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WATCH: What You Didn't See — Clergy March in Baltimore

As thousands took to the streets in Baltimore on Monday night to protest the death of Freddie Gray on the day of his funeral, nearly 100 clergy joined the protesters.

Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black male, died April 19 while in police custody, one week after his arrest. Although one of the officers reported Gray “was arrested without force or incident,” Gray died of severe spinal injury, prompting citizens to question how Gray was treated in custody.

Clergy members marched arm-in-arm with peaceful protesters — providing an example of how to seek justice. 

WATCH:

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After Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard, Deborah Weiner of local Baltimore station WBAL-TV 11 reported the clergy’s response.

“There’s been a state of emergency way before tonight,” the clergy said. “An emergency of poverty, a lack of jobs, disenfranchisement from the political process.”

According to baltimoreuprising.org, a resource developed by Ferguson organizers Johnetta “Netta” Elzie and Deray Mckesson, multiple churches have been listed as safe harbor sites.

Three Baptist churches, Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, Northside Baptist Church, and St. Marks Institutional Baptist Church, as well as one Methodist church, Metropolitan United Methodist Church, are listed in the document.

Please join us in praying for the people of Baltimore.

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Presbyterian Church (USA) Approves Same-Sex Marriage Amendment

The Presbyterian Church (USA) approved an amendment to include same-sex relationships in its constitutional definition of marriage on March 17. A majority of the denomination’s 171 presbyteries have now voted to accept the new wording, which replaces “between a woman and a man” with “between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.”

Although 71 percent of the leaders in the General Assembly, the governing body of the PCUSA, voted to approve same-sex marriage in June, the denomination was waiting for a majority of its local presbyteries to accept the change. That number, 86, was reached on March 17.

Huffington Post reports :

“Today we are rejoicing!" said the Rev. Robin White, co-moderator of the LGBT advocacy group More Light Presbyterians. "So many families headed by LGBTQ couples have been waiting for decades to enter this space created for their families within their church communities.”

More Presbyteries will continue to hand in their decisions until June, when the amendment is scheduled to go into effect.

Watch an official video of the announcement below.

Read more at Huffington Post.

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Two Police Officers Shot in Ferguson

Early Thursday morning, just hours after the resignation of Ferguson police Chief Thomas Jackson, two officers were shot as they stood guard amid protests outside the police department in Ferguson, Mo. One officer, a 41-year old from the St. Louis County Police Department, was struck in the shoulder. The other, a 32-year old from nearby Webster Groves Police Department, was hit in the face. Both officers were reported to be in serious, but non-life threatening condition.

As local authorities search for the unidentified shooters, protesters and police have begun to speculate about causes and responsibility. CNN reports:

"We don't advocate violence toward the police, (just as) we don't advocate violence from the police toward unarmed people," [Deray McKeeson, a local Ferguson organizer] told CNN. "We can live in a world where people are not getting killed, whether the police are killing them or people are shooting at the police."

[Another protester] expressed worries the shooting will undercut the protesters' message against discrimination and violence.

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[St Louis County police Chief Jon] Belmar said police have been fortunate that such a shooting hasn't happened sooner.

"These police officers were standing there, and they were shot just because they were police officers," [Belmar] said.

As local authorities and protesters continue to work through this difficult situation, we ask that you lift up prayers for Ferguson.

Read more at CNN.

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Three Muslim Students Shot Dead in North Carolina

Craig Stephen Hicks, a 46-year-old white male, has been charged with three counts of first degree murder, according to a Chapel Hill Police Release. After shooting the three students in the head early Tuesday evening, Hicks turned himself in at a local police department in Pittsboro. The victims included a married couple – Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad, 21 – and their sister, Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19.

Photo via Washington Post

All three were currently attending or planning to attend schools in Chapel Hill. Although reports of previous of a conflict between the shooter and the victims are not confirmed, many have speculated religious bias played a significant role in the crime. The Washington Post reports:

The Council on American Islamic Relations issued a statement on the killings later Wednesday morning, calling for the Chapel Hill Police Department to address the speculation about Hicks’ motive.

“Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims, and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad …

Hicks, the alleged shooter, frequently shared links about atheism on what appears to be his Facebook page. One such post reads: “People say nothing can solve the Middle East problem, not mediation, not arms, not financial aid. I say there is something. Atheism.”

Many have taken to Twitter with the trending hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter to show their support for other Muslims and to fill in a perceived lack of media coverage.

Please join us in prayer with and for our Muslim neighbors.

Read more at The Washington Post.

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SCOTUS Rules in Favor of Hobby Lobby

Closely held corporations cannot be compelled to pay for contraception coverage, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in its highly anticipated Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores case. The "contraceptive mandate" in the federal health care law was challenged under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that the government show that a law doesn't "substantially burden" religious exercise.

According to SCOTUSBlog, the Court ruled that the government "has failed to show that the mandate is the least restrictive means of advancing its interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to birth control."

But the decision is applicable only to the contraceptive mandate, and does not apply to other health care mandates.

From Washington Post :

The justices’ 5-4 decision Monday is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. And it means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under objecting companies’ health insurance plans.

Hobby Lobby is an evangelical family-owned chain, and CEO David Green says that the Affordable Care Act infringed upon the family's religious freedom by compelling them to pay for certain contraceptives the family considers to be abortifacients, such as versions of the morning-after pill and IUDs.

Justices Ginsberg, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kagan dissented.

Read the decision HERE.

Image: Hobby Lobby in Mansfield, Ohio. by Nicholas Eckhart, Flickr.com

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President Obama Pens Pope Francis Piece for Time's 100 Most Influential List

Time magazine has released its annual 100 Most Influential people list, and, to no one's surprise, Pope Francis is featured. What may be surprising is who the magazine chose to write about the pontiff — President Barack Obama. The president points out Pope Francis' dedication to the poor and the "least of these."

In the blurb for Time, Obama says the pope's: "message of love and inclusion, his regard for 'the least of these,' distills the essence of Jesus’ teachings and is a tonic for a cynical age. May we heed his humble example."

Obama recently met with Pope Francis, saying at the Easter Prayer Breakfast:

So I had a wonderful conversation with Pope Francis, mostly about the imperatives of addressing poverty and inequality. And I invited him to come to the United States, and I sincerely hope he will.

Image: Pope Francis in Rome on April 18, giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

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WATCH: Boy Won't Leave Pope Francis' Side

At a speech in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis was joined on stage by an incredibly cute young boy.

As NPR reports:

Protocol is a concept that's often lost on young children and this boy – part of a group of children invited to sit near the pontiff during a speech — didn't see any reason why he shouldn't hang out for a bit with the guy in white.

The Telegraph provides a video and this quote:

The unidentified boy refused to leave the Pope's side, clinging to his legs while two Cardinals tried to encourage him to sit back down with sweets.

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U.N. Women's Ad Series Shows Sexism Through Google Searches

Gender inequality is an international issue. Striving to empower women and call attention to the sexism of popular opinions worldwide, U.N. Women released a series of ads using text from Google real searches. The ads show women's face with their mouths obscured by the text of the searches, visually silencing their voices.

From unwomen.com:

 “When we came across these searches, we were shocked by how negative they were and decided we had to do something with them,” says Christopher Hunt, Art Director of the creative team. The idea developed places the text of the Google searches over the mouths of women portraits, as if to silence their voices. 

“The ads are shocking because they show just how far we still have to go to achieve gender equality. They are a wake up call, and we hope that the message will travel far,” adds Kareem Shuhaibar, copy writer.

U.N. Women is hoping to use the ads to start conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag: #womenshould

Image Credit: Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai/UN Women

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This Week, a Major Shift on Crime

On Monday, a federal judge in New York found the state's stop-and-frisk policies to be unconsitutional racial profiling. The same day, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that federal prosecutors would no longer invoke mandatory minimum sentencing laws for low-level drug offenses. 

