Blog Posts by Liz Goodwin, Yahoo News

  • Notre Dame professor tackles ‘myth’ of Christian martyrdom

    A stained glass window of Saint Perpetua, an early Christian martyr, in the church of Notre Dame. (Gaetan Poix)Candida Moss, a professor of early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame and a practicing Catholic, wants to shatter what she calls the “myth” of martyrdom in the Christian faith.

    Sunday school tales of early Christians being rounded up at their secret catacomb meetings and thrown to the lions by evil Romans are mere fairy tales, Moss writes in a new book. In fact, in the first 250 years of Christianity, Romans mostly regarded the religion's practitioners as meddlesome members of a superstitious cult.

    The government actively persecuted Christians for only about 10 years, Moss suggests, and even then intermittently. And, she says, many of the best known early stories of brave Christian martyrs were entirely fabricated.

    The controversial thesis, laid out in "The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom," has earned her a lot of hate mail and a few sidelong looks from fellow faculty members. But Moss maintains that the Roman Catholic Church and historians have known for centuries that most early Christian martyr stories were exaggerated or invented.

    A small group of priest scholars in the 17th century began sifting through the myths, discrediting not only embellished stories about saints (including that St. George slew a dragon) but also tossing out popular stories about early Christian martyrs.

    Historians, including Moss, say only a handful of martyrdom stories from the first 300 years of Christianity—which includes the reign of the cruel, Christian-loathing Nero—are verifiable. (Saint Perpetua of Carthage, pictured in the stained glass window above, is one of the six famous early Christian martyrs Moss believes was actually killed for her faith.)

    Moss contends that when Christians were executed, it was often not because of their religious beliefs but because they wouldn't follow Roman rules. Many laws that led to early Christians’ execution were not specifically targeted at them—such as a law requiring all Roman citizens to engage in a public sacrifice to the gods—but their refusal to observe those laws and other mores of Roman society led to their deaths.

    Moss calls early Christians “rude, subversive and disrespectful,” noting that they refused to swear oaths, join the military or participate in any other part of Roman society.

    Moss can at times seem clinical when attempting to distinguish between true and systematic persecution of Christians for their faith and intermittent violence against them for refusing to conform.

    "If persecution is to be defined as hostility toward a group because of its religious beliefs, then surely it is important that the Romans intended to target Christians,” she writes. “Otherwise this is prosecution, not persecution."

    With true government persecution, victims have no room to negotiate when trying to convince the government to stop targeting them, Moss said. But when the government’s laws inadvertently lead to the persecution of Christians, there remains room for dialogue and debate over changing those laws.

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  • At NYC May Day rally, calls for a more liberal immigration reform bill

    Protesters criticize the current immigration reform bill on May 1 in New York City. (Liz Goodwin/Yahoo)

    One might imagine that activists at the pro-immigrant, pro-labor May Day rally in New York City would be happy about the bipartisan immigration reform bill currently in the Senate. But signs and activists at Wednesday's rally called the current draft bill an "unjust" plan that would leave out too many immigrants in its legalization scheme and focus too much on increased enforcement at the border.

    One popular sign at the rally featured the face of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., behind barbed wire. The words: "No to Schumer and the Gang of 8," in Spanish—referring to the eight senators who hashed out the plan.

    Some activists said the immigration compromise—which would trade stricter enforcement of current laws for a 13-year path to citizenship for most of the nation's 11 million unauthorized immigrants—is unjust and unacceptable.

    The rally was part of 85 May Day demonstrations in Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix and other cities pushing for immigration reform and labor rights. They drew thousands of protesters, according to organizers.

    "I speak for most immigrants when I say the gang of 8 is doing a bill that will give us almost nothing," said Carlos Canales, a community organizer from Freehold, N.J. "It's going to end up to be an elitist immigration reform."

    Canales said he's organizing a hunger strike in front of Schumer's New York office in the coming weeks to urge him to change the bill to address criticisms from the left. Canales objects to the requirement that immigrants who want to be legalized must prove they've been employed since December of 2011 to qualify. He said many unauthorized immigrants will have trouble proving employment because they work in more transitory jobs that don't keep records.

    A Schumer spokesman, Max Young, said the bill has drawn "wide support among prominent Latino and pro-immigration organizations." And an organizer of the May Day rallies, Ben Monterroso, stressed before the rally that "there's so many good things in the bill," even if activists have some concerns.

