May 5, 2014

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that government meetings may begin with prayers so long as they do not discriminate against particular religions.

By a 5-4 ruling, the court sided with the town of Greece, New York, saying that prayer at town meetings "fits within the tradition" followed by Congress and state legislatures. Since the prayer is ceremonial and not related to policymaking, the court said, it is therefore not an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

Moreover, the court found that overtly Christian prayer was permissible "so long as the town maintains a policy of nondiscrimination" toward other religions. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that "legislative bodies do not engage in imper­missible coercion merely by exposing constituents to prayer they would rather not hear and in which they need not participate."

In a blistering dissent, however, Justice Elena Kagan said Greece did discriminate against non-Christian faiths by inviting predominantly Christian clergy to deliver the prayer. "When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans," she wrote, adding, "they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines." Jon Terbush

7:27 p.m. ET
Ty Wright/Getty Images

With only 19 days left until the election, Donald Trump's national political director said he has decided to "take a step back from the campaign."

In a statement to Politico, Jim Murphy said he has not resigned, but for "personal reasons" is taking a lesser role. Murphy is a longtime GOP operative who joined the Trump campaign in June, and has been establishing field programs in battleground states and serving as a point person between Trump and the RNC. Trump is behind in several key states, and some Republicans worry that in swing states, he doesn't have the same exposure as Hillary Clinton.

Numerous Trump aides told Politico that in recent days, Murphy, a friend of Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, hasn't been around. Manafort resigned in August, two months after he replaced Trump's first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. Catherine Garcia

6:45 p.m. ET
Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday, a U.S. service member died after he was injured in an IED blast in northern Iraq, the U.S. military said.

The military did not release any further details, but an official who asked for anonymity told USA Today the soldier was part of the operation to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State. American advisers are working with Iraqi troops, who launched an offensive to retake Mosul on Monday, and while advisers typically are not participating in direct combat, earlier this week Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said "Americans are in harm's way as part of this fight." This is the fourth death of a U.S. service member since troops were deployed in 2014 to assist Iraqi forces fighting ISIS. Catherine Garcia

5:54 p.m. ET

While ostensibly campaigning for Hillary Clinton in Miami, Florida, on Thursday, President Obama sure made a convincing case against Marco Rubio. The Florida senator is up for re-election to his Senate seat, facing a challenge from Democratic congressman Patrick Murphy — but it seems like Obama hasn't quite forgiven Rubio for the last campaign he ran, when he made attacking Obama a central theme of his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Obama sandwiched his case against Donald Trump with dings at Rubio, telling the assembled crowd that Rubio once called Trump — a candidate he is planning to vote for — a "con artist" and an "erratic individual" who shouldn't be trusted with the nuclear codes. "That begs the question: Since we're in Florida, why does Marco Rubio still plan to vote for Donald Trump? Why is he supporting Donald Trump?" Obama asked. He then moved on to attacking Trump before circling back to Rubio, and in explaining Rubio's apparent line-toeing on the Republican nominee, Obama went for the jugular:

Watch Obama's whole takedown of Rubio, courtesy of CNN and Mediaite — the knife-twist happens around the 8:30 mark in the video below. Kimberly Alters

5:11 p.m. ET

The Pulitzer Prize-winning bipartisan fact-checking group PolitiFact recently blasted Donald Trump's threats of widespread voter fraud as being "pants-on-fire" untrue, and President Obama tried to emphasize as much in Florida with a striking comparison. "You are much likelier to get struck by lightning than to have someone next to you commit voter fraud. You'd win the Powerball," Obama told the rally.

A Loyola Law School study found only 31 instances of voter fraud between 2000 and 2014. But if you still want to buy that Powerball ticket, go right ahead. Jeva Lange

4:43 p.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Donald Trump's foundation donated $10,000 to filmmaker James O'Keefe and his tax-exempt group, Project Veritas, in 2015, ThinkProgress reports — a donation that might raise eyebrows, especially as O'Keefe just released videos that allegedly show Hillary Clinton supporters bragging about trying to bait Trump supporters into attacks. Trump seized on the footage at the final presidential debate, claiming Clinton and President Obama "hired people" to "be violent, cause fights, [and] do bad things" at his rallies, although there is no evidence of either's involvement.

In fact, if anything it seems as if Trump is the one who comes out looking suspect:

Trump, who claimed in the same debate that Hillary Clinton "shouldn't be allowed to run" for president "based on what she did with e-mails and so many other things," was funding a convicted criminal. O'Keefe was sentenced to three years of probation, 100 hours of community service, and a $1,500 fine in 2010 after taking a plea bargain following a botched "sting" attempt at the office of then-Sen. Mary Landrieu.

What's more, there is a great deal of reason to be skeptical of the videos themselves. O'Keefe has a long history of selectively editing videos to present a false impression to the viewer. His most famous video, an attack on the now-defunct community organizing group ACORN, supposedly showed employees agreeing to help him smuggle underage prostitutes into the country. It turned out the employees later had called the police and O'Keefe eventually paid $100,000 in a settlement after being sued for surreptitious recording of someone's voice and image. [ThinkProgress]

ThinkProgress goes on to explain why the video Trump touted at the debate is not necessarily reliable — you can read the entire report here. Jeva Lange

3:53 p.m. ET

More than 70 million people tuned in to watch the final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Wednesday evening, leading CNN's Brian Stelter to deem the election the "highest-rated drama on TV." While the ratings didn't quite reach the same heights as they did for the first Clinton-Trump debate — 84 million — they did dwarf the final debates between Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008 (56 million) and Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012 (59 million).

"That defies all the trends in TV. We're all watching our own things nowadays, the audience is fracturing into lots of little pieces, but that's not the case with these debates," Stelter said. Jeva Lange

3:40 p.m. ET

If you live anywhere between Atlanta and Los Angeles, you might not need to bother getting out your winter coat. Federal weather forecasters announced Thursday that it's looking like it will be a pretty mild winter in that southwest stretch of the country, thanks to the beginning of La Niña. The La Niña weather pattern, which Time reported is "characterized by below-average temperatures cross the equatorial Pacific," means the American Southwest will largely see "warm and dry weather" this winter; unfortunately, that won't do much to assuage the region's persistent drought, which forecasters now say could spread to the southern plains.

Folks in the northern area of the Midwest and in the Northeast mid-Atlantic won't be quite so lucky with the balmy temperatures: Forecasters said Midwesterners in the northern part of the region should anticipate a "colder and wetter" winter because of La Niña. In the Northeast mid-Atlantic, winter should be business as usual.

With this year's unusually warm weather, Mike Halpert of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center said Americans should expect the unexpected. "[R]egardless of the outlook," Halpert said, "there is always some chance for extreme winter weather." Becca Stanek

See More Speed Reads