national government

This photo taken June 30, 2014, shows demonstrators reacting outside the Supreme Court in Washington after hearing the court's decision on the Hobby Lobby case. The next difficult question likely to be resolved by the court: how much distance from an immoral act is enough? Religious-oriented nonprofit groups already could opt out of covering the contraceptives. But they say the accommodation provided by the Obama administration still does not go far enough because, though not on the hook financially, they remain complicit in the provision of some or all government-approved contraceptives to women covered by their plans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Rounding out a term of controversial decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling June 30 on the case of Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Much of the disapproval the ruling generated stems not from well-informed analyses. Rather, Americans have once again sounded a battle cry without burdening themselves with the weight of facts or the myriad of legislative alternatives available for the national government.

In the wake of the decision, Americans everywhere leapt to enact real social change, or more accurately, to the nearest laptop computer to tweet out our unvarnished opinions. Scores of GIF-ridden Buzzfeed articles were written, each containing longer lists than before. “How could the court disenfranchise our women this way,” Americans raged, copying and pasting the URL into a new status. Respected journalists took to the air, quoting the latest grim statistics: 100 percent of MSNBC viewers hate Hobby Lobby. Even UT students sounded off. “I definitely believe the Court screwed up,” contends Kelvin Kim, fourth-year student at UT. “To outlaw contraception [...] for certain people? This isn’t the 1940’s. Women have rights.”

It seems that in the wake of this shocking court decision, few have taken even a passing glance at the facts. To consult the source is an arduous task, especially when far more entertaining versions can be told by Kristen Wiig juggling a litter of golden retriever puppies, or by an existential Thought Catalog entry. Trust me. The internet is a shiny and interesting place, and it’s easy to get stuck in a hashtag-generating wormhole from time to time. But sooner or later, that hard-hitting article from The New Yorker turns into one proclaiming that God has been found in ancient Arab DNA, and the music screeches to a halt as you realize you have been duped once again by a completely reputable-looking source. Americans have once again been taking the easy way out, and we’re all suffering enormously for it.

So here’s some background on Burwell for those of you who might not know: this case involved a clash of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the national government. The RFRA prohibits the government from substantially burdening a person’s First Amendment rights unless it can be proven that the cost furthers a compelling government interest. (For all you constitutional-law-lovers out there, this test is known as “strict scrutiny”). The second prong of the test requires that mandates constitute “least restrictive means” of serving an interest. And under the second prong of this test, this newfound “right to contraception” ultimately failed. This doesn’t mean that no one gets birth control or that corporations have the same rights as humans, or whatever the slippery slopes and the hyperbolic titles of the Internet may have led you to believe. It just means that where there is a clash of someone’s First Amendment-granted rights versus current legislation (largely subject to the party in power, by the way), the law of the land is going to win every time. Keep in mind this is the Court’s job: to uphold the Constitution, not to act as policy-implementers or legislators.

Another fact worth noting is this is not the only way in which the government could have chosen to pursue a nationwide “right to contraception”. Writing for the majority in Burwell, Justice Samuel Alito acknowledges the number of less restrictive methods available to Congress, including allowing religious corporations to be afforded the same exemptions as religious non-profits. Here, no women are denied rights. Rather, the group-health-insurance issuer bears the cost of the coverage, without imposing cost-sharing requirements on the organization. “Although this procedure requires the issuer to bear the cost of these services,” Alito writes, “HHS has determined this obligation will not impose any net expense to issuers; because cost is less than or equal to cost savings.”It seems that this is not the end of the road for Christian contraceptive coverage. In fact, it is just the beginning.

And if it seems though deciding in favor of religion is unfair, think about what other rights are protected under that good ole’ First Amendment. Your right to say *mostly* whatever you want, for example. My right to write this column. The freedom to live and breathe and speak in peace, knowing that the things we say cannot be prohibited at whim by whoever is in power. I think that’s pretty great. And I think that we need to maintain more of a conscious awareness of those rights before we rage against a Court for acting in protection of them. Asserting this right does not entail undermining the right women have to contraception--the court asserts many alternatives to provide these protections. But they are careful to ensure any amendment-restrictive mandates are pursued through the “least restrictive” manner: a condition under which the act ultimately fails.

We all get a little misinformed. But if there’s anything to take away from this column, it should be this: Please read the case yourself. If you are passionate and interested in women’s rights, then please protect them at all costs. Do what you have to do, align with a political party and make some changes! Go, fight, roar. But please, before you take up arms, take a listen to the oral arguments, or a look at the case itself. This is complicated stuff, and as a nation, I think we do ourselves a pretty large disservice by acting otherwise.

Deppisch is a government senior from League City.

Family members of Ahmed Mohammed, 34, who was killed in a car bomb attack loads his coffin onto a vehicle before burial in Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq on Tuesday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BAGHDAD — Insurgents plotting to derail next week’s Arab League meeting in Baghdad unleashed bloody attacks across Iraq on Tuesday, killing 46 people. The government vowed not to be scared off from hosting the summit — the first in the country in a generation and a chance to prove it is moving toward normalcy after years of war.

