Support Common Dreams Today
Journalism that is independent, non-profit, ad-free, and 100% reader-supported.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
Joe Conn, Rob Boston or Sandhya Bathija
A public university does not have to accommodate a student in a counseling program who refuses to help clients who are in romantic relationships that contradict her religious beliefs, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told a federal appeals court.
Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 11 on behalf of Eastern Michigan University, arguing that the Constitution permits the university to dismiss a student from its graduate program for refusing to counsel a gay client as part of an advanced course.
"Public universities are expected to serve the whole community," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "They have every right to set up non-discrimination policies that serve the public interest.
"Professional ethics standards forbid counselors to discriminate on the basis of their personal religious beliefs," Lynn continued. "The university has done the right thing by requiring its students to uphold those standards and treat all clients fairly and equally. We hope the appeals court agrees."
Julea Ward, a self-described "orthodox Christian," filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging that school officials violated her free speech and religious liberty rights. Represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, she claims she cannot "affirm any behavior that goes against what the Bible says" and would always refer to other counselors "all clients who seek counseling for sexual relationship issues she believes to be against the teachings of the Bible."
A lower federal court ruled in favor of the university in July 2010. The court upheld the university's right to adhere to the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice and the American School Counselor Association Ethical Standards for School Counselors.
These standards, which all accredited counseling programs must adhere to, prohibit "imposing values that are inconsistent with counseling goals" and "discrimination based on...sexual orientation." So-called "reparative therapy," which seeks to change an individual's sexual orientation," is regarded as ineffective and potentially harmful.
During a formal university hearing over this matter, Ward admitted she disagreed with the standards and would not be willing to follow them when they contradicted her religious beliefs.
Americans United's brief asserts that Ward's religious liberty and free speech rights were not violated by the university. Ward, as a professional degree student, was counseling university clients under a university professor's license, and therefore was acting as an employee of the public university, AU's brief states.
The Constitution, says Americans United, prohibits government employees acting in their official duties from imposing religious beliefs on others.
"The First Amendment does not prevent states from promoting a client's needs over his provider's religious agenda; a public-university counseling program may train its students to practice accordingly," asserts AU's brief.
Explained the AU brief, "A university would not be required to graduate a Jehovah's Witness whose religious views prevented him from providing his clinical patients with necessary blood transfusions - even if he aced his written anatomy exam. Likewise, the University was entitled to expel [Ward] because her religious views prevented her from counseling clinical patients who wanted to discuss non-marital sex - no matter how sophisticated her work in the classroom."
Americans United's brief in Ward v. Wilbanks et. al. was drafted by AU Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper and AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Another critic warned that "while the Fed continues to stick to their obsession with job-killing interest rate hikes, the livelihoods of working families are on the line."
Progressive economists and advocates on Wednesday blasted the U.S. Federal Reserve for hiking the federal funds rate an eighth consecutive time despite fears of a recession and impacts on working people.
"With today's rate hike, the Fed is pushing us dangerously close to an unnecessary recession that would spell disaster for low-wage workers, workers of color, and vulnerable communities," the Groundwork Collaborative declared. "Workers and families shouldn't have to pay the price for inflation."
The Federal Open Market Committee rose the benchmark interest rate to a range of 4.5%-4.75%. The 25-basis-point increase was the smallest hike since March and came amid signs that the U.S. economy is cooling off.
"Chair Powell should pause his interest rate hikes and remember his dual mandate: Fight inflation without throwing millions out of work."
Fed Chair Jerome Powell said that "while recent developments are encouraging, we will need substantially more evidence to be confident that inflation is on a sustained downward path," so "we expect ongoing hikes will be appropriate."
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a major critic of the wave of increases, tweeted that "we want to bring down inflation, but that means landing the plane not crashing it. Chair Powell should pause his interest rate hikes and remember his dual mandate: Fight inflation without throwing millions out of work."
University of California, Berkeley professor and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich explained in a recent video that "the Fed is wrongly obsessing about a wage-price spiral—wage gains pushing up prices—when it should be worried about a profit-price spiral—corporate profits driving up prices."
