Thursday, December 4, 2008

News From All Over

Kindergarten Sexual Harassment Argued in Supreme Court

A Massachusetts girl's awful experience on a school bus is at the heart of a case argued in the Supreme Court Tuesday over limits on lawsuits about sex discrimination in education. The 5-year-old kindergarten student in Hyannis, Mass., told her parents that in 2000 a third-grade boy repeatedly made her lift her dress, pull down her underwear and spread her legs.

Local police and the school system investigated, but found insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges or definitively sort out the story, according to court records. The district refused to assign the boy to another bus or put a monitor on the bus, records show.

Upset with the school district's response, parents Lisa and Robert Fitzgerald sued the district in federal court under both Title IX, which bars sex discrimination at schools that receive federal money, and a provision of a Civil War era, anti-discrimination law that was designed to enforce the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause.

The issue for the court is whether Title IX, enacted in 1972, rules out suits under the older provision. A federal judge ruled that the Fitzgeralds could not sue under the older law because Congress had subsequently passed Title IX. The Fitzgeralds also lost on their Title IX claims. The Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.

The justices appeared skeptical of the idea that Congress, in legislation expanding protection from discrimination, would cut back on the ability to sue for violations of constitutional rights. But they also wondered whether the Fitzgeralds ultimately would win their lawsuit.

"But in this case, as we get down to what this case is about, we have a determination by a court that the school district acted reasonably in relation to these complaints," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

Justice John Paul Stevens said, "You may still lose the lawsuit even if you win here."

Charles Rothfeld, representing the parents, agreed that the Fitzgeralds might lose, but said their constitutional claims should at least be heard in court. Among the advantages of pursuing a lawsuit under both provisions is that the older one allows claims to be made against individuals, while Title IX is restricted to institutions. Plaintiffs also can be awarded punitive damages under the older law, but not under Title IX.

A decision is expected by late spring.

Woman Charged With Stealing Neighbors' Decorations

As if there aren't enough weirdos in North Fulton County, a Roswell, Georgia woman is facing misdemeanor theft charges for allegedly swiping Christmas decorations from her neighbors' lawns. Officials say 51-year-old Gabriele Markert was found Monday in her home with decorations from at least three area homes.

Authorities say the investigation began about 4:30 a.m., after a woman reported a loud noise and discovered her 4-foot-tall Santa and snowman had been taken from her yard. After the law went to her home, another neighbor who was walking her dog reported that she, too, had been targeted.

Markert was awaiting a bail review hearing this week.

Cops: Florida Man Attacked Father With Christmas Tree

Authorities say a west Florida man who lives with his parents has been arrested on a felony assault charge after he used a Christmas tree as a weapon to attack his father.

According to the Manatee County sheriff's report, 37-year-old Thomas Edward Lackie was arrested last week after he threw a 3-foot Christmas tree at his father. The tree missed, but Lackie then tried to use the steel base from the tree to strike his father. His father and mother were able to grab Lackie's arms to prevent the attack. Deputies say the tree could have caused serious injuries because the metal base weighs about five pounds.

Lackie was charged with felony assault. He denied trying to strike his father.

St. Louis City Leader Calls on Residents to Get Armed

A St. Louis city leader frustrated with the police response to rising crime called Tuesday on residents to arm themselves to protect their lives and property. Alderman Charles Quincy Troupe said police are ineffective, outnumbered or don't care about the increase in crime in his north St. Louis ward. St. Louis has had 157 homicides in 2008, 33 more than last year at this time.

"The community has to be ready to defend itself, because it's clear the economy is going to get worse, and criminals are getting more bold," Troupe, 72, said Tuesday.

Troupe said that when he and residents approached a district police commander last year, they were told "there was nothing he could do to protect us and the community ... that he didn't have the manpower." Chief Dan Isom told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he understands Troupe's frustration but doesn't support citizens arming themselves.

Carrying guns, he said, is not a "recipe for a less violent community."

