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Rob Boston, Simon Brown or Sarah Jones
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has joined a legal brief asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to nullify amendments to the state constitutions of Nevada and Hawaii that prohibit same-sex marriage.
The friend-of-the-court brief, filed Friday by Americans United, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and 28 other civil rights and civil liberties groups, argues that overturning the marriage bans not only would ensure that religious considerations do not influence what marriages the two states can recognize but also would allow religious groups to decide the definition of marriage for themselves.
"Marriage should not be defined in any state based purely on narrow sectarian beliefs," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Allowing powerful religious groups to define marriage for everyone is fundamentally at odds with what America is supposed to be about."
The brief asserts that making same-sex marriage illegal is not necessary for a government to protect religious liberty. In fact, the bans do nothing more than enshrine the religious doctrine into law, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
"Hawaii and Nevada had no legitimate secular purpose in adopting that selective religious definition of marriage," the brief asserts. "Rather, the legislative history and ballot initiative campaign materials confirm that those responsible for passing the Marriage Bans had the specific motive of tying the definition of marriage to a particular religious tradition's understanding of that civil institution."
Continued the brief, "While protecting religious liberty is a legitimate governmental interest in general, what the proponents of the Marriage Bans actually urge is that Hawaii and Nevada be allowed to enact a particular religious view of marriage to the exclusion of other religious views. State governments have no legitimate interest in enacting legislation that merely adopts a particular version of Judeo-Christian religious morality."
Nevada voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment limiting the definition of marriage to one man and one woman in 2002. But in 2009, the state legislature approved domestic partnerships for all couples living together, regardless of gender.
The Nevada case, Sevcik v. Sandoval, was brought by four same-sex couples who sought marriage licenses in Nevada and four more couples who had been married in California and Canada and sought recognition of those marriages in Nevada.
Hawaii law does not currently allow same-sex marriages but does recognize same-sex civil unions. However, the state legislature is now considering legalizing same-sex marriages, over the objections of several religious groups.
The Hawaii case, Jackson v. Abercrombie, contested the constitutionality of both the state's ban on same-sex marriage and its recognition of civil unions only.
The two cases have been combined into a single appeal.
The brief was prepared by attorneys from the international law firm Ropes & Gray LLP and the Anti-Defamation League, with input from Americans United Associate Legal Director Alex Luchenitser.
Other groups joining Americans United and the ADL include: Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America; Interfaith Alliance Foundation; Metropolitan Community Churches; More Light Presbyterians; The National Council of Jewish Women; People For the American Way Foundation; Society for Humanistic Judaism; Unitarian Universalist Association and Women's League for Conservative Judaism.
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.
It "should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war," says a new statement signed by dozens of artificial intelligence critics and boosters.
On Tuesday, 80 artificial intelligence scientists and more than 200 "other notable figures" signed a statement that says "mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war."
The one-sentence warning from the diverse group of scientists, engineers, corporate executives, academics, and other concerned individuals doesn't go into detail about the existential threats posed by AI. Instead, it seeks to "open up discussion" and "create common knowledge of the growing number of experts and public figures who also take some of advanced AI’s most severe risks seriously," according to the Center for AI Safety, a U.S.-based nonprofit whose website hosts the statement.
Lead signatory Geoffrey Hinton, often called "the godfather of AI," has been sounding the alarm for weeks. Earlier this month, the 75-year-old professor emeritus of computer science at the University of Toronto announced that he had resigned from his job at Google in order to speak more freely about the dangers associated with AI.
Before he quit Google, Hinton toldCBS News in March that the rapidly advancing technology's potential impacts are comparable to "the Industrial Revolution, or electricity, or maybe the wheel."
Asked about the chances of the technology "wiping out humanity," Hinton warned that "it's not inconceivable."
That frightening potential doesn't necessarily lie with currently existing AI tools such as ChatGPT, but rather with what is called "artificial general intelligence" (AGI), which would encompass computers developing and acting on their own ideas.
"Until quite recently, I thought it was going to be like 20 to 50 years before we have general-purpose AI," Hinton told CBS News. "Now I think it may be 20 years or less."
Pressed by the outlet if it could happen sooner, Hinton conceded that he wouldn't rule out the possibility of AGI arriving within five years, a significant change from a few years ago when he "would have said, 'No way.'"
