TIME faith

Mormon Church Supports LGBT Protections in Shift

Faithful Attend Mormon General Conference In Salt Lake City
The Salt Lake Temple is seen during the 184th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Oct. 4, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. George Frey—Getty Images

Looks to support legislation while also protecting religious freedom in major policy announcement

The Mormon church is revving up its efforts to protect both religious freedom and LGBT rights in the United States.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Tuesday that it would support legislation to provide LGBT protections in housing, employment and other policy areas, as long as it also protects religious freedom. The move is a proactive step on the part of the Church to address the growing polarization and competing interests between religious freedom advocates and LGBT advocates.

It is unusual for Church leaders to make so public a statement, especially with so strong a lineup of speakers. Three members of the leadership group The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke at Tuesday’s news conference—Elders Dallin H. Oaks, Jeffrey R. Holland, and D. Todd Christofferson—as well as Sister Neill F. Marriott of the Church’s Young Women general presidency.

“This nation is engaged in a great debate about marriage, family, individual conscience and collective rights and the place of religious freedom in our society,” Marriott said. “The debate we speak of today is about how to affirm rights for some without taking away from the rights of others.”

While the announcement is rare, it is not surprising. Mormon leaders have had dozens of conversations over the past few years on this topic, according to a Church spokesperson—with LGBT advocates, government officials, and other religious leaders. Those conversations have continued since 2009, when the Church came out in favor of Salt Lake City ordinances that aimed to protect LGBT residents from housing and employment discrimination.

Tuesday’s announcement comes as the Utah Legislature is considering competing bills on this very divide. One measure would bar housing and employment discrimination against LGBT people in Utah. The other would protect an individual’s right to deny services, including performing marriages, based on religious beliefs. Legislatures around the country are also beginning new sessions, and religious freedom bills have been cropping up across the country, from Michigan to Texas to North Carolina.

Looming over the entire debate is the reality that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear landmark marriage equality cases in April, to be decided upon in June. Marriage was not on the table in the Church’s announcement Tuesday—and no church doctrine or teaching is changing—but the move instead signals a new strategy amid the heated national debate over when religious freedom becomes the right to discriminate, especially in matters of human sexuality.

The big question for many religious conservatives is where that line will be drawn, and ensuring that they can continue to practice their religious convictions as laws to protect LGBT rights expand. The practicalities of that debate are on Mormon leaders’ minds.

“For example, a Latter-day Saint physician who objects to performing abortions or artificial insemination for a lesbian couple should not be forced against his or her conscience to do so, especially when others are readily available to perform that function,” Elder Holland said. “As another example, a neighborhood Catholic pharmacist, who declines to carry the ‘morning after’ pill when large pharmacy chains readily offer that item, should likewise not be pressured into violating his or her conscience by bullying or boycotting.”

Ensuring such religious freedom protections in the midst of increasing laws to protect LGBT rights is a growing concern not just for the LDS Church, but for many other Christian communities. It is prompting increased collaboration between Catholics, evangelicals, and Mormons to stand for religious freedom. Last week, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who is hosting Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families in September, spoke about the urgency of this new partnership at Brigham Young University. “The differences in our doctrine and practice are obvious,” Chaput said. “But that doesn’t preclude friendship. … And it doesn’t obscure the fact that we face many of the same problems and share many of the same convictions about marriage and family, the nature of our sexuality, the sanctity of human life and the urgency of religious freedom.”

Accommodating the rights of all citizens, the Mormon leaders said, means taking seriously the rights of religious minorities. In the United States, less than 2% of the population is Mormon, according to the Pew Research Center.

“When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser,” Oaks said. “Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender. … It is one of today’s great ironies that some people who have fought so hard for LGBT rights now try to deny the rights of others to disagree with their public policy proposals.”

TIME Security

Report: Government Now Tracking Millions of U.S. Cars

FRANCE-TRANSPORT-TRAFFIC-HOLIDAYS
Motorists drive in traffic on the A7 motorway under a bridge where a security camera is set on August 2, 2014 at the toll station of Vienne, southeastern France. Philippe Desmazes—AFP/Getty Images

A database of vehicle movements records times, dates and in some cases, identifiable images of drivers, the Wall Street Journal reports

A license-plate tracking system originally conceived to combat drug traffickers along the U.S.-Mexican border has drastically expanded to encompass millions of vehicles across the United States, according to official documents released Tuesday.