    "Sen. Schumer is working with the length and breadth of the Hispanic community to pass an immigration bill that accelerates family reunification and that sets a path to citizenship that gets all eligible 11 million people out of the shadows and into legal status as quickly as possible," said Young.

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  • Poll: Tsarnaev should be tried in nonmilitary court

    A makeshift memorial near the finish line of the Boston Marathon (Kevork Djansezian/Getty)

    Nearly 75 percent of Americans want Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of bombing the Boston Marathon, to be tried in a nonmilitary federal court, a new Washington Post/ABC poll finds.

    Seventy percent said they believe Tsarnaev should be put to death if found guilty.

    Past polls have shown that Americans are generally more supportive of trying terrorism suspects in military rather than civilian courts. The pollsters aren't sure why the Tsarnaev case isn't aligning with that trend.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and others have called for Tsarnaev to be treated as an "enemy combatant" and held indefinitely without a lawyer, but that would almost certainly be illegal since no one has connected the 19-year-old to a larger terror network. Tsarnaev is also a U.S. citizen arrested on U.S. soil, which would complicate any efforts to try him in the military system.

    Authorities questioned Tsarnaev for 16 hours before reading him his Miranda rights. He has now been assigned attorneys, and has reportedly

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  • Zimmerman says no to ‘stand your ground’; case going straight to trial

    George Zimmerman (R) arrives in Seminole Circuit Court with his attorney, Mark O'Mara, on April 30. (Joe Burbank, Pool/Getty)

    George Zimmerman has waived his right to a pretrial hearing over whether he should be acquitted of murder charges under Florida's "stand your ground" law.

    Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who's charged with second-degree murder in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, said Tuesday in court that he did not want the preliminary hearing, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

    The surprising move by Zimmerman's legal team means the controversial case will go straight to trial in early June.

    Zimmerman had the right under Florida's 7-year-old "stand your ground" law to argue to the judge in a special hearing without a jury that he's immune from both civil and criminal prosecution. The law, versions of which are on the books in 20 states, says people who have a reasonable belief their lives are in danger in a public place can harm an attacker without first attempting to retreat.

    The 29-year-old says he acted in self defense when Martin attacked him on Feb. 26, 2012. Prosecutors say Zimmerman profiled Martin, pursuing him around the neighborhood, and then confronting and killing him with his gun.

    Jose Baez, an Orlando area defense attorney who worked on the Casey Anthony trial, said he thinks the decision to pass up the immunity hearing means Zimmerman's attorneys are going for an "all or nothing" defense and don't want to show their hand too early.

    "The defense doesn't want to give the prosecution a preview of its defense should they lose on the 'stand your ground' hearing when it comes trial time," theorized Baez. "Obviously, a prosecutor would be much better prepared after he's had his shot to cross examine Mr. Zimmerman. He can only get better at it the more he does it."

    But the choice to forgo the hearing means that even if Zimmerman is acquitted of charges in trial, he can still face civil prosecution. Martin's parents have already won a civil settlement in excess of $1 million from Zimmerman's homeowners' association.

    Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, said he may still argue that his client deserves

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  • Anti-abortion movement seeks new laws with Gosnell trial

    Anti-abortion protesters at January's March for Life in Washington. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty)

    Anti-abortion activists are harnessing the outrage generated over the trial of a Philadelphia abortion doctor to pressure lawmakers to pass more restrictive abortion laws.

    The activists say the trial of 72-year-old Kermit Gosnell, which concludes Monday as attorneys on both sides make their closing arguments, shows that late-term abortions are inhumane and unsafe and should be banned.

    Gosnell is charged with murder in the deaths of four babies who were born alive after abortion procedures (he is alleged to have cut their spinal cords) and in the death of a woman who died of a drug overdose he allegedly administered.

    Gosnell faces other charges, including violating Pennsylvania's law against performing abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy; violating a state law requiring a 24-hour waiting period for patients before obtaining an abortion; and of endangering child welfare by employing a 15-year-old in the clinic, which investigators labeled a "house of horrors."

    Abortion foes say Gosnell's crimes are representative of larger abuses in late-term abortion clinics, while abortion rights advocates say he is a criminal outlier who would not have been stopped by more regulations.

    One player in the anti-abortion movement, the Susan B. Anthony List, is lobbying for a bill to ban all abortions performed in Washington, D.C., after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The group has generated thousands of letters to lawmakers in support of the "D.C. Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," which was introduced by Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks. The group is also hoping to convince lawmakers to introduce a national version of the bill.