Fisherman Finds Long-Lost Class Ring in 8-Lb. Bass

A class ring lost for decades in an East Texas lake is back with its owner after turning up in a fish caught the day after Thanksgiving. Joe Richardson of Buna told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he wishes he knew "how many fish it's been in."

Richardson was fishing at Lake Sam Rayburn about two weeks after his 1987 graduation from Universal Technical Institute in Houston when he lost the ring. The 41-year-old mechanic says on Nov. 28 received a call from a fisherman who had reeled in a more than 8-pound bass. The ring that had been in the fish had "Joe Richardson" etched in the band.

Richardson says the fisherman did an Internet search and made several calls before reaching him and returning the ring.

Buna is about 110 miles northeast of Houston.

City to Ring in New Year With World's Largest Moon Pie

Mobile will ring in 2009 with chocolate, graham cracker and marshmallow. Partygoers at the city's New Year's Eve celebration will dine on the world's largest Moon Pie, courtesy of the Chattanooga, Tenn., bakery that's been making the treats since 1917. The dimensions were not immediately available, though company officials have talked in the past about making a 60-pound, 4-foot-diameter pie for the city.

And at the stroke of midnight, a giant electric Moon Pie model will drop instead of a ball. The city spent $9,000 from his discretionary fund to build the gigantic model. Moon pies are near and dear to the hearts of Mobile residents. For year, revelers in the city's Mardi Gras parades have been throwing them from floats.

The Liberal Invasion:

'Gingerbread Nazi' Artist Makes Legless Santa Display

A northern Ohio artist known for envelope-pushing holiday displays is back -- with Santa Claus in a wheelchair being pushed down stairs by a crazed tree.

The Santa in Keith McGuckin's installation at the Oberlin Public Library has no legs because of an accident involving alcohol and some power lines. An accompanying narrative explains that the tree later goes off to a strip club with money from Santa's Salvation Army kettle. McGuckin's holiday creations have been raising eyebrows for years. His 2006 gingerbread Nazis drew so many complaints he was forced to remove them from a hardware store window.

Library director Darren McDonough says the latest display is staying. He jokes that if a library doesn't have something that offends, it's not doing its job.

Atheists Want God Out of Kentucky Homeland Security

A group of atheists filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to remove part of a state anti-terrorism law that requires Kentucky's Office of Homeland Security to acknowledge it can't keep the state safe without God's help. American Atheists Inc. sued in state court over a 2002 law that stresses God's role in Kentucky's homeland security alongside the military, police agencies and health departments.

Of particular concern is a 2006 clause requiring the Office of Homeland Security to post a plaque that says the safety and security of the state "cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon almighty God" and to stress that fact through training and educational materials. The plaque, posted at the Kentucky Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort, includes the Bible verse: "Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain."

"It is one of the most egregiously and breathtakingly unconstitutional actions by a state legislature that I've ever seen," said Edwin F. Kagin, national legal director of Parsippany, N.J.-based American Atheists Inc. The group claims the law violates both the state and U.S. constitutions. But Democratic state Rep. Tom Riner, a Baptist minister from Louisville, said he considers it vitally important to acknowledge God's role in protecting Kentucky and the nation.

"No government by itself can guarantee perfect security," Riner said. "There will always be this opposition to the acknowledgment of divine providence, but this is a foundational understanding of what America is."

Kentucky has been at the center of a series of legal battles involving religious issues in recent years, most involving displays of the Ten Commandments in public buildings. One case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 2005 that such displays inside courthouses in two counties were unconstitutional.

Kentucky isn't the only state dealing with religious issues, but Ed Buckner, president of American Atheists, said it's alone in officially enlisting God in homeland security.

"I'm not aware of any other state or commonwealth that is attempting to dump their clear responsibility for protecting their citizens onto God or any other mythological creature," Buckner said.

State Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, said the preamble to the Kentucky constitution references a people "grateful to almighty God," so he said he sees no constitutional violation in enlisting God in the state's homeland security efforts.

"God help us if we don't," he said.



AP Wire Service, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oberlin Tribune.

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