Sunday, October 19, 2014

In The News:

Pastor Khanh Huynh, who leads the Vietnamese Baptist Church in Houston, is taking in stride the subpoena filed by his city’s mayor, lesbian Annise Parker, to obtain copies of his sermons and other communications with his congregation.

After all, he’s seen such tactics before.
Khanh lived under the communist regime in Vietnam before participating in the great boatlift of Vietnamese people who fled oppression in the Southeast Asian nation after the fall of Saigon.
In an interview, he told WND he left Vietnam because of the repression and absence of freedom of religion, speech and association.
The “boat people” made it to Malaysia, but the nation had a policy of refusing the Vietnamese refugees, and a battleship towed the boat back out to open water. Before they reached Indonesia, six people aboard had died, he said.
He eventually worked with United Nations resettlement programs to reach the U.S.
“We could not express our freedom of religion and belief,” he told WND. “We paid … to come to our country (the U.S.), that recognizes human rights of speech and religion.”
The city’s subpoenas for sermons and communications regarding homosexuality or the mayor were issued to five pastors after opponents of the ordinance filed a lawsuit. The opponents had gathered what appeared to be enough signatures to force the council to repeal the ordinance, but the city attorney determined thousands of petition signatures were not valid. The lawsuit against the city’s maneuver followed.

The pastors were part of a coalition of Houston-area churches that opposed the law, but they were not part of the lawsuit.

WND reported the issue has provoked nationwide criticism of Houston officials.
City officials at first doubled down, with Parker stating, “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game.”
But the Washington Times reported Houston officials then said they would try to “narrow the scope” of their demands, a move ADF legal counsel Joe La Rue said was “wholly inadequate.”
Christiana Holcom, ADF litigation counsel, dismissed the idea that the city had in any way backed off.
“The shame that the city of Houston has brought upon itself is real, but the claim that it has changed course is not. The city has so far taken no concrete action to withdraw the subpoenas. Furthermore, the subpoenas themselves are the problem – not just their request for pastors’ sermons,” she said.

ADF Litigation Counsel Christiana Holcomb said the city’s subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is needless and unprecedented.
“The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions. Political and social commentary is not a crime; it is protected by the First Amendment,” she said.

FRC noted Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s office has filed a subpoena demanding that five pastors  who oppose the ordinance turn over sermons, emails, text messages and even communications with members of their congregations.
The petition says Parker “has breached the wall of separation between the state and the church.”
“This attack on religious freedom and the freedom of speech should be universally repudiated by all Americans who value our constitutional freedoms,” the petition says.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said the mayor “made it quite clear throughout the entire ‘bathroom bill’ debate that she’ll use her bully pulpit to bully pulpits across Houston.”
He said that despite reports, the mayor’s office has not withdrawn the subpoenas.
“The city may eventually backpedal on a narrow portion of the subpoena dealing with sermons, but are still demanding pastors’ emails and other private communications,” he said.
Perkins said pastors “not only have the right to speak to the moral issues of the day – but an obligation to do so.”
“The pulpit is to be governed only by the Word of God,” he said.
Officials on Friday said the city had refiled the subpoenas leaving out the demand for “sermons,” but ADF officials said the move accomplished nothing.

“The city of Houston still doesn’t get it. It thinks that by changing nothing in its subpoenas other than to remove the word ‘sermons’ that it has solved the problem. That solves nothing. Even though the pastors are not parties in this lawsuit, the subpoenas still demand from them 17 different categories of information – information that encompasses speeches made by the pastors and private communications with their church members. As we have stated many times, the problem is the subpoenas themselves; they must be rescinded entirely. The city must respect the First Amendment and abandon its illegitimate mission to invade the private communications of pastors for the purpose of strong-arming them into silence in a lawsuit that concerns nothing more than the authenticity of citizen petitions,” said ADF’s Erik Stanley.

Christiana Holcom, ADF litigation counsel, dismissed the notion that the city had in any way backed off the demands.
“The shame that the city of Houston has brought upon itself is real, but the claim that it has changed course is not. The city has so far taken no concrete action to withdraw the subpoenas. Furthermore, the subpoenas themselves are the problem – not just their request for pastors’ sermons,” she said.
“The city is not off the hook from its illegitimate request for emails, text messages, and other communications in which these pastors, who are not even party to this lawsuit, may have disagreed with the mayor. The way to fix this is to withdraw the subpoenas entirely. Otherwise, the city’s and the mayor’s overtures are simply more window-dressing intended to shield them from public scrutiny.”
Fox News commentator Todd Starnes, wrote: “We can no longer remain silent. We must stand together – because one day – the government might come for your pastor.”
Other commentators agreed.
“Furious with local pastors for leading the pushback [to the bathroom bill], Parker decided to get her revenge by ordering a Soviet-style crackdown on area churches,” an online statement said.
“In a story that’s spreading like wildfire, the mayor had the nerve to subpoena pastors for their sermons, text messages, photographs, electronic files, calendars, and emails – ‘all communications with members of your congregation’ on topics like homosexuality and gender identity.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has been loudly threatening to unilaterally petition the international community to recognize the State of Palestine and force an Israeli withdrawal, and upcoming changes on the UN Security Council might afford him the best opportunity in decades to do so.

Abbas wants the United Nations to officially recognize Palestinian sovereignty and independence outside the framework of a bilateral peace agreement with Israel, which looks to be increasingly out of reach.

He also wants the UN Security Council, the only UN body able to pass legally-binding decisions, to set a firm date for an Israeli withdrawal from all of Judea, Samaria and the eastern half of Jerusalem.