    "What is the difference between killing a baby minutes before delivery compared to moments after? Only the barest of legal nuances," SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement tying the proposed D.C. law to Gosnell's alleged crimes. “It is an outrage that in the shadow of the Capitol, children can legally have their lives ended through methods equally brutal to those employed by Gosnell."

    The proposed 20-week ban is part of a wave of anti-abortion legislation that is attempting to directly challenge the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which said the government cannot ban abortions that take place before a fetus can survive outside the womb. (The point of viability is considered to be at about 24 weeks, though that point is debated.)

    This year, 10 states have passed or are poised to pass legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive health issues. Arkansas and North Dakota went even further, recently banning abortions that occur when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

    On Friday, President Barack Obama criticized some of those laws in a speech to Planned Parenthood.

    “A woman may not even know that she’s pregnant at six weeks,” he said of the North Dakota law.

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  • More than 1,000 suits against NuvaRing may go to trial this fall

    A NuvaRing contraceptive. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty)Rachel Lietzke Payne started using NuvaRing in 2008, when she was a 20-year-old college student. The contraceptive device appealed to her because it was easy to use. Birth control pills have to be taken every day, but NuvaRing, which came onto the market in 2001, is inserted into the vagina and removed each month—and is just as effective at preventing pregnancy.

    One Monday in October of 2010, more than a year after she first began using the vaginal ring, Payne met her father for a standing lunch date at Buffalo Wild Wings in Casselberry, north of where they lived in Orlando. When she and her dad walked out of the restaurant, Payne suddenly fell ill and spat up quarter-size chunks of blood onto the cement.

    Payne was rushed to the hospital, where she spent 10 days being pumped with anticoagulants to thin her blood. She was diagnosed as having developed a blood clot in her lung, a condition that could have been fatal. “It took them a while to figure out that it was blood clots, because I was 22 at the time,” said Payne, who is now a married 25-year-old aspiring air traffic controller with a toddler son. She was also a nonsmoker and fit, and she had no family history of blood clots, all potential risk factors.

    But the doctors landed on what they believed might have caused the clotting: the NuvaRing.

    Payne is now one of more than 1,000 women suing Merck & Co.—the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the birth control—in a federal district court in Missouri. They allege that the company’s device caused them to suffer blood clots—in a few cases, fatal ones—the risks of which they say they were inadequately warned about.

    The suits are the latest in a pricey legal backlash over a variety of hormonal contraceptives that have come to the market in the past 10 years. Thousands of women sued over the Ortho Evra patch, citing studies that showed a higher blood clot risk compared to traditional birth control pills, costing Ortho McNeil, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, millions of dollars. And as of 2012, more than 10,000 suits had been filed against Bayer, the makers of Yaz and Yasmin birth control pills, which has set aside more than $1.5 billion to settle claims.

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  • Boston bombing survivor Heather Abbott: Amputation was ‘best-case scenario’

    Heather Abbott (family photo)An incredibly poised and positive Boston Marathon bombing survivor, Heather Abbott, told reporters Thursday she's "overwhelmed" by the outpouring of support she's received after having her leg amputated below the knee. Abbott was injured by one of the shrapnel-packed bombs set off in the attack, which wounded more than 200 and killed three people. At least 14 of the wounded have had amputations.

    "I'm overwhelmed by the amount of support and patience and just general interest in caring [about] my situation by my friends and my family and by people I don't even know," Abbott said at a press conference at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston Thursday afternoon.

    Abbott, from Newport, R.I., said she and her friends were in Boston for their annual tradition of attending a Red Sox game. She described waiting in line to get into a bar on Boylston Street with two of her friends on April 15 when she heard the first explosion go off. Seconds later, the force of the second explosion blew her into the bar.

    "I was on the ground, everybody was running to the back of the bar," Abbott recalled. "I felt like my foot was on fire; I knew I couldn't stand up. I didn't know what to do. I was just screaming, 'Somebody please help me.' I remember thinking, 'Who is going to help me? Everybody is running for their lives.'"

    But to Abbott's surprise, a woman rushed in and tried to drag her out of the bar. A man she identified as Matt Chatham then carried her to an ambulance. "I'm actually supposed to meet him at some point, so I'm really looking forward to that," Abbott said of her rescuer.