Law enforcement officials have tapped a database of vehicle movements, including times, dates and in some cases, images of drivers snapped by roadside traffic cameras, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Drug Enforcement Agency established the program to monitor and impound cars used by drug traffickers along the US-Mexico border, but documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal suggest that the program has expanded for a range of investigations unrelated to drug trafficking cases. Sen. Patrick Leahy criticized the unpublicized expansion of the program, saying that it “raises significant privacy concerns.”

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.

TIME weather

Snow Slams Massachusetts After Mostly Sparing New York City

Heaviest bands of snowfall hit eastern Long Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts

A powerful winter blizzard that spared New York City the worst of its wrath still wreaked havoc across much of New England on Tuesday, with more than two feet of snow expected to fall in Massachusetts along with winds above 70 miles per hour.

Almost 12,000 people lost power in Nantucket, thousands more did in Cape Cod and the coastal town of Scituate was flooded. About one-and-a-half-feet of snow had fallen on Boston by late Tuesday morning, with more expected, the Associated Press reports. The city of Worcester, 60 miles west of Boston, recorded accumulations as high as 25 inches, NBC News reports.

“This is clearly a very big storm for most of Massachusetts,” Gov. Charlie Baker said.

More than 7,000 flights were cancelled because of the snow costing the economy about $230 million, the U.S. Travel Association said. Still, what some had forecast to be one of the worst winter storms in recent history clearly didn’t pack as much punch as expected. Travel bans were lifted in Connecticut and western Massachusetts. And further south in New York City, the most dire predictions failed to materialize, raising questions for city and state officials who ordered a total shutdown of the city’s transportation system. The National Weather Service cancelled its blizzard warning for New York, and one official conceded the forecast had been off.

“This is a big forecast miss,” Gary Szatkowski, a meteorologist at the U.S. National Weather Service, said on Twitter.

The heaviest bands of snowfall skirted east of the city, blanketing eastern Long Island and parts of Connecticut with more than a foot of snow. But accumulations in New York and New Jersey ranged from two to six inches as of early Tuesday morning. Forecasts had called for between 20 and 30 inches of snow in the city.

MORE: Why the Big Blizzard Fizzled in New York

“The storm in general, I think it’s fair to say, was less destructive than predicted so far,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a Tuesday morning press briefing. Cuomo announced a resumption of subway service by 9 a.m. ET, but urged commuters to stay home and away from “hazardous” roads. “If you don’t have to travel today, you really don’t want to be traveling today.”

“The heaviest snows have struggled to move west of the Hudson River,” the National Weather Service announced on its New York State Facebook page, adding, “the science of forecasting storms, while continually improving, still can be subject to error.”

MORE: Why Blizzards Turn Us Into Irrational Hoarders at the Grocery Store

New Jersey lifted a partial travel ban over state roads by 7 a.m., coordinating with the state of New York, which also lifted travel bans on city and upstate county roads. Connecticut was set to lift a statewide travel ban at 2 p.m., but Gov. Dan Malloy encouraged people to still “limit travel and use common sense while driving.”

City streets remained deserted and eerily quiet early, after New York officials took the unusual step Monday of ordering all traffic cleared from city streets by 11 p.m. and suspending all metropolitan transit service.

TIME weather

Massive Snowstorm Buries New England

APTOPIX Winter Weather
Fishing boats ride out the storm at dock in Scituate, Mass., on Jan. 27, 2015. Michael Dwyer—AP

New England was braced for two or even three feet of snow

Up to four inches of snow an hour fell in parts of the Northeast early Tuesday as tens of millions of people hunkered down for a historic blizzard that shut down travel — but New York City and Philadelphia escaped the worst of the weather.

New England was braced for two or even three feet of snow, whipped by near-hurricane force winds that created almost whiteout conditions and threatened coastal flooding.

However, a blizzard warning was downgraded to a winter storm alert in all but one county of New York early Tuesday.

As winds combined with high tides, a storm surge. . .

Read the rest of our story from our partners at NBC News

TIME technology

Police Are Pressuring Google to Turn Off Waze’s Cop-Tracking Feature

They're worried about attacks on officers

Police are lobbying Google to disable a feature on an app that warns drivers when cops are nearby, saying it could lead to more attacks on officers.

Waze is one of the technology industry’s most popular apps with 50 million users in 200 countries, CBS News reports. The software uses GPS and social networking to give drivers’ real-time traffic alerts and warnings about congestion, car accidents, speed traps and weather conditions.

The app also marks where police are stationed on maps.

Sheriffs are worried the app could be used by would-be police killers to stalk their whereabouts.

There are no known incidents of attackers using Waze in this way but in the wake of several police shootings, law enforcement groups want the feature turned off.