"We have to think hard about how to control that," said Hinton. Asked if that's possible, Hinton said, "We don't know, we haven't been there yet, but we can try."
The AI pioneer is far from alone. According to the 2023 AI Index Report, an annual assessment of the fast-growing industry published last month by the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, 57% of computer scientists surveyed said that "recent progress is moving us toward AGI," and 58% agreed that "AGI is an important concern."
Although its findings were released in mid-April, Stanford's survey of 327 experts in natural language processing—a branch of computer science essential to the development of chatbots—was conducted last May and June, months before OpenAI's ChatGPT burst onto the scene in November.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who signed the statement shared Tuesday by the Center for AI Safety, wrote in a February blog post: "The risks could be extraordinary. A misaligned superintelligent AGI could cause grievous harm to the world."
The following month, however, Altman declined to sign an open letter calling for a half-year moratorium on training AI systems beyond the level of OpenAI's latest chatbot, GPT-4.
The letter, published in March, states that "powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable."
Tesla and Twitter CEO Elon Musk was among those who called for a pause two months ago, but he is "developing plans to launch a new artificial intelligence start-up to compete with" OpenAI, according toThe Financial Times, begging the question of whether his stated concern about the technology's "profound risks to society and humanity" is sincere or an expression of self-interest.
That Altman and several other AI boosters signed Tuesday's statement raises the possibility that insiders with billions of dollars at stake are attempting to showcase their awareness of the risks posed by their products in a bid to persuade officials of their capacity for self-regulation.
Demands from outside the industry for robust government regulation of AI are growing. While ever-more dangerous forms of AGI may still be years away, there is already mounting evidence that existing AI tools are exacerbating the spread of disinformation, from chatbots spouting lies and face-swapping apps generating fake videos to cloned voices committing fraud. Current, untested AI is hurting people in other ways, including when automated technologies deployed by Medicare Advantage insurers unilaterally decide to end payments, resulting in the premature termination of coverage for vulnerable seniors.
Critics have warned that in the absence of swift interventions from policymakers, unregulated AI could harm additional healthcare patients, undermine fact-based journalism, hasten the destruction of democracy, and lead to an unintended nuclear war. Other common worries include widespread worker layoffs and worsening inequality as well as a massive uptick in carbon pollution.
A report published last month by Public Citizenargues that "until meaningful government safeguards are in place to protect the public from the harms of generative AI, we need a pause."
"Businesses are deploying potentially dangerous AI tools faster than their harms can be understood or mitigated," the progressive advocacy group warned in a statement.
"History offers no reason to believe that corporations can self-regulate away the known risks—especially since many of these risks are as much a part of generative AI as they are of corporate greed," the watchdog continued. "Businesses rushing to introduce these new technologies are gambling with peoples' lives and livelihoods, and arguably with the very foundations of a free society and livable world."
Earlier this month, Public Citizen president Robert Weissman welcomed the Biden administration's new plan to "promote responsible American innovation in artificial intelligence and protect people's rights and safety," but he also stressed the need for "more aggressive measures" to "address the threats of runaway corporate AI."
Echoing Public Citizen, an international group of doctors warned three weeks ago in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ Open Health that AI "could pose an existential threat to humanity" and demanded a moratorium on the development of such technology pending strong government oversight.
AI "poses a number of threats to human health and well-being," the physicians and related experts wrote. "With exponential growth in AI research and development, the window of opportunity to avoid serious and potentially existential harms is closing."
"With a warming climate and some drier seasons," said one ecology expert, "this is going to become more common in Nova Scotia."
Officials and climate experts in Nova Scotia, Canada on Tuesday pointed to numerous climate-related factors that have contributed to the wildfires that are raging in the province this week, forcing the evacuation of more than 16,000 people and destroying roughly 200 homes and other structures.
The Tantallon fire in the Halifax area and the Barrington Lake fire in the southwestern county of Shelburne have burned through a combined 25,000 acres in the Maritime province, which, as one firefighter told the Canadian newspaper SaltWire, has historically been far less likely to experience such blazes than landlocked western provinces.
"This the worst fire I've ever been on," volunteer firefighter Capt. Brett Tetanish toldSaltWire. "I've been on other large fires in Nova Scotia, Porters Lake, we lost structures there, but you don't see fires like this in Nova Scotia. You see these in Alberta."