In January, the Security Council will be joined by five new non-permanent members - New Zealand, Spain, Angola, Malaysia and Venezuela. Of those, Malaysia and Venezuela would almost certainly support the Palestinian motion, and news over the weekend was that Spain had been successfully lobbied to do the same if and when the time comes.
New Zealand and Angola remained undecided on the issue, but neither nation has a track record of diplomat support for Israel vis-a-vis its conflict with the Arabs.
Usually, none of that would matter, because either the US, Britain or France - the other three permanent council members along with Russia and China - would simply veto any motion that posed a threat to Israel or regional stability.
But Britain’s parliament last week held a non-binding vote in which is supported recognition of a State of Palestine, and if mid-term congressional elections go badly for the Democrats in America, there is growing speculation that the Obama White House might seek some retribution against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by withholding the US veto on the Security Council.

That would leave only Paris to thwart the Palestinian scheme, which Israel could by no means count on considering France’s burgeoning and increasingly violent Muslim minority.
Even if this somewhat extreme scenario weren’t to play out, it is widely believed in Israel that the Obama Administration wouldn’t hesitate to use the threat of such a narrative to diplomatically strong-arm Jerusalem back to the negotiating table on Arab terms.

Israel can hardly be said to hold a balance of power with super-powerful Russia. But there are certain understandings in the eastern Mediterranean, where Israel remains a regional power, economically and militarily. And those understandings, carefully calibrated yet shifting during the course of the Syrian civil war, may have been rattled – despite the lack of official comment – by last week’s discovery of a Russian intelligence base in Tel el-Hara, Syria.

The Free Syrian Army revealed in an October 5 video that the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate’s OSNAC unit – its signals intelligence unit, much like the American NSA or Unit 8200 in Israel – had been operating from within a Syrian regime base near the border with Israel.

Russian troops had been collecting intelligence against Syrian rebels. This makes sense: Russia is deeply involved in the Syrian civil war and has often filled the role of international bodyguard for Bashar Assad. But the video also revealed that OSNAC officers had been collecting operational intelligence on Israel. This raises the question: To what extent has Russia been spying on Israel, and to what end?

Magen said it was hard to tell how long ago the Russian troops had abandoned the base or under what circumstances, but suggested that Russia, as befits a former superpower and an intelligence powerhouse, has deep intelligence penetration into Israel, including other signals intelligence collection posts, likely on Russian navy boats in the Mediterranean Sea.

The reason for this has less to do with Syria and more to do with Russia. He suggested that Russia might be repaying Syria for its agreement to allow Russia to operate, and that its motivation was not merely to improve Syria’s understanding of Israeli actions and deployments, but primarily to move the information to Iran and Hezbollah – as a currency to improve Russia’s regional standing and as part of its larger effort to track US allies.

“As part of Putin’s moves to restore the glory days of old,” Russia has redoubled its efforts to exert influence in the Middle East, investing its prestige and power in near-unprecedented ways in Syria and seeking to coax Egypt out of the US orbit into which it was lured after Camp David, said Dr. Jennifer Shkabatur, a Russia affairs lecturer at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

If there was any silver lining to the horrifying events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri which riled the month of August, it has finally brought the issue ofpolice militarization to the forefront. As outrageous as the police shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was, the brutal law enforcement response in the form of running roughshod over the First Amendment andresorting to quasi-martial law to mostly peaceful protests by local residents and activists was worse. To many observers, what took place in a Midwest suburb wasindistinguishable from scenes out of occupied Iraq.
How did this happen? For an answer, the writings of investigative journalist Radley Balko are an invaluable resource. Perhaps more than any other person, Balko has reported substantially on police militarization and injusticeacross the country for years.
The full details can be found in his book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces . This important book, which was recently released in its paperback edition, could not have arrived at a better time. Despite going into an intellectually rigorous analysis of law, politics, and history, Balko has a gift for storytelling, which highlights many heartbreaking stories and makesRise of the Warrior Cop an accessible and gripping read.
In the introduction, Balko begins with the provocative question:

How did we evolve from a country whose founding statesmen were adamant about the dangers of armed, standing government forces — a country that enshrined the Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights and revered and protected the age-old notion that the home is a place of privacy and sanctuary — to a country where it has become acceptable for armed government agents dressed in battle garb to storm private homes in the middle of the night — not to apprehend violent fugitives or thwart terrorist attacks, but to enforce laws against nonviolent, consensual activities?

In the lead-up to the American Revolution, British authorities used the hatedwrits of assistance to enforce tax laws and to crackdown on contraband in the colonies. This type of general warrant allowed for authorities to “search broad groups of people, for evidence of any number of crimes, sometimes over long stretches of time.” As bad as they were, Balko noted that in contrast to what police can do today, the writs of assistance could not be exercised at night and they required a knock-and-announcement before entry into a private home. Finally, it was the deployment of British soldiers to enforce the law that brought long-simmering tensions to a boil. After the Revolutionary War, with these abuses still fresh on their minds, the Founders framed and ratified a Constitution with a Bill of Rights.
The Fourth Amendment, in particular, was written explicitly to prohibit general warrants and to reinforce the Castle Doctrine, an even older principle carried over from the British common law that can be traced back to antiquity. The Castle Doctrine simply reinforces the timeless idea that "a man’s home is his castle." As explained by Balko:

Implicit in the sentiment is not only the right to repel criminal intruders but also the idea that the state is permitted to violate the home's sanctity only under limited circumstances, only as a last resort, and only under conditions that protect the threshold from unnecessary violence. Thus, before entering without permission, government agents must knock, announce and identify themselves, state their purpose, and give the occupants the opportunity to let them in peacefully. … The announcement requirement under English law was not a formality, as it has become in police raids today. It was elemental. Its purpose was to give the homeowner the opportunity to avoid violence, distress, and the destruction of his property.

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