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  • Tsarnaev questioned for 16 hours before he was read Miranda rights

    Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (FBI handout)Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, suspected of bombing the Boston Marathon with his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was questioned for 16 hours by authorities before being read his Miranda rights, the AP reports today.

    Tsarnaev, a 19-year-old college student, confessed his role in the crime during the questioning in his hospital room, but that confession may not be admissible in court. Once he was advised of his right to seek counsel and remain silent by a representative from the U.S. attorney's office, the suspect stopped talking.

    Police are allowed to question suspects without first Mirandizing them, but then their statements are not admissible in court. If police ask questions that seek to uncover future threats to the public, something called the "public safety exception" provides a loophole to this rule.

    So in Tsarnaev's case, if they had asked him if he knew of any planned attacks, or whether there were any bombs planted around Boston, his answers would theoretically be OK to use in a case

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  • Rhode Island could become 10th state to allow same-sex marriage

    Maira Garcia, right, and Maria Vargas wait to get married at the Brooklyn City Clerk's office on July 24, 2011. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

    New England's gay marriage holdout may soon join the rest of the region in allowing same-sex unions.

    Rhode Island senators are expected to vote on a measure as early as Wednesday, making the state the 10th in the nation to allow same-sex marriage. A similar bill has already passed the House.

    Interestingly, every single Republican senator in the state has pledged his or her support for gay marriage, making the five members the first legislative caucus of either party to unanimously sign on to same-sex marriage in any state. Democrats have traditionally led the charge for legalizing gay marriage in other states.

    The state is the last in New England to bar same-sex marriage.

    The New York Times notes that same-sex marriage could also pass this year in Delaware, Illinois and Minnesota, where lawmakers are actively considering bills.

    The Supreme Court is expected to decide in June whether the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages for tax and other legal purposes, or whether

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  • Bombing suspects’ immigration status could stall reform

    Tamerlan Tsarnaev waits for a decision during the 2009 Golden Gloves National Tournament of Champions on May 4, 2009. (Glenn DePriest/Getty Images)The immigration status of the Boston bombings suspects may become a stumbling block for a new bill that seeks to legalize nearly 11 million immigrants and increase the number of legal immigrants to the United States.

    Opponents of the bill—which was crafted by a bipartisan "Gang of Eight" in the Senate—and even some supporters, say the process of reforming the country's immigration system should be stalled until all the facts about the suspects' interactions with the immigration system are known.

    Both Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the two brothers accused of the Boston Marathon bombings, emigrated to the United States legally from Russia as refugees a decade ago when they were children. The Tsarnaev family, which is ethnically Chechen, was granted asylum because it feared persecution in its home country, according to media reports.

    Tamerlan's application for citizenship was put on hold in 2012 by the government, because he had been questioned by the FBI at the request of the Russian government for possible ties to Chechen terrorism, the New York Times reported. Dzhokhar's citizenship application was approved, and he naturalized in 2012.

    At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing over the bill on Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended immigration officials' handling of the Tsarnaevs, saying the process for granting asylum is rigorous.

    "In the past four years we have increased both the number and the coverage of the vetting that goes on," Napolitano said. As things currently stand, she noted, those who seek asylum must go through multiple screening interviews and submit biometric data to be checked across government databases. If granted asylum and legal status, immigrants must go through two more interviews if they want to become citizens when they become eligible five years later.

    (Asylum applicants must show that they face government-sanctioned persecution in their home country stemming from their race, religion, nationality, political views or membership in a particular social group.)

    Napolitano argued that the immigration reform bill would make the country safer because the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country would be brought "out of the shadows" and screened. The bill requires immigrants to pass a background check before they are eligible for temporary legal status. They must pay fines and back taxes and enroll in English classes to gain permanent legal status.

    Opponents of the immigration bill have argued that the Tsarnaevs' alleged crime suggests that the current immigration system is unable to weed out potential terrorists, and that the process of crafting the bill should be slowed down to address that. If the bill is stalled until next fall, opponents hope it will be close enough to the next election that on-the-fence lawmakers will withdraw their support, effectively killing the bill. President Barack Obama has said he hopes the bill will pass this summer.

    Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, one of the most prominent opponents of legalizing immigrants, said at Monday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the legalization process in the bill could present a national security threat.

    "The background checks in this bill are insufficient from preventing a terrorist from getting amnesty," Kobach said.

    Supporters of the immigration reform bill say the argument is a specious excuse to delay the legislation.

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