Another public cross bites the dust

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has, in a 2-1 decision, overturned a federal district court opinion that a big cross on public land in Maryland did not violate the Establishment Clause. The cross is 40 ft high and was erected in 1925 in memory of soldiers who died in World War I. The case was brought by the American Humanist Association, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the Center for Inquiry. You can read the opinion here.
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Important court ruling on tax benefits for clergy

Among the many tax benefits that religious clergy get is that any housing allowance that they are given is exempt from taxes. But if they buy a house and then use that allowance to pay the mortgage they can then, like the rest of us, deduct that mortgage interest from any taxable income that they might have. This is a form of double dipping.
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I did not know this

As the Republicans in Congress and Donald Trump try to round up 50 votes to pass the Graham-Cassidy health care denying bill in opposition to pretty much everyone except themselves and their most rabid supporters, they are trying to bribe those senators who are as yet reluctant to support it, such as Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski, by carving out special provisions for that state that would make it more palatable to her.
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Edith Windsor, victor over DOMA, has died

She died at the age of 88. In 2007 Windsor had married her partner Thea Clara Spyer in Canada, where such marriages were legal, after being together for 40 years. They moved to the US later and Spyer died in 2009 but DOMA prevented Windsor from claiming the federal tax exemption for inheritances that are available to spouses. So she sued to overturn DOMA. Her case United States v. Windsor, that she won 5-4 in the US Supreme Court in 2013, helped pave the way for same-sex marriages becoming legalized two years later. The court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that, among other things, denied federal tax benefits to lawfully married same-sex couples, was unconstitutional.
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Prayer at school board meetings

Back in 1983, the US Supreme Court ruled in the case Marsh v. Chambers that the practice of ceremonial opening prayers of the Nebraska state legislature was constitutional. In his strong and cogently argued dissent, justice William Brennan warned that allowing any ceremonial prayer at all, whatever the constraints imposed, would result in the Supreme Court getting involved in endless disputations about what kind of prayer and settings should be allowable and what should be disallowed.
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Mobs rampage in support of Indian religious rapist

It is not just in America or in the Catholic church that we find religious people exploiting the trust people place in them and indulging in sexual abuse. This happens frequently among Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim religious figures as well, though not reported as widely here. Just today in India, supporters of a flamboyant Indian ‘holy man’ Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh went on a rampage after he was convicted of a 2002 rape. At least thirty people have been killed and over 250 injured.
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Satanist to give city council invocation

Following the US Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in the case Greece v. Galloway that ceremonial opening prayers were permissible at meetings of local government bodies provided that there was no consistent pattern of discrimination in favor of or against one sect, a Satanist will be giving the invocation at tomorrow’s meeting of the Grand Junction City Council meeting in Colorado.
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Abusing the ‘qualified immunity’ provision to terrorize ordinary people

One of the truths of law enforcement is that if you give police extra powers that are supposed to be invoked only in extreme situations, they will find ways to use those powers more routinely, either to enrich themselves (as we have seen with civil asset forfeiture) or to show off their power and might, as we seen with the use of surplus military style equipment that has been distributed to local police departments. SWAT team that are supposed to be used in extremely dangerous situations are instead used indiscriminately because police love the drama and visibility of SWAT raids. It looks good on the nightly news.
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