\u201cThe Federal Reserve is continuing to raise interest rates in an effort to slow the economy. \n\nLower-wage workers and the poor bear most of the pain of these rate hikes.\n\nMeanwhile, corporate executives, Wall Street, and the wealthy get away scot-free.\u201d— Inequality Media (@Inequality Media) 1675280125
Longtime opponents of the Fed's strategy on Wednesday renewed calls for not only the U.S. central bank to halt its hikes but also federal lawmakers to get to work battling corporate greed.
Liz Zelnick, director of the Economic Security and Corporate Power program at Accountable.Us, warned that "while the Fed continues to stick to their obsession with job-killing interest rate hikes, the livelihoods of working families are on the line."
"Key indicators show inflation is slowing as our economic recovery remains fragile, which means the Fed's higher rates are only pushing the economy closer to a recession," she said. "Meanwhile, Fed economists have admitted corporations are the real culprit of high costs yet have still refused to relax rate hikes. It's time for the Fed to back down and let policymakers rein in corporate greed rather than risk it all on another rate increase."
\u201cRoses are red \ud83c\udf39\nThe Fed wants a recession \ud83d\udcc9\nJerome Powell's gotta stop \ud83d\uded1\nWith this job loss obsession \ud83d\ude29\n\nSlower rate hikes are not enough - the Fed needs to hit pause before we tip over the edge and put millions of workers at risk of joblessness.\u201d— Rakeen Mabud (@Rakeen Mabud) 1675280991
Patriotic Millionaires chair Morris Pearl, former managing director at BlackRock, offered a similar critique of Fed policy.
"Today's interest rate hike by the Fed is bad news for the American economy. It's true that raising rates is meant to solve inflation, but that doesn't mean it's the correct course to take right now. Raising rates may cool inflation, but it does so by making everything from mortgages to credit card payments more expensive, which hurts those already suffering the most in today's cost-of-living crisis," he said. "In this case, the cure may be worse than the disease."
"If the federal government is truly committed to slowing inflation without heaping extra pain on the vulnerable, they should go after greedy, ultraprofitable corporations and their C-suite executives," he argued. "Many corporations have used the hype over inflation in recent months to raise prices on consumers and line their pockets. Why else would corporate profits be at a 70-year high?"
"Many corporations have used the hype over inflation in recent months to raise prices on consumers and line their pockets."
Pearl pointed out that "everyone's been complaining lately about how expensive eggs are. The fact that Cal-Maine, the largest egg producer in the U.S., experienced a 10-fold increase in their profits over the last year might just have something to do with it."
As Common Dreamsreported last month, Farm Action raised concerns about "apparent price gouging, price coordination, and other unfair or deceptive acts or practices by dominant producers of eggs" and urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the sector, "prosecute any violations of the antitrust laws it finds within, and ultimately, get the American people their money back."
Pearl said Wednesday that "the Fed raising interest rates won't do anything to stop corporations like Cal-Maine from exploiting American consumers, unless they raise them so much as to cause a massive rise in unemployment."
"It is hard to see a scenario where this kind of action does not cause immense pain to the worst off in America," he added. "The Fed needs to back off, and let Congress step in to tackle corporate greed."
"You cannot remove a member of Congress from a committee simply because you do not agree with their views," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal. "This is both ludicrous and dangerous."
Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and her progressive allies are denouncing the Republican effort to oust her from a key House panel as early as Thursday.
House Republicans on Wednesday advanced a resolution to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC). In a party-line 218-209 vote, GOP lawmakers approved a rule that sets the parameters for debate on the chamber floor prior to a final vote.
"It remains unclear when House Republicans will bring the Omar resolution to the floor for debate and a final vote," The Hillreported. "Democrats still need to formally submit a separate resolution with their roster for the Foreign Affairs Committee." That is expected to happen by Thursday.
The GOP has sought for years to remove Omar, a principled critic of Israeli apartheid and Washington's role in perpetuating it, from the HFAC. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has unilateral authority to boot any lawmaker from a select committee, but because the HFAC is a standing committee, removing a member from it requires a full House vote.
On Tuesday night, after Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio) introduced the measure to remove Omar from the HFAC over supposedly "antisemitic" remarks, the progressive lawmaker tweeted that "there is nothing objectively true in this resolution."
In response to Miller's argument that "Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people"—a contention that wrongfully equates criticism of Israel's colonization of Palestine with criticism of Jewish people—the Minnesota Democrat said that "if not being objective is a reason to not serve on committees, no one would be on committees."