Together, the two decisions sent strong signals that the country is moving away from the tough-on-crime policies of the last generation. The New York Times reports:

A generation ago, amid a crack epidemic, state and federal lawmakers enacted a wave of tough-on-crime measures that resulted in an 800 percent increase in the number of prisoners in the United States, even as the population grew by only a third. The spike in prisoners centered on an increase in the number of African-American and Hispanic men convicted of drug crimes; blacks are about six times as likely as whites to be incarcerated.

“There was the thought that if we stop, frisk, arrest and incarcerate huge numbers of people, that will reduce crime,” Rudovsky said. “But while that may have had some effect on crime, the negative parts outweighed the positive parts.”

Read more here.

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Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church Announce Support for Bill to End Sex Trafficking in U.S.

Days after a cross-country FBI operation arrested 152 sex traffickers across the US, Joel Osteen, senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, announced his support for a bill in the House of Representatives aimed at eliminating human trafficking rings. The Christian Post reports:

The bill, which is supported by both Republican and Democrat lawmakers, is intended to help eliminate human trafficking rings by "targeting the criminals who purchase sexual acts from these organizations and ensuring that they are prosecuted as human traffickers."

"The suffering associated with human trafficking resonates strongly within the Christian community, and we know of many churches, like our own, whose compassion for its victims has moved them to act," said Joel and Victoria Osteen in a statement.

Read more here.

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Pope Francis Says He Won’t Judge Gay Priests

Pope Francis announced Monday in an airborne news conference that he’s ‘not one to judge’ the sexual orientation of Catholic priests. On his journey home from Brazil, Pope Francis declared open-mindedness by sharing his support on behalf of the gay community. The Washington Post reports:

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis asked.

Read more here.

 

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Mandela Said to Be ‘Steadily Improving’ on 95th Birthday

Nelson Mandela turned 95-years-old today and in honor of his parity work throughout South Africa, people of all races are joining together and celebrating his legacy in the form of song and offerings. Although Mandela spends this year's birthday under close medical attention, hospital officials believe his condition is improving. The New York Times reports:

On Thursday, hundreds of people gathered outside the Pretoria hospital where Mr. Mandela has been treated for the past 40 days. Officials from the African National Congress brought a birthday cake, while well-wishers added more posters and flowers to the mountain of tributes outside the hospital, ululating and breaking out into freedom songs from the struggle against apartheid.

Read more here.

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Senate Reaches Tentative Deal to Avert Filibuster Showdown

Following Monday’s three hour closed-door caucus, members of the Senate have begun the confirmation process of President Barack Obama’s executive branch nominees, avoiding what the Washington Post calls a "constitutional showdown.” The Washington Post reports:

Senate negotiators met until about midnight searching for a deal that would avert a showdown on the Senate floor. Rank-and-file senators came out of the meeting late Monday reporting progress on the confirmation prospects of Obama’s selections to head low-profile but influential agencies.

Read more here.

 

 

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Farm Bill Passes House, Without Food Stamp Funding

For the first time in 50 years, the House of Representatives cut mention of food stamps in the Farm Bill, which passed the House yesterday. The Supplemental Nutrion Assistance Program has historically made up nearly 80 percent of funding in such bills. Following the 216-to-208 vote, the House's decision to go through with the ruling has both parties defensive on this issue. The Washington Post reports:

"The vote made clear that Republicans intend to make significant reductions in food stamp money and handed Republican leaders a much-needed victory three weeks after conservative lawmakers and rural state Democrats revolted and blocked the original version of the bill that included food stamp money."

Read more here.

 
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Napolitano to Resign DHS Seat, Head to University of California

After serving four years as Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary, Janet Napolitano is set to resign on Friday. The Los Angeles Times reports Napolitano will become president of the University Of California system.  

“While some may consider her to be an unconventional choice, Secretary Napolitano is without a doubt the right person at the right time to lead this incredible university," Sherry Lansing, the regent and former film industry executive who headed the search committee, said in a statement being released Friday. "She will bring fresh eyes and a new sensibility -- not only to UC, but to all of California. She will stand as a vigorous advocate for faculty, students and staff at a time when great changes in our state, and across the globe, are presenting as many opportunities as challenges.”

Read more here.

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