- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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April 22

The Winston-Salem Journal calls for leaders to work for the release of a pastor held in Turkey:

A 50-year-old evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, Andrew Craig Brunson, is facing up to 35 years in prison in Turkey on obviously trumped-up charges of “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and “espionage,” The Associated Press reported last week. We call on our leaders to work for his release.

Brunson has lived in Turkey for 23 years, serving as pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, a small Protestant congregation in Izmir. In court last week, speaking in Turkish, he denied any wrongdoing.

“I did not engage in any illegal activity. I had no relations with anyone engaged in such activity,” Brunson said. “I am a Christian pastor. I did not join an Islamic movement. Their aims and mine are different.”

Fortunately, U.S. legislators have been working on his behalf.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedoms, observed the trial last week. “The administration is deeply concerned about this case,” Brownback told reporters outside the courthouse. “We completely believe (that) Andrew Brunson is innocent. We are hopeful (that) the judicial system will find that.”

Brunson’s case has been adjourned until May 7.

There’s little doubt that Brunson is being used as a pawn by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has urged the U.S. to extradite U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan blames for a failed coup attempt in 2016, in exchange for Brunson’s release.

Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied involvement in the coup.

Turkey once had a reputation as a moderate Muslim nation with a government based on a secular constitution - a place where east and west literally met. But things have changed under Erdogan’s influence. Erdogan has jailed journalists and brutalized political opponents. Just a year ago, he used underhanded methods to win an election and pass a referendum that places almost all state power in his own hands.

President Trump congratulated Erdogan for that victory and received him at the White House, where he lavished praise on the autocratic leader. Trump has called him a friend.

Trump has also asked Erdogan to release Brunson. If Trump has any sway with Erdogan, this is when it should be put to use.

Cases like this are often resolved by quiet diplomacy behind the scenes, but it doesn’t hurt to keep a public eye on the proceedings. We hope the Trump administration will find the key to winning Brunson’s release.

Online: http://www.journalnow.com/

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April 19

The Fayetteville Observer on a Fort Bragg chaplain’s treatment of a same-sex couple:

The United States military does not just protect the country. It is often at the forefront of change.

Its core values of sacrifice and service date back to the American Revolution and would seem to place it firmly in the conservative narrative of this land. But throughout history, particularly in the 20th century forward, the military has led the country in progressive cultural change - most notably, integrating in the 1950s well before most of the South.

Inevitably, the conservative and progressive sides of America’s fighting forces sometimes come into conflict.

A chaplain on Fort Bragg with Southern Baptist ties could be disciplined because he told a same-sex couple they couldn’t participate in a marriage retreat he was leading in February. Maj. J. Scott Squires was the facilitator for the Strong Bonds retreat sponsored by the 1st Special Warfare Training Group. A sergeant, who is unnamed in her complaint, wanted to participate with her female spouse. Squires did not allow the couple to participate on grounds that his denomination did not recognize same-sex marriages (as the U.S. military does). An investigating officer in a 15-6 investigation has found there is evidence that Squires and a chaplain assistant discriminated against the sergeant, and has recommended disciplinary measures.

A reprimand will affect Squires’ 25-year career. He has drawn the support of the senior chaplains representing the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy School.

But Matt Thorn, who heads the nonprofit OutServe-SLDN, which offers legal services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender troops, says the other chaplains’ support for Squires is misplaced.

“It’s a very thin line for the chaplaincy to walk,” Thorn said.

We would add that it is a line that the U.S. military likely will not walk.

The military, as a federal institution, has made up its mind on gay couples: It accepts them, and is required by law to provide them the same legal rights and benefits of heterosexual couples. In a similar dynamic to integration, the military was already beginning to embrace the reality of same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court legalized such unions in 2015, ending the ban in the remaining states that still had them.

It has been a long journey on this issue for an institution that used to kick out homosexual troops, even after the introduction of the don’t ask, don’t tell policy - an inadequate and now-repealed compromise dating back to the Clinton administration.

The military, thanks to federal law and decisions of its commanders, has become more progressive on issues affecting LGBT than many other institutions and most states. For instance, it supports its transgender soldiers - an estimated 1,320 to 6,630 of whom are on active duty, according to very unofficial numbers from a study the Army commissioned in 2016. Other estimates are much higher.

How far in advance is the military’s thinking on the issue? Consider that in 2016 and part of 2017, North Carolina went through the wringer over the General Assembly adopting a “bathroom bill,” intended to prevent transgender people from using the facilities of their choice. The backlash is estimated to have cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars due to a boycott observed by numerous companies, organizations, sports teams and entertainers, before the bill was repealed in 2017. Yet, within the confines of this same state’s military bases, such as Fort Bragg and Marines Corps Base Camp Lejeune, transgender troops were accepted like any other soldier who took the oath to defend the Constitution against the nation’s enemies.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s attempts to bar transgender troops from service have been blocked by federal courts.