In a Wednesday statement, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) called the House GOP's pending vote against Omar "the latest racist attack by the far-right to silence progressives in Congress who speak up for a human rights-centered foreign policy, including Palestinian human rights."
"The GOP is riddled with white nationalists and antisemites. It is infuriating and absurd that they are trying to distract from the bigoted hatred in their own party by attacking a progressive woman of color."
"Anti-Palestinian politicians and organizations" have long tried "to censor the Congresswoman's consistent calls for accountability for the Israeli government's apartheid and human rights violations against Palestinians," said JVP. "Sadly, these Republican attempts to attack Congresswoman Omar have been buoyed in the past by attacks on Palestinian rights advocates within the Democratic party."
According to Beth Miller, political director of JVP Action: "These attacks are happening because Congresswoman Omar is effective. Because she is a progressive. Because she is a Black Muslim woman. Because her values are universal and include fighting for Palestinians."
"The GOP is riddled with white nationalists and antisemites," said Miller. "It is infuriating and absurd that they are trying to distract from the bigoted hatred in their own party by attacking a progressive woman of color. Congresswoman Omar consistently calls for the Israeli government to be held accountable for its crimes—crimes the GOP would rather cover up."
Meanwhile, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said Monday that the CPC "stands fully behind our deputy chair."
"Omar is a valued member of the Democratic caucus and of this Congress," said Jayapal. "Throughout her service in Congress and on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, she has brought her essential and unique voice and lived experience to bear: as a refugee, war survivor, and soon, as the first African-born ranking member on the Africa Subcommittee."
"You cannot remove a member of Congress from a committee simply because you do not agree with their views," Jayapal continued. "This is both ludicrous and dangerous. In the last Congress, Republican members were moved from committees with a bipartisan vote for endangering the safety of their colleagues. Speaker McCarthy is attempting to take revenge and draw false comparisons."
Jayapal praised the few Republicans "who have already rejected this idea" and expressed hope that "more will join them to state their opposition so it is not brought to the floor, or vote against it should it be brought to the floor."
As The Washington Post reported Wednesday:
Republican leaders have worked for weeks to ensure that there were enough votes to pass a resolution removing Omar from the committee through their razor-thin majority margin, which stands at three as Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) remains away from Washington recuperating from a traumatic fall. Opposition to the effort emerged last month as four lawmakers signaled that they wouldn't support the measure, citing concerns that it would continue a precedent set by former speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
But the inclusion of a provision in the four-page resolution, that Republicans argue provides due process to Omar, seems to have appeased at least one crucial voter, as Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) announced Tuesday that she would now support the measure. Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) have publicly suggested that they would vote against it before the resolution's text was released Tuesday, while Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has said he remained undecided. Republican leadership aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to outline private whip counts, said they have the votes to pass the measure whenever Democrats formally appoint Omar to her committee.
Jayapal affirmed earlier this week that Democrats "will stand strongly with Rep. Omar: an esteemed and invaluable legislator, a respectful and kind colleague, and a courageous progressive leader."
On Sunday, Omar argued that House Republicans are trying to oust her from the HFAC because they disapprove of having a Muslim refugee from Somalia on the panel, as Common Dreamsreported.
Omar has been the frequent target of Islamophobic bigotry, including from Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which paid Facebook to host attack ads that endangered the lawmaker's life. Due to credible death threats, the Minnesota Democrat is often assigned security by the U.S. Capitol Police.
In her Sunday conversation with CNN's Dana Bash, Omar acknowledged that she apologized for the wording of her February 2019 tweets tying U.S. lawmakers' support for Israel to money from lobbyists—at the time, she specifically called out AIPAC, which has given millions of dollars to members of Congress.
The GOP's campaign to expel her from the HFAC "is politically motivated," Omar said. "In some cases, it's motivated by the fact that many of these members don't believe a Muslim, a refugee, an African should even be in Congress, let alone have the opportunity to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee."
On Monday, Omar asserted that her work on the HFAC has contributed positively to "advancing human rights, holding government officials accountable for past harms, and advancing a more just and peaceful foreign policy."