Tetanish described a "surreal" scene as he drove toward the Tantallon fire on Sunday evening.
"We're driving on Hammonds Plains Road with fire on both sides of the road, structures on fire, cars abandoned and burnt in the middle of the road," he toldSaltWire.
Other witnesses, including a filmmaker, posted videos on social media of "apocalyptic scenes" showing fires destroying homes and huge plumes of smoke rendering highways nearly invisible to drivers.
"I almost died," said the filmmaker. "The fire is spreading, it's very serious. We couldn't see anything."
\u201c"Guys, we... I almost died."\n\nA filmmaker in Canada has captured the intensity and spread of wildfires raging in Nova Scotia, as he drove down a highway \u2935\ufe0f\u201d— Al Jazeera English (@Al Jazeera English) 1685412001
Halfway through 2023, Nova Scotia has already experienced more wildfires than it did in all of 2022, according to the National Observer.
Karen McKendry, a wilderness outreach coordinator at the Ecology Action Center in Nova Scotia's capital, Halifax, told the Observer the province has experienced hotter dryer weather than normal this spring, making it easier for fires to spread.
"People haven't always, on a national scale, been thinking about Nova Scotia and wildfires," McKendry said. "What dominates the consciousness, rightly so in Canada, is what's happening out West. But with a warming climate and some drier seasons, this is going to become more common in Nova Scotia. So more fires, more widespread fires, more destructive fires from a human perspective as well."
The province's Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) also warned last Friday that the wildfires were taking hold in the region less than a year after Hurricane Fiona downed what Premier Tim Houston called a "significant" number of trees across Nova Scotia.
"Fires in areas where Hurricane Fiona downed trees have the potential to move faster and burn more intensely, making them potentially more difficult to contain and control," said the DNRR. "At this time, needles, twigs, leaves, etc., support fire ignition and spread. With high winds, the spread can be rapid and intense."
Scientists last year linked warming oceans, fueled by the continued extraction of fossil fuels and emissions of planet-heating greenhouse gases, to Fiona's destruction in Eastern Canada.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Monday that the situation in Nova Scotia is "incredibly serious," prompting Saman Tabasinejad, acting executive director of Progress Toronto, to point to Trudeau's support for fossil fuel projects like the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
"This would be a great time to end fossil fuel subsidies and invest in a Green New Deal!" Tabasinejad said on Twitter.
\u201cIt's only May and the wildfire situation is out of control. Alberta is on fire. Nova Scotia is on fire. This would be a great time to end fossil fuel subsidies and invest in a green new deal!\u201d— Saman Tabasinejad (@Saman Tabasinejad) 1685372018
More than 200 crews have been sent by government agencies from across the province, and Nova Scotia officials said Tuesday that both the Tantallon and Barrington Lake fires were still "out of control" two days after they began and were "rapidly moving."
Halifax Fire and the DNRR are investigating the cause of the fires.
McKendry pointed out that a number of anti-conservation activities may be linked to increased wildfires.
Roads being built "deep into our forests" have allowed more people opportunities to accidentally set fires, while the government has been "emptying our urban areas of wetlands," making it easier for blazes to spread widely.
"Do not delude yourself into thinking this is a one-off," journalist John Vaillant toldSaltWire on Monday. "The world is more flammable than it has ever been."
"Soft money undermines federal campaign finance laws because it is, by definition, money raised and spent outside the scope of those laws."
A campaign finance watchdog on Tuesday filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, alleging that the 2024 Republican presidential candidate unlawfully transferred or directed more than $80 million from a state political action committee to a super PAC supporting his White House bid.
The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) says in its complaint that the reported transfer of funds from the state committee—formerly known as "Friends of Ron DeSantis"—to the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down runs afoul of rules barring political candidates from spending so-called "soft money" on federal elections.
"For over twenty years, the Federal Election Campaign Act ('FECA') has prohibited federal candidates like DeSantis, along with their agents and entities they establish, finance, maintain, or control, from spending 'soft money'—including, e.g., money raised by nonfederal committees and organizations that are not subject to federal campaign finance laws—in connection with a federal election," reads the complaint.
