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Rice Will Appeal Indefinite Suspension: Reports

Baltimore (AFP) — Ray Rice, the National Football League star banned indefinitely after video of him knocking out his then-fiancee surfaced, will appeal the suspension, according to multiple reports.

NBC, the Baltimore Sun and ESPN on Sunday reported that Rice, a star running back who helped the Baltimore Ravens win last year’s Super Bowl, would challenge the indefinite ban handed down by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell shortly after the Ravens fired Rice last Monday.

The same day, an Atlantic City casino elevator video revealed by TMZ showed Rice swinging a brutal left-hand punch that knocked Janay Palmer unconscious last February.

Rice avoided jail time on domestic violence charges from his brutal punch by agreeing in May to a pre-trial intervention program.

Goodell, who has guided the NFL since 2006, imposed only a two-game ban on Rice in July, one that drew widespread criticism as too lenient.

Last month, Goodell said he had made a mistake and toughened future NFL penalties for domestic violence.

But after imposing the indefinite ban, Goodell said any team wishing to sign Rice must come to Goodell first.

Rice is expected to argue “double jeopardy,” that he is being punished twice for the same rules infraction.

The NFL Players Association will push the appeal in part to establish a process and punishment terms under Goodell’s recent plan to toughen such penalties for domestic violence.

The union has until late Tuesday to file an appeal, a deadline set by Friday’s letter from Goodell to the union outlining the reasons for the tougher punishment on Rice, whose original ban would have ended Friday.

Goodell has said that the video showed details substantially different from the account Rice gave of what happened in the elevator when he spoke to Goodell about the incident.

Goodell says no one at the NFL saw the video although reports that the video was sent to the NFL prompted the league to have an independent investigator, former FBI director Robert Mueller, look into the matter.

Mueller will have access to all records and employees of the league, Goodell said, and the probe will produce a public report.

Critics have questioned the oversight role for the probe of two NFL team owners who are attorneys, Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers and John Mara of the New York Giants, both past supporters of Goodell.

Losing his job with the Ravens cost Rice the remaining $10 million on his contract.

AFP Photo/Ronald Martinez

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Utah Attorney General Asks Supreme Court To Rule On Same-Sex Marriage

By James Queally, Los Angeles Times

Utah’s attorney general petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to hear an appeal of a decision overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

A federal appeals court found the state’s ban unconstitutional in a 2-1 decision on June 25, marking the first time a federal court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage since the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had to grant benefits to legally married same-sex couples in June of 2013.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes announced his intention to appeal a short time later and did so Tuesday.

“My responsibility is to defend the state constitution and its amendments as Utah citizens have enacted them,” Reyes said in a brief statement.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, and this summer has seen a slew of lower-court decisions striking down bans around the country.

Shortly after the Utah decision, a federal appeals court overturned Oklahoma’s ban in a similar case. The attorneys general of Colorado and Indiana are challenging lower-court rulings against bans in those states, and three different judges in Florida have ruled that state’s marriage ban unconstitutional.

Marc Solomon, national campaign director for the advocacy group Freedom To Marry, said Reyes’ appeal could set the stage for the U.S. Supreme Court to make a definitive ruling on same-sex marriage.

“Today’s filing in the Utah case paves the way for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a marriage case later this year and bring national resolution on marriage once and for all,” he said in a statement. “Every day, hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples and their children are suffering the tangible harms of not being free to marry. The sting of discrimination and the crazy quilt of marriage laws are not just wrong but unconstitutional.”

Photo: sigmaration via Flickr

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Methodist Minister Defrocked After Officiating At Son’s Same-Sex Wedding Wins Appeal

By Maya Srikrishnan, Los Angeles Times

A Pennsylvania Methodist minister, who was defrocked six months ago after officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding, on Tuesday won his appeal to have his religious credentials restored.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer had been suspended for 30 days on Nov. 18, after a jury of Methodist pastors convicted him of violating church law. When the suspension expired, he was defrocked after refusing to promise never to perform another same-sex marriage. Three of Schaefer’s four children are gay.

