Controversy
January 31, 2018

The United States has concerns over a proposed bill in Poland that would regulate Holocaust speech, a State Department spokeswoman announced Wednesday, and is urging the country to scrap it.

Poland's conservative ruling party, the Law and Justice Party, wrote the bill, which calls for up to three years in prison for a person who falsely attributes the crimes committed by Nazi Germany to Poland or Polish people. The party says it's trying to push back against the use of terms like "Polish death camps," rather than "Nazi death camps," to refer to the concentration camps the Nazis built in occupied Poland during World War II, but Israel disagrees with this, and believes it's a way for the country to distance itself from the role some Poles played in the Holocaust, The Associated Press reports.

A bipartisan U.S. congressional task force working to fight anti-Semitism said it was "alarmed" by the legislation, which "could have a chilling effect on dialogue, scholarship, and accountability in Poland about the Holocaust." State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. is worried the legislation, if passed, could cause "divisions" between Poland and the U.S. and Israel, which would "benefit only our rivals." The bill is heading to the Polish Senate for a vote, and President Andrzej Duda has said he will likely sign it. Catherine Garcia

August 18, 2017

Early Friday morning, crews began to work on removing a statue of Roger B. Taney, the former Supreme Court justice who wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery and ruled that any person with African descent could not be a citizen, from the grounds of the Maryland State House.

Any change to the building or grounds must be approved by the State House Trust, and the four-member panel voted to remove the statue on Wednesday, with three in favor and one, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D), not voting. He wrote in an email that Taney used "inflammatory and derogatory language" in the Dred Scott case, but said Taney "served with distinction" when he was a Maryland state attorney general and U.S. attorney general and did remain loyal to the Union, The Baltimore Sun reports. Miller also said there is "balance" because on the opposite side of the state house grounds stands a statue of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice.

The plan is to remove the statue from the base, cover the base in plywood, then store the statue for the Maryland State Archives, The Baltimore Sun reports. The statue was installed in 1872, and while there was increased pressure to remove it following the events in Charlottesville over the weekend, the statue has been controversial for several years. Catherine Garcia

October 25, 2016

As outrage over current and retired National Guard soldiers being told they must pay back re-enlistment bonuses they received erroneously continues to grow, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced he has put a top Pentagon official in charge of fixing the problem.

Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times revealed that in the mid-2000s, at the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, soldiers in California were told if they re-enlisted, they would receive bonuses of more than $15,000. An audit found that many of these soldiers were not eligible for the bonuses or were overpaid, and a former official was sentenced in 2012 to 30 months in federal prison after being convicted of submitting more than $15 million in false claims to the Department of Defense. The audit was finally completed last month, and the Pentagon told the affected soldiers if they didn't pay the money back immediately, they could face interest charges, wage garnishments, and tax liens. Many told the Times they were struggling to come up with the money, with some talking about selling their homes.

During a press conference in Paris on Tuesday, Carter said he was aware of the issue, and while it has "complexities to it," he has asked Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work to resolve the matter. Any person who "volunteers to serve in the armed forces of the United States deserves our gratitude and respect," Carter said. "Period." Catherine Garcia

May 4, 2016

On Wednesday, the Justice Department sent officials in North Carolina a letter warning them that a new law requiring transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond with their birth sex violates the federal Civil Rights Act.

The letter, sent by the head of the department's civil rights division, states that the law also violates Title IX, and the state could lose billions in federal education funding, The Charlotte Observer reports. Gov. Pat McCrory (R) called the letter "Washington overreach like we've never seen in our lifetime," but opponents like Democratic Rep. Chris Sgro said the letter confirms that the bill "is deeply discriminatory, violates civil rights law, and needs to be repealed as soon as possible."

State officials have until Monday to respond "by confirming that the state will not comply with or implement" the bathroom law. Catherine Garcia

April 4, 2016

Before he was president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson was president of Princeton University, where today students are speaking out against his segregationist views.

Last year, student protesters held a 32-hour sit-in outside the office of Princeton's current president, demanding that the university agree to consider renaming buildings dedicated to Wilson. On Monday, the board of trustees announced his name will not be removed from campus institutions like the School of Public and International Affairs, but added that Princeton will start showing "transparency in recognizing Wilson's failings and shortcomings as well as the visions and achievements that led to the naming of the school and the college in the first place."

Records show Wilson making several statements that upset today's students. In 1909, for example, he told a black student interested in applying to Princeton "that it is altogether inadvisable for a colored man to enter Princeton," and once said "the whole temper and tradition of the place are such that no negro has ever applied for admission," NPR reports. Catherine Garcia

April 4, 2016

As Air France resumes flights to Iran after an 8-year hiatus, the airline is telling female crew members to wear pants instead of dresses on the plane, and don jackets and headscarves before stepping off.

Many union-represented flight attendants are not thrilled with this requirement, The Guardian reports, arguing the attire should be optional.

"They are forcing us to wear an ostentatious religious symbol. We have to let the girls choose what they want to wear," one union leader said. "Those that don't want to must be able to say they don't want to work on those flights."

Air France will run three flights daily to Tehran starting April 17, now that economic sanctions against the government were lifted in accordance with the international nuclear deal. Julie Kliegman

March 30, 2016

Donald Trump is taking back a statement he made about abortion Wednesday during an MSNBC town hall. While speaking with Chris Matthews, the Republican frontrunner said if the procedure is ever outlawed in the United States, there has to be "some form of punishment" for women who have abortions illegally.

On Wednesday afternoon, Trump's campaign e-mailed a statement to Bloomberg Politics, saying the "issue is unclear and should be put back into the state for determination. Like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions, which I have outlined numerous times." Later in the afternoon, Trump released an additional statement clarifying his new position. "If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman," he said. "The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions."

His earlier statement was condemned by organizations on both sides of the abortion debate, with Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, saying in a statement that "no pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion. This is against the very nature of what we are about." Catherine Garcia

December 18, 2015

Schools in a central Virginia school district will be closed on Friday due to backlash against a high school world geography class assignment.

Augusta County Public Schools Superintendent Eric Bond said in a statement to the News Leader that last week a teacher gave students a sheet of paper with an Islamic statement of faith, called a shahada, written on it in Arabic calligraphy "to demonstrate the complex artistry of the written language in the Middle East." He said that the students were "asked to attempt to copy it" so they could get a sense of the "artistic complexity of the calligraphy." Bond said the students were never given an English translation or asked to "recite it or otherwise adopt or pronounce it as a personal belief."

Parent Kimberly Herndon called the lesson an "indoctrination" of Islam, and said the teacher "gave up the Lord's time. She gave it up and gave it to Mohammad." Although no specific threats were made against students or schools, the district decided to cancel Friday classes because of angry phone calls and emails about the lesson. State standards require teaching of world religions, and Bond said students in the district learn about several different faiths in addition to Islam, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Catherine Garcia

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