Google has declined to comment on the campaign.

[CBS News]

TIME Libya

Democrats, Republicans Spar Over Benghazi Investigation

Trey Gowdy, Elijah Cummings
Trey Gowdy, left, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, and Elijah Cummings, the ranking member, confer as the panel holds its first public hearing to investigate the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 17, 2014 J. Scott Applewhite—AP

Finger pointing and accusations of political grandstanding mar the third public hearing on the investigations into the Benghazi attacks

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — A special House committee investigating the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, began last year with promises of bipartisanship and cooperation.

Eight months later, the panel has devolved into finger pointing and accusations of political grandstanding and power plays.

As the panel holds its third public hearing Tuesday, Democrats complain that the panel’s Republican chairman has excluded them from crucial steps in the investigation, while Republicans say Democrats are playing politics.

In a strongly worded letter, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat, said the panel’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., has used different standards for Republicans and Democrats and has held secret meetings with witnesses from the State Department and other agencies.

“Perhaps most importantly,” Cummings wrote in a letter last week, Gowdy has “withheld or downplayed information when it undermines the allegations we are investigating.” The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter and two others sent by Democrats to Gowdy.

Gowdy said in response late Monday that he has the authority to unilaterally subpoena witnesses, but he promised to give Democrats a week’s notice before issuing such a subpoena.

“Bipartisanship is a two-way street,” Gowdy said in a letter to Cummings. “I have known you to be a fair partner and expect for that cooperation to continue.”

Committee spokesman Jamal Ware was less diplomatic.

He said Gowdy was disappointed that Democrats had released “correspondence that attempts to politically characterize sources’ private discussions with the committee.”

As chairman, Gowdy “has operated the Benghazi Committee in a more-than-fair and fact-based manner,” Ware said, adding that Gowdy will continue to address any legitimate Democratic concerns.

“He will not, however, allow the committee’s investigation to be hamstrung by politics.”

Such an outcome appeared increasingly likely, as a bipartisan tone set last May when the 12-member committee was created appeared to dissipate.

Gowdy and Cummings continued the bipartisan tone at a hearing in September and again in December, but behind the scenes have disagreed sharply.

Gowdy has said he will pursue the facts of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. post in eastern Libya that killed Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador, and three other Americans.

“Facts are neither Republican nor Democrat,” Gowdy said when the panel was created last May.

Gowdy’s approach has drawn criticism from some conservatives, who accuse him of failing to stand up to what they see as resistance from the Obama administration to produce documents and witnesses related to the events in Benghazi, a topic that has been the subject of numerous congressional investigations.

A report by the House Intelligence Committee report last fall found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attacks. Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the panel determined there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

Cummings, who has clashed with Republicans such as Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., over Benghazi and other issues, has previously praised Gowdy for a bipartisan approach to the Benghazi inquiry.

But he said in a letter sent Friday that he and his colleagues have grown increasingly concerned that they are being shut out by the GOP majority. Cummings cited a GOP-approved rule that allows Gowdy to meet privately with committee witnesses and unilaterally issue subpoenas for witnesses or documents “without any public discussion or debate, even if there is significant disagreement from other members of the committee.”

He and other Democrats “simply ask for a public debate and a vote by committee members on these actions when there is significant disagreement,” Cummings wrote.

The Jan. 23 letter is the third Democrats have sent to Gowdy since November. None of the letters had previously been made public.

In one letter, dated Nov. 24, Cummings told Gowdy the committee inquiry has “taken a sharp turn for the worse and is becoming what you strenuously insisted it would not – another partisan investigation of the Benghazi attacks that blocks Democrats from meaningful participation.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said he was “deeply skeptical” that the Benghazi committee would operate fairly, but nonetheless agreed to serve on the panel as one of the Democratic members.

“Now, after learning that we have been excluded from parts of the investigation, and that the majority has held secret interviews with key witnesses and withheld information . I fear this skepticism may have been all too justified,” Schiff said.

He called on Gowdy to lay out the scope of his investigation immediately and adopt a set of rules “that will give Congress and the country the assurance that this will not be yet another politicized and partisan exercise at taxpayer expense.”

TIME Crime

Two Police Officers Injured as Gunman Opens Fire at Minnesota City Hall

The man was fatally shot after other officers returned fire

A man was killed in Minnesota on Monday after he opened fire on two police officers after a swearing-in ceremony at New Hope city hall.

The shooter, who has not yet been named, was fatally shot after exchanging fire with other officers at the scene, Reuters reports.

The shoot-out occurred after the wounded two officers, who had just been sworn-in, left the chambers. They have also not been identified but are in good condition and are expected to survive.

