The Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act, H.B. 600, would prohibit cities from adopting nondiscrimination ordinances that go beyond existing state and federal law. It would apply retroactively, thus impacting the Nashville ordinance that passed the city council in early April.
The Nashville ordinance -- opposed by several Southern Baptist leaders -- requires all businesses that contract with the city to add employment policies with protections for the categories of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." Opponents of the Nashville ordinance say it could lead to men using women's restrooms and also would impact the religious liberty of business owners.
"We believe that Christians should not have to check their faith convictions at the door before entering the marketplace," Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote in an e-mail alert to constituents.
It is unclear how many cities have an identical law, but at least 136 cities go even further and prohibit discrimination by public and private employers on the basis of gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual organization. Nashville's ordinance -- the only such law in the state -- only impacts private employers who work with the city.
The concern over restrooms involves the definition of "gender identity." The Human Rights Campaign says the term "refers to a person's innate, deeply felt psychological identification as male or female, which may or may not correspond to the person's body or designated sex at birth." The concern by critics is that, under the ordinance, a man who inwardly identifies as a woman can begin using a women's restroom.
COURT REJECTS EXPEDITED REVIEW OF HEALTH-CARE LAW -- The U.S. Supreme Court has declined Virginia's request that it bypass the normal appeals process to rule in the state's lawsuit against last year's controversial health-care law.
Without comment April 25, the justices refused to grant an expedited review to the case, allowing it to continue its progress to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. That circuit will hear oral arguments in the case May 10 in Richmond, Va.
Henry Hudson, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia, ruled in December the health-care law's "individual mandate" -- as the requirement to buy insurance is popularly known -- is an unconstitutional overreach by Congress under its commerce clause authority. In his ruling, Hudson severed that provision from the remainder of the law. That meant the law's other controversial aspects, including subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion, will remain in effect and continue toward implementation. The law does not become fully effective until 2014.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli acknowledged the request was a long shot. "The Supreme Court rarely expedites cases. ... Expediting our case would have been the exception and so, although disappointing, this is not surprising," he said in a written statement.
He asked for expedited review by the high court because Virginia and other states, as well as businesses, are making difficult decisions while the health-care law's ultimate fate is being determined in the courts, Cuccinelli said.
Federal judge Roger Vinson of Pensacola, Fla., issued a more sweeping decision than Hudson's in January. He ruled the "individual mandate" was unconstitutional and struck down the entire law, because he concluded that section could not be separated from its other provisions.
A federal judge in Michigan and another in Virginia have upheld the law.
FBI SHUTS DOWN POKER WEBSITES -- More than four years after Congress passed legislation to criminalize Internet gambling in the U.S., the three largest poker websites have been shut down by the FBI.
Eleven executives at PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker, along with others, were charged with bank fraud and money laundering. The 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) -- which finally took effect last summer -- bans online gambling and prohibits U.S. financial institutions from processing transactions related to it.
"These defendants concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively bribing others to assure the continued flow of billions in illegal gambling profits," Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement.
Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research with the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Freedom Commission, applauded the government's move.
"People's lives are being destroyed by the thousands in this country because of gambling," Duke said during an interview on CNN April 18. "The last thing we need is for that to be streamed into their homes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is just a bad policy to have that, and I think that the federal government has made the right decision on this."
Chad Hills, analyst for gambling research and policy at CitizenLink, said the indictments were long overdue.
"Foreign gambling operations are not supposed to be soliciting U.S. gamblers," he said, "and yet they've been mocking U.S. law. This shows them that the FBI and the Department of Justice mean business. This is going to send a message to other online gambling sites, and I am extremely excited to see this happen."
Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press. The poker item is a partially edited story that was provided by World News Service.
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