OKLAHOMA CITY – A federal judge Monday rejected a request by Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. to block part of the new federal health care law that requires it to provide health insurance for employees that covers the morning-after and week-after birth control pills.
The Oklahoma City-based arts and craft supply company and a sister company, Mardel Inc., sued the government in September claiming that the companies’ Christian owners believe use of the pills is tantamount to abortion because they prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s womb.
Santa Monica ends park Nativity scene
There is no room for a 60-year-old Nativity display in Santa Monica’s showcase park after a federal judge ruled against churches who sued to keep the tradition alive when atheists stole the show with their own anti-God messages.
U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins said the city was within its constitutional right to eliminate the exemption that had allowed the Nativity at the oceanfront Palisades Park because the change affected all comers – from Christians to Jews to atheists – and provided other avenues for public religious speech.
Thieves hack ancient carvings from cliffs
Rock carvings that graced a sacred American Indian site in California’s Sierra Nevada for thousands of years have fallen prey to modern thieves armed with power saws.
At least four petroglyphs – some 2 feet wide and 15 feet above the ground – were hacked from lava cliffs in the Eastern Sierra, the Los Angeles Times reported.
This was the worst act of vandalism ever seen on the 750,000 acres of public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management field office in Bishop, Calif., BLM archaeologist Greg Haverstock told the newspaper.
The petroglyphs are probably worth only about $500 to $1,500 on the illegal art market but are priceless to American Indians, authorities said.
Squadron forms to fly new fighter jet
The Marine Corps is forming the first squadron of pilots to fly the next-generation strike fighter jet, months after lawmakers raised concern that there was a rush to end the testing of the aircraft that has had technical problems.
So far, two veteran pilots of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing have been trained to fly the F-35B. They are becoming the first members of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 that will debut today at a ceremony at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz.
Islamist rebels split with Syria coalition
Syria’s increasingly powerful Islamist rebel factions rejected the country’s new Western-backed opposition coalition and unilaterally declared an Islamic state in the key battleground of Aleppo, a sign of the seemingly intractable splits among those fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.
The move highlights the struggle over the direction of the rebellion at a time when the opposition is trying to gain the West’s trust and secure a flow of weapons to fight the regime. The rising profile of the extremist faction among the rebels could doom those efforts.
Karzai: US breaking deal on detainees
Afghanistan’s president accused U.S. forces of capturing and holding Afghans in violation of an agreement to turn over that responsibility to his forces, complicating a new round of security talks between the two countries.
Hamid Karzai’s statement late Sunday came just days after the beginning of negotiations on a bilateral security agreement that will govern the U.S. military presence in the country after the majority of troops draw down in 2014.
Karzai’s critics say he often strikes populist, nationalist poses that give him leverage in talks with the Americans. But Karzai has said he must protect Afghanistan’s national interest.
M23 rebels launch offensive in Congo
Congolese rebels believed to be backed by Rwanda fired mortars and machine guns Monday on the outskirts of Goma, threatening to capture one of the largest cities in eastern Congo in a development that could drag this giant central African nation back into war.
The violence erupted just hours after the M23 rebels said they were halting fighting to negotiate with the government of Congo. But government spokesman Lambert Mende said Congo will not give in to the blackmail of a Rwandan-backed group.