Bombs struck Shiite pilgrims in the holy city of Karbala, set cars on fire in Kirkuk and targeted security forces and government officials in Baghdad and surrounding cities. Iraqis out shopping or eating at restaurants on the bright, spring day fell victim to the onslaught: More than 200 people were wounded in fewer than six hours.

“Dozens of cars were on fire,” said a panicked Saman Majid, who had just arrived at his job at a police station in Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, when a car in the parking lot exploded.

Thirteen people, most of them police officers, were killed and 59 injured in that attack alone, said Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qadir.
“It was a scene from hell, where there is only a huge fire and dead people and nothing else,” Majid said.

The attacks were not entirely unexpected: Government and security officials have warned for weeks that al-Qaida and Sunni sympathizers would try to thwart the League summit by sowing fear about Baghdad’s stability. Plans for the capital to host the meeting last year were postponed, in part because of concerns about security.

Despite numerous roadblocks, checkpoints and other security measures ringing Baghdad, Tuesday’s violence showed how easily the militants penetrated the sensitive heart of the capital. A bomb exploded near the Foreign Ministry and offices for security directors overseeing the summit. Another blew up outside the Green Zone shortly after dawn, its blast shaking windows in buildings across the Tigris River.

The Iraqi wing of al-Qaida said it was behind the bombing outside the Foreign Ministry. “Death is approaching you, when you least expect it,” the Islamic state of Iraq, a local front group for al-Qaida, taunted in a statement posted Tuesday afternoon on a militant website.

The Shiite-led government staunchly stood by its $400 million plans to host the summit, which leaders have called a crucial step for Iraq to showcase its improved stability following the sectarian fighting a few years ago that almost pulled the country into civil war.

“Such cowardly acts will not deter the national government and the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the success of the Arab summit in Baghdad to receive the guests and leaders who are invited,” Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in a statement. The attack outside his headquarters killed three passers-by, he said.

“We condemn this terrorist act and those politically frustrated terrorists who did it,” Zebari said.

In all, eight cities were hit Tuesday in what appeared to be coordinated attacks, mostly against Shiite pilgrims and police and government officials. They served as a gloomy reminder of the violence that has wreaked chaos across Iraq since the U.S. invasion exactly nine years ago.

Next week’s Arab League summit is the first to be held in Baghdad since March 1990 — less than five months before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Sanctions, including a no-fly zone over Iraq, and two wars made Baghdad an impossible site for the gathering until recently.

There were no immediate reports from the League’s 22 member nations that the meeting would be postponed, as happened last year. Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby strongly condemned the attacks in a statement and urged Iraqi officials to “deal with these crimes.”

And more attacks may be on the way. A senior Iraqi military intelligence official said confessions from recently captured insurgents indicate that al-Qaida may have used only 40 percent of the arsenal of violence it has stowed up for the summit.

The senior official described “big dens” of al-Qaida insurgents who have evaded arrest and are biding their time in Baghdad.

Still, a second senior Iraqi security official said the security cordon around Baghdad seemed to have worked, because the majority of attacks took place outside the capital, far from where the Arab leaders are to gather. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

In Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad, two car bombs exploded in a crowded shopping and restaurant area, killing 13 and wounding 50, said local provincial council member Hussein Shadhan al-Aboudi. Five Iranian pilgrims were among the dead.

Bloody victims lay on stretchers outside Karbala hospital operating rooms as they waited for treatment. Charred, twisted cars were towed away from the blast sites as shopkeepers tried to sweep up the wreckage.

Karbala is a destination for thousands of Shiite pilgrims from around the world who visit the golden shrines of two revered imams each day.
“The intention of these attacks is to destabilize the security situation in Karbala and other Iraqi cities and to shake the people’s confidence in the government,” al-Aboudi said. “It seems that the terrorists want to abort the upcoming Arab Summit in Baghdad. The message is directed to the Arab leaders that Iraq is not safe enough to be visited.”

Iraqi citizens and lawmakers have questioned whether they would be safe during the Arab meeting or whether it makes them a target in deadly attacks aimed at scaring away the thousands of dignitaries and journalists from attending and, in effect, embarrassing the government. Zebari has said at least six Arab heads of state have committed to attending the final day of the summit, which is scheduled for March 27-29.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh announced a weeklong federal holiday in Baghdad, from March 25-31, when government offices will be shut down. Officials also will impose a curfew in parts of Baghdad on March 29 and try to curb violence by shutting off roads near the Green Zone and encouraging people to stay home.

Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni, called for stepped up security as the summit approaches — and with it, the threat of more violence. The repeated attacks, he said, shows insurgents’ intentions “to foil the Arab summit in Baghdad, in order to keep Iraq under the threat of violence and destruction.”