LAW & PUBLIC POLICY
“Misreading Catholic Barometer Is a Political Risk.” Wall Street Journal. February 7, 2012. [For stories, go to Religion].
“Senate Backs Church Use of Schools.” By John Eligon. New York Times. February 6, 2012. New York’s State Senate passed a bill on Monday that would allow churches to continue holding worship services in public schools, but the future of the legislation remained in question as the Assembly speaker expressed skepticism about it. The bill, sponsored by Senator Martin J. Golden, Republican of Brooklyn, says that congregations may hold services in schools when the property is not being used for school purposes. The bill would effectively undo a court ruling last year that upheld a policy of the New York City Education Department prohibiting religious services from being held in public schools after hours. Churches pay the same rent as other groups to use schools. Despite the city’s rule against it, dozens of churches have been holding services in schools on Sundays for years while a case pertaining to the issue made its way through the courts. After a federal appeals court ruled in the city’s favor last summer, and the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case late last year, the city said that worship services could not be held in schools after Feb. 12. That has caused dozens of congregations to look for new homes. Their only hope appears to be intervention by the Assembly on Tuesday, but it seemed unlikely that a bill would pass that house quickly enough.
“For Congregations Gathering in City Schools, Time to Move.” New York Times. February 6, 2012,
“Prayer Case at School Is Settled.” By Nathan Koppel. Wall Street Journal. February 10, 2012. A Texas school-prayer case that fueled calls by Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich to curtail the power of federal judges was settled Thursday, with the school district agreeing to bar employees from displaying religious symbols but permitting students to pray at graduation. The case began last May when a former student and a graduating one at Medina Valley High School near San Antonio sued to block religious displays at the school, including prayer at the graduation ceremony. Federal Judge Fred Biery sided with the students, concluding that such prayers were likely to violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Although Judge Biery’s ruling was reversed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, allowing the prayers to proceed, the decision drew barbs from Mr. Gingrich. He called it hostile to religion, criticizing Judge Biery by name Jan. 22 after winning South Carolina’s primary. The settlement prohibits employees of the local district from initiating or joining prayers in the presence of students. It also bars school employees from displaying religious icons on school walls or windows unless they are being used for “non-religious” purposes. But the school district may permit students to pray in graduation-ceremony speeches. In his order approving the settlement, San Antonio-based Judge Biery, appointed by President Bill Clinton, couldn’t resist a parting shot. To those who “demagogued this case for their own political goals: You should be ashamed of yourselves,” he wrote. Mr. Gingrich’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“Senate Republicans Would Require The Unemployed To Volunteer.” By Arthur Delaney. Huffington Post. February 10, 2012. Republicans in the U.S. Senate want the long-term unemployed to volunteer for 20 hours a week in order to receive unemployment insurance. A bill introduced Thursday by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) would also require claimants drawing benefits six months or longer to search for work at least 20 hours a week. “Engagement in volunteer service will encourage unemployed workers to maintain job skills, marketability, and a sense of self-worth while providing for the betterment of their communities,” Burr said in a statement. “Even more, the active job search requirement will enhance the integrity of the unemployment system and its ability to identify and serve those most in need.” Burr’s bill dropped right as Republicans and Democrats are deadlocked over a reauthorization of federal unemployment insurance programs and a 2 percent cut to workers’ Social Security payroll taxes. Those items and several other domestic spending measures are set to expire at the end of the month. Republicans on the negotiating committee are already pushing for a host of unemployment reforms, including allowing states to drug test workers applying for benefits and denying aid to people who don’t have high school diplomas. A Burr spokesman said the senator wouldn’t mind if his proposal got wrapped into the broader package. Seventeen other senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), signed on to Burr’s bill. Worker advocates said the legislation amounts to just another effort to demonize people laid off through no fault of their own in order to undercut the costly government programs that support them — much like what happened with welfare recipients in the years leading up to welfare reform in 1996.
“A Year of Tax-Code Reckoning.” By Jonathan Weisman. New York Times. February 11, 2012. Taxpayers struggling with their 2011 returns can take a little solace in the knowledge that change is coming — though it may be accompanied by increasing tax bills. For two decades, politicians have promised — and failed — to overhaul the tax code to make it simpler and fairer. This time they have a deadline of sorts. On Jan. 1, 2013, a major part of the current code turns into a pumpkin. That is when income tax rate cuts — a host of expanded tax deductions and credits, and generous changes in the taxation of dividends, capital gains and inheritances — are set to disappear. That day of reckoning was supposed to have come in 2011, but President Obama signed a two-year extension of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, along with temporary tax cuts of his own, most notably the two-percentage-point cut to the payroll tax. This time around, Mr. Obama has vowed that he will not extend the tax cuts for upper-income Americans, and no matter who wins the presidential election in November, Mr. Obama will be in the White House on Expiration Day. That will put pressure on Republicans in Congress to prevent a sudden return to the tax code of the 1990s. “The worst thing for our country would be for these automatic tax increases to take place,” said Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate. Of course, if the G.O.P. wins control of the White House and both houses of Congress, Republican leaders could allow those wholesale tax increases to take place, with the expectation that they will overturn them once they assume control later in January. They could use a parliamentary mechanism called reconciliation — the same method used in 2001 and 2003 — to avoid a Democratic filibuster and reinstate the expired tax rates, at least temporarily. But at this point, no one is advocating mere preservation of the status quo.
“Occupy Movement Regroups, Preparing for Its Next Phase.” By Erik Eckholm. New York Times. February 11, 2012. The ragtag Occupy Wall Street encampments that sprang up in scores of cities last fall, thrusting “We are the 99 percent” into the vernacular, have largely been dismantled, with a new wave of crackdowns and evictions in the past week. Since the violent clashes last month in Oakland, Calif., headlines about Occupy have dwindled, too. Far from dissipating, groups around the country say they are preparing for a new phase of larger marches and strikes this spring that they hope will rebuild momentum and cast an even brighter glare on inequality and corporate greed. But this transition is filled with potential pitfalls and uncertainties: without the visible camps or clear goals, can Occupy become a lasting force for change? Will disruptive protests do more to galvanize or alienate the public? Though still loosely organized, the movement is putting down roots in many cities. Activists in Chicago and Des Moines have rented offices, a significant change for groups accustomed to holding open-air assemblies or huddling in tents in bad weather. On any night in New York City, which remains a hub of the movement, a dozen working groups on issues like “food justice” and “arts and culture” meet in a Wall Street atrium, and “general assemblies” have formed in 14 neighborhoods. Around the country, small demonstrations — often focused on banks and ending foreclosure evictions — take place almost daily. If the movement has not produced public leaders, some visible faces have emerged.