Mormons soften stance
Salt Lake City
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced last week that it will no longer label same-sex couples “apostates” or bar their children from baptisms and baby blessings. The church wants “to reduce the hate and contention so common today,” said Dallin Oaks, first counselor to Mormon President Russell Nelson. The move reverses a 2015 declaration that same-sex couples were subject to excommunication—a pronouncement that former church President Thomas Monson had said came as a revelation from God. Oaks underscored that the church still believes same-sex attraction is “a serious transgression,” though he added, “Immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.” The 2015 policy led hundreds of members to resign. In explaining the abrupt decision to scrap that rule, Nelson said God leads the church “revelation upon revelation.”
Signing a ‘red flag’ law
Mayor Bill Peduto signed three gun-control ordinances into law this week, drawing immediate challenges from gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association. Among the laws—a response to the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre last October—is a “red flag” law that creates a legal process to remove guns for up to a year from people exhibiting suicidal behavior or threatening to harm others. Another ordinance bans the “use” of semi-automatic weapons and certain accessories in public places. The city was not able to implement a broader ban because of state laws that pre-empt local legislation. Nonetheless, a suit from gun activists called the laws “patently unenforceable, unconstitutional, illegal.” Peduto, a Democrat, called on 60 fellow mayors to tackle gun reform, and vowed to defend the bills up to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
Loughlin heads to court.
Felicity Huffman is among the 13 parents and one coach who federal prosecutors this week said would plead guilty after being charged in a sweeping investigation into college admissions fraud. “I am ashamed,” the actress said in a statement describing the $15,000 she paid to have the purported college counselor William Singer arrange for a proctor to fix her daughter’s SAT answers after she’d left the exam. Huffman and most of the other 13 parents will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud; her husband, actor William H. Macy, was allegedly also involved but was not charged. It’s unclear whether any of the parents will face prison time. Michael Center, the former University of Texas men’s tennis coach, also accepted a plea deal. A day later, prosecutors brought new money-laundering charges were filed against 16 parents, including actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, who allegedly paid Singer $500,000 to get their two daughters admitted to the University of Southern California.
Signs emerged last week that the college bribery scandal could expand beyond the federal probe. The Boston Globe reported that Harvard’s legendary fencing coach Peter Brand sold his house in 2016 for close to $1 million, considerably above its assessed value. The buyer? Jie Zhao, the father of a high school junior aspiring to join Harvard’s fencing team. Zhao’s son was admitted and made the team, and Zhao soon sold the house at a $324,000 loss. Also last week, Stanford announced the expulsion of a student who falsely claimed in her application to be a competitive sailor. Singer’s company has been linked to three donations to the Stanford sailing program, totaling $770,000.
New York City
With 285 confirmed cases of measles since a citywide outbreak began last fall, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency. Saying it’s “time to take a more muscular approach,” he threatened fines of $1,000 for people in affected neighborhoods who fail to vaccinate their kids. The outbreak is concentrated among ultra-Orthodox Jewish children in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. After a ban preventing unvaccinated students from attending schools there proved ineffective, de Blasio said the city could temporarily shut down yeshivas that defy city guidelines. Rabbis largely endorse vaccinations, though a pamphlet has circulated in Williamsburg claiming the measles vaccine “kills more kids than the disease would.” The New York Civil Liberties Union called de Blasio’s “forced vaccination” illegal, and last week a judge in nearby Rockland County struck down an order barring unvaccinated children from public places.
New York City
Mack: ‘I was lost.’
Actress Allison Mack pleaded guilty this week to racketeering charges related to her participation in a sex cult. “I was lost,” said a sobbing Mack, 36, who starred in the superhero TV series Smallville until 2011. She recruited women into a secret sect within the Albany-based Nxivm (pronounced NEX-ee-um), which advertises as a self-help program but allegedly forced some women to become sex slaves for the group’s leader, Keith Raniere. Prosecutors say those members were branded with Raniere’s initials and blackmailed with nude photos and other “potentially damaging or ruinous” material. Mack was among six people arrested last year for their roles in Nxivm, including Raniere, 58, and Clare Bronfman, heiress to the vast Seagram’s liquor fortune. Mack’s guilty plea doesn’t include the initial charges of sex trafficking, though she admitted to forcing women in Nxivm “to perform services for me” in slave-like conditions.