"The transfer of this colossal sum from a state PAC that DeSantis established and used to raise over $225 million, to a federal committee that has spent, and plans to continue spending, millions of dollars supporting DeSantis' own campaign is a brazen attempt to circumvent the federal campaign finance rules that are crucial to preventing corruption and establishing transparency about how our federal elections are financed," the filing continues.
CLC announced the complaint just days after DeSantis formally launched his presidential campaign in a glitch-filled Twitter livestream with billionaire Elon Musk.
Saurav Ghosh, CLC's director of federal campaign finance reform, said in a statement that "soft money undermines federal campaign finance laws because it is, by definition, money raised and spent outside the scope of those laws."
"We're talking about funds from billionaires and corporate special interests who could exert massive influence over the candidate they are financing," said Ghosh. "Laws banning these funds from being used to seek federal office are there for a reason—to prevent corruption, promote transparency, and ensure that wealthy special interests can’t rig the system even further in their favor."
The FEC is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, and the agency has not acted on recent complaints alleging campaign finance violations by high-profile political figures—including former President Donald Trump, also a 2024 candidate.
\u201cNEW: @CampaignLegal files a complaint with the @FEC alleging @GovRonDeSantis and his state PAC violated the federal \u201csoft money\u201d ban by transferring over $80M to federal super PAC @NvrBackDown24, which plans to spend over $200M supporting DeSantis in 2024. https://t.co/YoioGHpJYr\u201d— Saurav Ghosh (@Saurav Ghosh) 1685454060
The DeSantis campaign insists it has not done anything illegal because the governor is no longer officially associated with the state PAC that until recently bore his name. The committee is now called the "Empower Parents PAC" and chaired by Republican state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, a DeSantis ally.
Critics have scoffed at the notion that the state PAC's decision to shift tens of millions of dollars to a pro-DeSantis super PAC—which is barred by law from coordinating directly with any candidate—would be made independently of DeSantis. Never Back Down is run by some of the Florida governor's "closest friends," according toThe Wall Street Journal.
"The idea that Ron DeSantis is no longer controlling or associated with 'Friends of Ron DeSantis' is absurd," journalist Judd Legum wrote earlier this month in his newsletter Popular Information. "And the notion that the money held by Friends of Ron DeSantis will decide to transfer its funds to Never Back Down independent of DeSantis is not credible."
In its complaint, CLC notes that on the same day that DeSantis launched his campaign, "Never PAC confirmed that it has received or will soon receive $80 million from Friends of Ron DeSantis, and that the super PAC had factored that major contribution—comprising 40% of its budget—into their plans."
The complaint points to a May New York Timesstory reporting that top officials with Never Back Down said they "expected to have an overall budget of at least $200 million, including more than $80 million to be transferred from an old DeSantis state political account."
"Indeed, for weeks before DeSantis’s candidacy announcement, Never PAC officials had reportedly been 'telling donors they intend to push the bounds' of super PAC support, laying out plans to raise and spend 'about $200 million' to support DeSantis' presidential campaign, including 'the more than $85 million that DeSantis has in a state fundraising account,' i.e., Friends of Ron DeSantis," the complaint states. "Never PAC has been using and/or reportedly intends to use this soft money in connection with a federal election by making over $944,000 in independent expenditures supporting DeSantis."
Further making a mockery of the campaign finance regime ushered in by the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, the pro-DeSantis super PAC has reportedly "raised $500,000 into a separate draft committee that is expected to be transferred directly to [the Florida governor's presidential] campaign in the coming days."
CBS Newsreported over the weekend that Never Back Down "has been encouraging donors to contribute online to the 'Draft DeSantis 2024 Fund,' a super PAC created in early March to house money from DeSantis donors until his campaign launch. Super PACs can raise unlimited funds, but they are generally considered expenditure-only, meaning they cannot contribute directly to a candidate."
Ghosh, a former FEC enforcement attorney, expressed dismay over the fundraising scheme in a series of tweets on Sunday.
"Super PACs—required by law to remain 'independent' of candidates—are now raising money for presidential campaigns. What a time to be alive," Ghosh wrote. "When the Supreme Court, in Citizens United, struck down longstanding campaign finance laws and opened the door to massive outside spending and super PACs, the justices said this spending would not cause corruption because it would be independent of candidates."
"So much for that," he added.