Those courts’ collective decisions on LGBT issues will prove at least as much of a challenge for Chaplain Squires as they proved for the commander-in-chief. That’s because federal law is clear, and is the basis for Army policy, which says soldiers can’t be denied services based on race, color, national origin, gender, religious affiliation or sexual orientation.

The 15-6 investigator found that Squires tried to find another chaplain to do the retreat, which caused the retreat to be rescheduled. That sounds like a compromise, and it’s one that Squires’ supporters think should excuse him. But the compromise still presents a problem for Squires, as well as for the Army: The command said the retreat was open to married couples on a specified weekend. It cannot turn around when a certain couple shows up and say, essentially, “It’s not open to you. We will schedule something for you later.” Clearly, it would have been unacceptable to publicize the retreat as for heterosexual couples only.

One solution going forward might be to allow only chaplains who can accommodate all legal marriages to lead the marriage retreats.

The military can and does accommodate many different ideas and beliefs, religious beliefs among them. But it has been steadily less willing to accommodate any kind of discrimination, and should be applauded for that.

Online: http://www.fayobserver.com/

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April 19

The Wilson Times on the ruling that UNC-Chapel Hill must disclose the name of those judged responsible for sexual harassment and assault:

Our state’s flagship public university can no longer hide behind federal student privacy laws when it comes to shielding the people it’s disciplined for sexual misconduct from scrutiny.

A unanimous three-judge N.C. Court of Appeals panel ruled Tuesday that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill must disclose the identities of students and faculty members it has judged responsible for sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The ruling is a win for open government advocates - The Daily Tar Heel student newspaper, WRAL-TV owner Capital Broadcasting Co., The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun of Durham are the plaintiffs - and it will subject both the accused and the system that judges them to necessary public scrutiny.

Student editors sued UNC after it refused to fulfill a September 2016 public records request seeking documents related to individuals “found responsible for rape, sexual assault or lesser included sexual misconduct” by the college’s honor court, its Committee on Student Conduct or its Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office.

The university acknowledged the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act contained an exemption that would allow it to name names. Attorneys for UNC argued, however, that FERPA grants colleges discretion to determine whether the information should be released.

“(C)ontrary to Defendants’ assertion, FERPA does not expressly or impliedly grant educational institutions the absolute discretion to decide whether to release exempt educational records,” Judge John M. Tyson wrote.

UNC also argued that the federal law preempts, or overrides, the North Carolina Public Records Act. The three-judge appellate panel found no conflict between FERPA provisions and state sunshine laws, concluding that the university could release public records without running afoul of Congress.

To support its weak legal arguments, UNC padded its brief with doom-and-gloom predictions that would make Chicken Little blush. Disclosing the identities of those it determines have committed harassment and assault could inadvertently identify victims, undermine trust in the campus judicial system and deter victims from coming forward, lawyers argued.

Judges waved those protestations off, noting that public policy questions are reserved for the General Assembly and the courts’ proper role is to interpret the law, not rewrite statutes to suit litigants’ tastes. Indeed, it would be unprecedented overreach for judges to invent an exemption to public records law from whole cloth.

UNC can appeal the ruling to the North Carolina Supreme Court, but since the appellate ruling is unanimous, the high court isn’t required to review it. We hope the university stops wasting taxpayer money on litigation and releases the public records without further delay.

Naming names is firmly in the public’s interest. Classmates, professors and members of the community at large should have the right to know when someone is judged responsible for sexual misconduct.

Notice that students and faculty members are considered “responsible” rather than “guilty.” That’s because universities are not courts and lack the authority to issue criminal or civil judgments. The harshest punishment a college can mete out is expulsion, and much campus discipline falls far short of that.

While individuals with a black mark on their records may notice some glares in Carolina’s courtyards, we’re betting that disclosure will subject UNC’s disciplinary system to far harsher scrutiny, a move that’s long overdue.

Following misguided guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice on Title IX, American colleges are in over their heads where sexual misconduct is concerned. Panels of students and administrators are tasked with weighing allegations of rape and sexual assault without forensic evidence, subpoena powers, perjury penalties or participants’ right to cross-examine witnesses. Many cases hinge on personal testimony. It’s largely a he-said, she-said affair.

The result is sham trials overseen by kangaroo courts where the innocent are judged “responsible” and those guilty of serious crimes are let off with a slap on the wrist - a suspension, a switched class, academic probation. If a student really is a rapist, such lenient consequences are an insult to victims and a mockery of justice that should shame colleges far worse than inflating athletes’ grades with paper classes.

Releasing public records on these often farcical campus hearings will rally victims and their advocates against insufficient punishments and give the wrongfully accused an incentive to clear their names in a real courtroom.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and it could be the saving grace that leads to increased criminal prosecutions for college sexual assault.

Online: http://www.wilsontimes.com/


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