In a video of the council meeting, a series of gunshots can be heard followed by council member John Elder urging everyone to “get down.”

Elder, who used to work for the local police department, can be seen holding a handgun as he takes cover behind the desk.

No one inside the meeting was hurt, and authorities say they don’t know why the gunman opened fire.

[Reuters]

TIME Aviation

Watch a Pilot Ditch His Plane Into the Sea and Get Rescued by a Cruise Ship

The Coast Guard captured dramatic footage of the rescue

A pilot flying from Tracy, Calif., to Maui, Hawaii, had to ditch his single-engine plane in the Pacific Ocean after the aircraft experienced engine trouble.

Lue Morton radioed the Hawaii National Coast Guard at 12:30 p.m. Sunday saying he was having problems with the fuel tank and would have to ditch his plane, NBC reports.

The Coast Guard directed him to bail near a cruise ship, which was en route to Lahaina at the time.

Video shows the plane releasing a parachute and nose-diving before crashing into the water. Morton can be seen climbing out of the top of the plane and into a life raft where he was rescued by the cruise ship.

Morton says he’s an experienced pilot and has flown to Hawaii before.

[NBC]

TIME Crime

Mommy Blogger Stands Trial Accused of Killing Her 5-Year-Old Son With Salt

Lacey Spears
This undated photo provided by the Westchester County District Attorney’s office shows Lacey Spears, who was indicted June 17, 2014, in White Plains, N.Y., on charges of depraved murder and manslaughter in the death of her son, 5-year-old Garnett-Paul Spears. Westchester County District Attorney’/AP

Lacey Spears tweeted updates on her son's worsening condition

A mommy blogger is on trial outside New York City regarding the death of her 5-year-old son, whom she allegedly poisoned with high levels of salt while sharing his worsening medical condition over the Internet.

Lacey Spears, 27, of Scottsville, Ky., has been charged with the depraved murder and manslaughter of Garnett-Paul Spears. She allegedly fed him salt through a hospital tube at the Westchester Medical Center, White Plains, N.Y., precipitating a spike in his sodium levels that led to seizures, brain swelling and eventually death.

“This mother was intentionally feeding her child salt at toxic levels,” said prosecutor Doreen Lloyd, according to the Associated Press.

Spears, originally from Alabama, kept her social-media followers appraised of Garnett-Paul’s worsening medical condition during the last few days of his life, writing “My sweet angel is in the hospital for the 23rd time” and “Please pray he gets to come home soon.”

On her son’s final day, she wrote, “Garnett the great journeyed onward today at 10:20 a.m.”

The trial continues.

[AP]

TIME Crime

The U.S. Is Exonerating More People Than Ever

But not because of DNA evidence

The U.S. exonerated a record number of people in 2014, according to a new report, continuing a steady increase over the last decade as cultural shifts have made some law enforcement agencies more willing to re-examine long-closed criminal cases.

The National Registry of Exonerations, a project on wrongful convictions at the University of Michigan Law School, recorded 125 exonerations in 2014, up from 91 in both 2013 and 2012, according to totals released Tuesday. “This is part of a long-term trend,” says Samuel Gross, a Michigan law professor who wrote the report.

The jump was driven largely by a high concentration of exonerations in three densely-populated counties: Dallas County and Harris County, which includes Houston, in Texas, and Kings County, New York, home to Brooklyn.

(MORE: The Changing Face of Exonerations)

In Dallas, a crime lab has been working through a backlog of decades-old cases using DNA testing. In Brooklyn, the district attorney’s office has been investigating dozens of murder charges traced back to a detective accused of manufacturing evidence in the 1980s and ’90s. And in Harris County, which had only three recorded exonerations in 2013, there were 33 exonerations related to false guilty pleas in drug cases.

The registry has logged 1,535 exonerations since 1989, with most coming in the last decade. Yet exonerations based on DNA evidence, one of the main sources for the initial rise, have declined. DNA exonerations accounted for 40% of all exonerations in 2005. Last year, researchers say that figure was down to 18% as the supply of old cases with faulty or missing DNA evidence dwindles.

(MORE: Texas Justice Goes Soft)

Gross says that police officers and prosecutors are increasingly willing to cooperate in re-opening old cases, part of what he calls a “cultural shift” toward preventing mistakes that can lead to wrongful convictions.

“Everybody has become more aware that errors can be made,” Gross says. “And I think that after some prosecutors like those in Dallas and Harris County took on this issue, other prosecutors begin to think, that’s probably true here and maybe we should do something about it.”

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