\u201cWe\u2019ve been clear in our work to center international law and human rights.\u201d— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Rep. Ilhan Omar) 1675118259
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) concurred, tweeting Monday that Omar's work on the panel "matters deeply and Republicans' cowardly efforts to remove and silence her are a disgrace."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) echoed Pressley, writing on social media: "It's shameful that Republicans are trying to remove her [from the HFAC] after smearing her for years. We need her voice, values, and expertise on the committee."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), meanwhile, noted that "Omar is once again facing ugly personal and political attacks with incredible courage and dignity."
"It is outrageous that the House leadership wants to boot her off the Foreign Affairs Committee," Sanders tweeted. "Fair-minded Republicans must join Democrats in preventing that from happening."
This article has been updated to include a statement from Jewish Voice for Peace.
"We have the tools, the guidance, the policies, and the knowledge we need. Now we must make good on this commitment and move to action," reads the Dar es Salaam Declaration. "Together we will not fail."
Declaring the fight against HIV and AIDS infections in children "winnable," public health officials from across Africa on Wednesday convened in Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania to discuss the steps needed from policymakers and the healthcare sector to eradicate pediatric cases by 2030.
Representatives from 12 countries including Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Cote D'Ivoire, and Cameroon were joined by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), UNICEF, and other global organizations at the first ministerial meeting of the Global Alliance to End AIDS in Children.
The alliance was formed last summer, as the United Nations noted that just 52% of children living with AIDS are on lifesaving treatment and warned progress for preventing pediatric cases is stalling. Among adults patients, 76% are receiving antiretroviral treatments.
The delegates unanimously agreed on Wednesday to the Dar es Salaam Declaration for Action. The declaration's commitments include:
"We have the tools, the guidance, the policies, and the knowledge we need. Now we must make good on this commitment and move to action," reads the declaration. "Together we will not fail."
"Closing the gap for children will require laser focus and a steadfast commitment to hold ourselves, governments, and all partners accountable for results."
The global alliance has stressed since its formation last year that ending pediatric AIDS and HIV infections is an achievable goal, noting the progress that has been made in several African countries with high HIV burdens.
"By the end of 2021, 12 countries in sub-Saharan Africa reached the target of 95% ART [antiretroviral therapy] coverage in pregnant women and Botswana was the first high prevalence African country to be validated as being on the path to eliminating vertical transmission of HIV," reads a document released when the initiative was launched.
Sixteen countries worldwide have also been "certified for validation of eliminating vertical transmission of HIV," according to UNAIDS.
\u201cI believe this is a winnable fight\u2014one we can win for all children in Africa. We can win it for their mothers; we can win it for their families; we can win it for our countries. Honourable Ministers make it your priority and you will see results during your tenure!\n#ForEveryChild\u201d— Winnie Byanyima (@Winnie Byanyima) 1675241033
But still, 160,000 children acquired HIV in 2021 and children accounted for 15% of all AIDS-related deaths that year, despite the fact that they only make up 4% of the total number of people living with HIV. Across the globe, a child dies of AIDS-related causes every five minutes.
"Year on year, the same poor progress has been reported towards global and national targets for children and adolescents," said the alliance last year. "Despite available, affordable, and highly effective tools and programming strategies to diagnose and treat HIV among children, adolescents, and pregnant and breastfeeding women, large service gaps for these populations remain."
By meeting the commitments laid out in the Dar es Salaam Declaration, officials said, they will promote active participation of national programs and affected communities, boost existing programs to end AIDS in children, and mobilize resources through "donor coordination and innovative financing."
"Closing the gap for children will require laser focus and a steadfast commitment to hold ourselves, governments, and all partners accountable for results," said John Nkengasong, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator and leader of PEPFAR. "In partnership with the global alliance, PEPFAR commits to elevate the HIV/AIDS children's agenda to the highest political level within and across countries to mobilize the necessary support needed to address rights, gender equality, and the social and structural barriers that hinder access to prevention and treatment services for children and their families."
Philip Mpango, vice president of the United Republic of Tanzania, said the host country "has showed its political engagement" regarding the issue.
"Now we need to commit moving forward as a collective whole," said Mpango. "All of us in our capacities must have a role to play to end AIDS in children. The global alliance is the right direction, and we must not remain complacent. 2030 is at our doorstep."