“I’m just elated,” Schaefer said. “It was a victory for me, for the church and for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.”

A nine-person panel of clergy and lay members determined that Schaefer’s punishment was “unlawful” because revoking his credentials “cannot be squared with the well-established principle that our clergy can only be punished for what they have been convicted of doing in the past, not for what they may or may not do in the future.”

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, the body that defrocked Schaefer, has not said whether it will appeal the reinstatement. If appealed, the matter would go to the Judicial Council, the Methodists’ top court.

“I intend to abide by the committee’s decision and return him to active service as an ordained clergy member of this conference presently,” Johnson said in a statement. “I also ask for continuing, supportive prayers for Mr. Schaefer, his family, and the members and churches of our conference and our denomination, as we struggle gracefully to find common ground.”

The decision means Schaefer can return to religious work and will retroactively receive his salary and benefits. Schaefer, 52, will be transferred to the Isla Vista Student Ministry in Santa Barbara to work for the California-Pacific Conference in July.

“Rev. Schaefer has much to teach us about what it means to love the children God gives us who happen to be gay,” said the Rev. Minerva Carcano, bishop of the California conference. “I pray that we will make space for him and his family in our lives and in our hearts as he comes to labor among us.”

The panel that heard Schaefer’s appeal Friday in Linthicum, Md., included members of denominational conferences from the Northeast.

Elizabeth Stroud, an assistant pastor in Germantown, Pa., was defrocked in December 2004 for announcing to her congregation that she was in a same-sex partnership.

Stroud appealed the decision to the church’s Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals, the same panel that heard Schaefer’s appeal, and she won. However, her appeal decision was challenged, and she lost in the Judicial Committee.

Counsel for Schaefer, the Rev. Scott Campbell, argued that his defrocking was based on theoretical rather than actual behavior.

“The church is not at liberty to add a penalty based on what a person may or may not do,” Campbell said, according to the United Methodist News service. “The act of marrying his son was the only thing he was on trial for.”

Campbell called the “mix and match” penalties “an egregious error in church law.”

The counsel for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, the Rev. Christopher Fisher, countered that the 30-day suspension was a “period of grace for Rev. Schaefer to discern his motivations,” according to The Associated Press.

“This is no minor thing,” Fisher said. “Schaefer stated he won’t abide by the (United Methodist Book of) Discipline, and demonstrated it by his unwillingness to obey the trial court.”

Carcano said that if Schaefer officiates at another same-sex marriage and a complaint is filed against him in her conference, she will have to comply with church procedures. However, she said she does not know of any complaints filed against clergy in the California conference for presiding over same-sex marriages.

In the six months since his trial and defrocking, Schaefer has become a symbol of the movement to change the United Methodist Church’s policy on homosexuality. He has spoken at more than 50 events, churches and colleges and received several awards, including recognition from the Massachusetts governor and the Pennsylvania Education Association.

The United Methodist Church had nearly 7.4 million U.S. members in 2012. It accepts gay and lesbian members, but rejects same-sex marriage and openly gay clergy and ministers, calling homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching,” according to its website.

The United Methodist General Conference is the only entity that can change church policy and lawbook language. At the 2012 conference, 69 percent of the global conference delegates rejected a proposal to eliminate the “incompatible” statement and replace it with language acknowledging differing opinions on gay issues within the church. The next meeting will be in 2016.

Since then, 15 regional conferences in the U.S. have passed resolutions in support of same-sex marriage.

In addition, since Schaefer’s defrocking in December, several complaints against clergy relating to the church’s homosexuality policy have been dropped.

In February, two pastors from Washington state, the Rev. Cheryl Fear and the Rev. Gordon Hutchins, received only 24-hour suspensions without pay for officiating same-sex marriage ceremonies.

