- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

April 1

Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on health law undermines religious beliefs:

President Barack Obama and Pope Francis stuck to mostly safe, common ground - primarily concern for the poor - when the two met last week.

But the president did not escape the Vatican without being challenged about his Affordable Car Act’s affront to faith.

In a meeting with the president, the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, raised concerns about “making sure that conscience and religious freedom was observed in the context of applying the law,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

Obama said he explained “that most religious organizations are entirely exempt.”

What he did not explain is why the law still forces individuals to violate their conscience and faith.

Indeed, arguments were heard before the U.S. Supreme Court last week about the constitutionality of the law’s birth-control mandate, which compromises Americans’ religious freedom.

The law, as Obama says, does exempt religious organizations. But it does not exempt individuals who have religious objections to the Affordable Care Act’s requirements.

Indeed, the administration has interpreted the law in a way that seems designed to create religious conflict.

It demands that all for-profit employers provide health care plans that cover birth control - not only contraception, but morning-after pills that some religions view as akin to abortion.

In statements after the president’s visit, the Vatican understandably handled the matter diplomatically, but it did not give Obama a pass, noting the need to protect Americans’ “rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection.”

We hope the Supreme Court is even more blunt in halting this administration’s slap at people of faith.

Online:

https://tbo.com

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March 28

Gainesville (Fla.) Sun on fixing a law’s flaws:

Whether Florida’s “stand your ground” law is malevolent, misguided or merely misunderstood, it needs repair.

Fortunately, legislation that would clarify the law is gaining ground in the state Senate. House leaders should get on board with this much-needed update, rather than trying to expand the law and insert a public records purge into it.

The new bill (CS/SB 130) gained unanimous support last week from the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee. The measure would not repeal the controversial law; instead it would adjust it to address some of the unintended consequences that have emerged since its passage nearly a decade ago.

The law expanded the circumstances under which the use of lethal force is justified in self-defense. It removed the duty to retreat in situations when someone feels threatened.

The law gained national attention after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford. Neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman was acquitted of fatally shooting Martin, even though Zimmerman had been following the unarmed Martin before their confrontation.

In response to the case, Gov. Rick Scott convened a task force that recommended some changes to the law to clarify its administration. The Legislature at first did little with the recommendations. But more deaths and more doubts emerged.

The Senate bill would do much of what the task force recommended. Particularly important is a provision clarifying that law enforcement is empowered to thoroughly investigate a death despite a “stand your ground” defense.

Yet the House instead is seeking to extend “stand your ground” immunity to people who fire a warning shot or threaten to use other deadly force in cases of self-defense.

Given that a repeal of the law is highly unlikely, it’s time to at least fix some of its flaws. The Senate legislation is a step in the right direction.

Online:

https://www.gainesville.com

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March 31

The Miami Herald on testing Venezuela’s sincerity:

The Vatican’s conditional interest in mediating the political chaos in Venezuela is the first promising development in that country since the current round of unrest began in earnest almost two months ago. Yet there is little reason for optimism because the government seems to be in no mood for peace.

If his stated interest in reconciliation were sincere, the first thing President Nicolás Maduro would do is call off the dogs - the pro-government militants who have sown terror on the streets by intimidating, beating and shooting protesters.

Instead of putting them on a leash, though, Maduro has publicly praised these thugs as defenders of the “Bolivarian revolution.” Resorting to brute force to silence critics hardly sets the stage for mediation. Targeting high-profile government adversaries, including elected officials, only makes matters worse.

Shortly after the wave of protests began, the government ordered the arrest of outspoken government critic Leopoldo Lopez for allegedly inciting violence. On Friday, an appeals court rejected his plea for bail. Far from discouraging opponents, Lopez’s imprisonment has served only to raise his profile as a leader of the hard-line opposition and fueled further protest.

Last week, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello announced that a prominent opposition deputy, Maria Corina Machado, had lost her seat and parliamentary immunity and could be arrested at any time. She courageously defied the government by leading a street protest days later and remains free as of this writing. But for how long?

Machado’s predicament is particularly troubling because it casts a spotlight on the shameful role played by the Organization of American States. Machado appeared before the OAS in Washington to complain about the violence in Venezuela and arbitrary acts committed by the government. As if to prove her right, the Maduro government promptly yanked her legislative credentials.

What’s worse, the OAS assembly voted not only to keep her speech off the record, but also refused to discuss the situation in Venezuela at all. Thus, instead of playing the role of mediator, the OAS effectively became an enabler of wrongdoing, forfeiting the right to call itself a defender of regional democratic freedoms.

If he wants to be taken seriously, Maduro should disavow the armed groups staging attacks on peaceful protesters, release jailed opposition leaders and restore the rights of elected leaders wrongfully removed from office.

If he is prepared to offer these tokens of sincerity, productive talks may be possible - not just to stop the violence, but to determine what changes Maduro is prepared to make in the failed social and economic policies that lie at the root of Venezuela’s distress.

Online:

https://www.miamiherald.com

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