passage came a little more than a year after six people, including three 9-year-olds, were killed in a mass shooting at The Covenant School, a private Christian facility in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville.

Will SC have a Supreme Court of all white men or will legislators push to diversify?


COLUMBIA — South Carolina lawmakers could make moves to diversify the state Supreme Court. Or it could become the only all-male, all-white high court in the nation through at least 2028, the next time an opening is expected.

Three female judges — including two women of color — are among six candidates vying to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Chief Justice Don Beatty, the only Black justice on the state’s high court. The other three candidates are white men.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

DeSantis OKs bills halting police civilian oversight, stopping bystanders from getting close


Gov. Ron DeSantis signed two bills Friday morning that would prohibit civilian oversight boards from investigating police misconduct and stop people from getting too close to first responders doing their jobs.

The governor received both bills (HB 601 and SB 184) on Wednesday and held the signing ceremony on Friday in the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office in St. Augustine. During the ceremony, DeSantis portrayed the bills as efforts to protect law enforcement officers from people who wanted to abuse them publicly.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Students for Justice in Palestine files civil rights complaint against UNC-Chapel Hill

UNC-Chapel Hill is facing a federal complaint filed on behalf of students and faculty members who say the university has systematically discriminated against Palestinian students and their allies in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and subsequent Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Palestine Legal filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice April 5, on behalf of graduate student Kylie Broderick and professor Elyse Crystall, a member and faculty advisor to Students for Justice in Palestine respectively. In a letter and 95-page collection of exhibits, the group outlines what it says is preferential treatment of Israeli students and their allies and targeting of pro-Palestine students and groups from the attack late last year, through campus protests around the conflict and continuing to the current day.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

DeSantis signs tougher penalties for retail theft, ‘porch piracy,’ into law


Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Wednesday boosting penalties for retail theft, including sanctions for “porch pirates” who steal deliveries from outside people’s homes.

The governor’s office pointed to reports from retailers estimating losses as $112 billion during 2022, with hot spots in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.

Senate committee advances changes to juvenile law reform measure

By William Ford

A Senate panel recommended several changes Wednesday to resolve differences on separate juvenile justice reform bills that have been moving through the General Assembly.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee advanced House Bill 814 to the full Senate with a few provisions that coincide with the Senate version of the legislation — including that children ages 10 to 12 could be sent to juvenile court if charged for a third-degree sex offense, aggravated animal cruelty and certain firearm offenses.

Louisiana might tap into state savings to build more juvenile correctional facilities

Louisiana legislative leaders are giving thought to withdrawing money from a state savings account to build and refurbish juvenile justice facilities around the state. 

Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, filed legislation this week to allow lawmakers to withdraw up to $400 million from Louisiana’s Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund before July 1, 2025. Juvenile justice campuses would be prioritized if they tap into the money, said House Speaker Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, and state Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro.

Monday, April 8, 2024

World Marks Six Months of 'Relentless Death and Destruction' in Gaza

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated his call for an "immediate humanitarian cease-fire, the unconditional release of all hostages, the protection of civilians, and the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid."

 Peace and human rights advocates on Sunday renewed calls for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and an increase in lifesaving  humanitarian aid for its starving people as the embattled enclave  marked six months since the start of Israel's genocidal retaliation  for the October 7 attacks.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Louisiana lawmakers want Ten Commandments in all public school classrooms

By Greg LaRose 

Louisiana public schools would be required to display the Ten Commandments under legislation that advanced Thursday from committee, despite a limited history of such displays passing muster with the U.S. Constitution.  

Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haugton, and Sen. Adam Bass, R-Bossier City, co-authors of House Bill 71, told members of the House Committee on Education they believe their proposed law would survive court challenges. 

Efforts to set similar requirements in other states have not succeeded, with lawmakers in Texas and South Carolina falling short last year. A comparable bill is under consideration in Arizona. The chief obstacle to such proposals has been the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits any law and government action from standing up an official state religion.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2022 has given new hope to those who want the Ten Commandments publicly displayed. In the case Kennedy v. Bremerton, justices ruled in favor of a Washington state high school football coach who was fired for praying at midfield and allowing students to join him after football games. Joseph Kennedy was reinstated after conservative justices prevailed in a 6-3 decision, saying the post game prayers do not amount to a school endorsement of Christianity. 

Mississippi attorney Ronald Hackenberg, who accompanied Bass and Horton at the committee meeting, said the Kennedy ruling benefited from justices disregarding standards that have been applied since the 1971 case Lemon v. Kurtzman. Known as the Lemon test, the principles are used to determine whether a law or government violates the First Amendment.

In the Kennedy case, the justices looked at the history of rulings regarding the Establishment Clause and interpreted the intent of the Constitution’s authors rather than rely on the Lemon test, Hackenberg said.

“Both Representative Horton and I believe it will withstand legal and judicial scrutiny, as well as this bill is the first of its kind since the fall of the Lemon law [sic]. We hope it will serve as an example to the rest of the country,” Bass said.

Hackenberg told the committee he was affiliated with the Pacific Justice Institute. The organization has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-LGBTQ+ stances. Its founder, Brad Dacus, has claimed gay marriage leads to polygamy and incest, among other falsehoods. 

What is the Lemon test?

The U.S. Supreme Court has traditionally used a three-part test to determine whether a law or government agency oversteps the First Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of a state religion. The standards, known as the Lemon test, say government can assist religion only if:

  1. the primary purpose of the assistance is secular; 
  2. the assistance must neither promote nor inhibit religion; and 
  3. there is no excessive entanglement between church and state.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana opposes House Bill 71. Its advocacy strategist A’Niya Robinson said in an interview that specifics of the Kennedy case aren’t applicable to the legislation being considered. The coach’s prayer after games fell outside his responsibilities as a school employee, and students weren’t required to participate, she explained.

The Horton-Bass proposal would place students, who are compelled to attend school, in a difficult position as a captive audience forced to consume Christian doctrine, according to Robinson. Public schools also offer students access to religious concepts and teachings through world religion and certain social studies courses, she said. In addition, books of faith are available at school libraries, and students are free to engage in religious activities through extracurricular groups.

“One of the things that the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they came up with the First Amendment was that religious freedom only flourishes if people have breathing room to decide what religious beliefs, if any, that they want to follow,” Robinson said.

The education committee voted 10-3 to send Horton’s bill to the full House. Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, cast one of the no votes, having questioned whether the Ten Commandments was representative of all faiths. Rep. Sylvia Taylor, D-Reserve, joined nine Republicans in support of the bill. 

This is Horton’s second foray into required displays linked to religion. Last year, she and Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, received approval for a bill to put “In God We Trust” signs in every classroom, and Gov. John Bel Edwards signed it into law.

Like that proposal, the Ten Commandments would have to be displayed on a poster or framed document that is at least 11 by 14 inches and “be printed in a large, easily readable font.”

The specific verbiage for displaying the commandments is spelled House Bill 71. It allows, but doesn’t require, schools and their management boards to spend their own money on the displays or accepted donated versions.

This article originally appeared in the Louisiana Illuminator on April 4th, 2024

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