In March, the trial of the Rev. Thomas Ogletree, a retired dean of the Yale Divinity School, was dropped. Ogletree presided over his son’s same-sex marriage in New York City in 2012.

In May, complaints against the Rev. Sara Tweedy of New York, who faced trial for being married to another woman, were also dropped.

Schaefer said Tuesday’s decision was a message from the church to the LGBT community.

“The longer I waited for the decision, the more pessimistic I grew,” he said. “But I won. It’s a message from the church that signals change.”

John Lomperis, United Methodist director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said he doesn’t believe the Schaefer ruling foreshadows a greater change in the church’s policy toward homosexuality. “This was not an official body saying the church does not have these standards,” Lomperis said.

In the U.S. there may be a movement towards inclusion of the LGBT community, but “our church is a global church,” he said. According to church statistics, roughly 60 percent of the United Methodist Church’s membership is from the U.S. Nearly 40 percent is from Africa, “where homosexuality is still taboo,” Lomperis said.

“Fundamentally, this is a profound crisis of identity,” he said. “And we’re risking our church unity for it.”

AFP Photo/Scott Olson

Supreme Court Hears Appeal From College Official Fired For Testimony On Corruption

By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday sounded ready to rule that a public employee who testifies about corruption in his government department cannot be fired for revealing the truth.

But first justices will need to confront their own 2006 ruling that sharply limited the free-speech rights of such workers.

“Why do we put people at risk for telling the truth?” asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor, as the court heard the case of an Alabama community college official who was dismissed after revealing that a state legislator was drawing a salary for a college job but doing no work.

Edward Lane, the fired official, lost his free-speech lawsuit last year against the college president who dismissed him after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, under the 2006 Supreme Court precedent, Lane was not protected.

Although teachers and other public employees are free to speak as citizens, the high court ruled, the First Amendment does not protect them if they learn something on the job and reveal it to the public over the objections of their employer. The 5-4 ruling in Garcetti v. Ceballos rejected a suit by a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who was demoted after raising questions about the validity of a disputed search warrant.

The court’s opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the deputy district attorney was speaking about an internal complaint. He was “not speaking as a citizen for First Amendment purposes,” Kennedy said.

That decision left public employees with little protection from supervisors upset by their comments.

Civil libertarians, whistle-blowers and public employee unions supported Lane in his appeal and urged the justices to revisit the issue so that public employees who expose corruption can be better protected.

In Lane’s case, federal prosecutors had ordered him to testify in the corruption trial of the state legislator.

“Well, what is he supposed to do?” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked an attorney defending the college president. “He gets a subpoena” from the prosecutor and has to tell the truth in court.

“Mr. Chief Justice, we would never suggest anybody not comply with a subpoena and testify truthfully,” said Mark Waggoner, a lawyer from Birmingham.

“But you are suggesting he can be fired if he does it,” Roberts replied.

Sotomayor said the court should retreat from what it said in the Garcetti decision. “If someone is called to testify truthfully about a matter of public concern, should they be able to be fired under the First Amendment?”

It was clear she and most others thought the answer was no.

But Lane may win only a partial victory. Several justices said that although Lane had a strong free-speech claim, Central Alabama Community College President Steve Franks could avoid paying damages because the law was unclear.

The court usually shields police or other public officials from paying damages for violating a constitutional right if the law was not clear at the time. A decision in Lane v. Franks is due by late June.

Meanwhile, the court agreed Monday to hear the case of a Florida fisherman who was ensnared by a federal law designed to prevent white-collar criminals from shredding documents.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act makes it a crime to hide documents or any “tangible object” to thwart a federal investigation. Fisherman John Yates was accused by a federal agent of reeling in red grouper that were under the 20-inch minimum, then tossing them overboard to hide the evidence.

Yates was sentenced to 30 days in jail. The justices will hear his appeal arguing that the so-called anti-shredding provision should not apply to fish.

OZinOH via Flickr