Saturday, May 31, 2008

Unhappy husband divorces wife over virginity

FRANCE plunged into a heated debate about its marriage laws today after learning that a court had annulled the union of two Muslims because the husband said the wife was not the virgin she had claimed to be.

Politicians, feminists and human rights activists denounced the verdict, handed down last month but reported in the national press only on Thursday, as an affront to the legal equality of men and women and a violation of a woman's privacy.

The hoodwinked husband's lawyer responded just as forcibly that civil marriage was a legal contract. The court invalidated this one because the wife had lied about what French law calls an "essential quality" of a contracting party, he said.

Concerns about traditional Muslim views creeping into secular French law hung over the debate, but the strictly legal basis of the verdict forced critics to ask how two principles - contract fraud and sexual equality - could be reconciled.

"It is profoundly shocking that, in our country, a marriage can be annulled on the basis of non-virginity before the marriage," Frederic Lefebvre, spokesman for President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing UMP party, said.

Prominent feminist Elisabeth Badinter said the courts should defend Muslim women, not pressure them.

"The end result will be that some Muslim girls will rush to hospitals to have their hymens sewn back together again," she told France Inter radio.

Muslims make up about eight per cent of the population in France, which has vigorously defended its secular system against their occasional religious demands by banning Islamic headscarves in the civil service and in state schools.

Xavier Labbee, the husband's lawyer, denied that religion had anything to do with the verdict.

"The law says that when there is an error concerning essential qualities of one of the spouses, an annulment can be sought," he said on LCI television.

The same clause has been used in French courts to annul marriages in which one person discovered only afterwards that the other had concealed a divorce or had a physical or mental disability that made a normal sexual life impossible.

The rector of a large mosque in the northern city of Lille, where the case was tried, also denied Islam played any role.

In Islam, Amar Lafsar said, "virginity is not a necessary condition for marriage". The religion preached chastity before marriage but Muslims could heed or ignore the message.

"They're free," he told RTL radio. "They're in a country of law and liberty. Each is free to respond or not to the message."

Badinter said the verdict ignored the fact some traditional Muslim families shunned sexually active single daughters.

Recalling some young women were even murdered in so-called "honour killings", she said the wife in this case "did not have the freedom not to lie ... she lied in self-defence."

Laurence Rossignol, women's rights spokeswoman for the opposition Socialist Party, called the verdict unconstitutional.

"If the civil code could produce such a decision, we have to change it urgently," she said.

Lefebvre suggested an appeals court review the verdict.

"We are certainly not going to ask the wife to appeal, because if the verdict is annulled and the marriage is validated, that would probably not be good news for her," he said.

Original here

The Boy Scouts' Free-Speech Fight

The city-owned Boy Scouts headquarters in Philadelphia.

The City of Philadelphia wants the Boy Scouts to be prepared — prepared, that is, to change their views on homosexuality or get out of the city-owned building they have occupied for 80 years. "As a city government we cannot allow discrimination in the delivery of services on public property; that is the issue," said Mayor Michael Nutter. "The Boy Scouts, they have some options here — they can change their policy, they can pay full-market rent, or they cannot be on public property."

The unorthodox property/free speech battle is focused on the classic Beaux Arts building just off the city's famed Ben Franklin Parkway that the local council of the Scouts have occupied for 80 years. Although the Scouts built the building at their own expense, it sits on half an acre of city-owned land and is therefore technically city property. Under an agreement with then-Mayor Harry Mackey, the Scouts paid $1 per year so long as they operated and maintained the building. But with a Saturday deadline looming for the local council of the Scouts to either alter their policy on homosexuality or say goodbye to their symbolic rent (or the property), the Scouts are making their case in federal court, accusing the city of trampling on their freedom of assembly, guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Neither side actually expects a showdown on Saturday — Nutter said the city doesn't plan to evict the Scouts by force and both sides say they will work the issue out in court now that it is there. The Scouts say they could probably raise the money to pay the public rent, but it would mean sacrificing major programs, including a summer camp that serves at least 800 youths in a city that is in desperate need of activities that keep kids off the violent streets.

"I don't even think it's fair to say this is a city-owned building. Technically that is true, but it's a building that the Boy Scouts built with donations they received from their supporters and now the city wants to take that back," said Jason Gosselin, lead attorney for the Cradle of Liberty Council, the local Scout organization, which filed suit against the city on May 23, a week before the city-imposed deadline to comply with its policy. The city is using its financial leverage to force the Scouts to give up their Constitutional rights, Gosselin said, and "that is as much as violation of the First Amendment as if the city told them they had to change their policy."

The once cozy relationship between the Scouts and the city collapsed in 2003, when then-Mayor John Street told the Scouts that their long-standing policy of excluding gays (and atheists as well) from their ranks violated the city's 20-year-old anti-discrimination policy. The city gave the Boy Scouts a stark choice — change the policy, pay full market rent of $200,000 per year, or vacate the building.

"If we were talking about an organization that discriminated against African Americans, Italians, the Irish, Catholics, people of the Jewish faith, or any of a number of other categories, there would be such an outrage that you wouldn't be able to contain it," said Nutter, who has continued Street's policy. "I don't the organization can countenance discrimination and then expect to carry out that activity on public property."

"Philadelphia, which is the cradle of liberty, is now the graveyard of liberty," Scouts spokesman Bob Bork said. "Philadelphia has put a bounty on free speech and that bounty, in the Scouts case, is $200,000 a year." Indeed, the Supreme Court did uphold the Scouts' policy in 2000, when it said that, as a private organization, the Scouts had a right to set their own terms of admission.

But that freedom has come at a price for the Scouts, as private groups and municipalities have withdrawn support for the group or severed longstanding relationships. In California, for example, the city of Berkeley ended an agreement in 1998 to provide the Scouts free access to space at the city-owned marina, and San Diego, after gay and agnostic parents sued, agreed in 2004 to end the practice of giving the group special access to city parks. Some parts of the United Way, including the chapter serving Philadelphia, have stopped contributing to the Boy Scouts, citing the group's restrictive admissions policy. Congress weighed in with a 2005 law requiring local governments that receive federal funding to give the Scouts the same access to public facilities that they provide others. Philadelphia city attorneys insist the law only applies to access to meeting space and public events.

While some organizations and governments have been hostile to the Scouts, Bork said, many have been supportive. "We clearly had some issues with organizations that don't respect the Scouts' right as a private organization to set its own membership standards and have withdrawn their support," Bork said. "But frankly that's their right too, and we respect that."

In this case, the Scouts say, Philadelphia is unfairly singling them out under pressure from gay rights activists. They point out that the city has leased facilities to other organizations that officially discriminate against gays in some capacity, including the Catholic Church. Nutter dismissed that argument as a distraction.

"If there are other groups and organizations similarly situated, we will certainly get to the bottom of it and take the appropriate action," Nutter said, "but for the moment, we're talking about the Boy Scouts... the right thing to do for the Boy Scouts is to stop discriminating against homosexuals and atheists."

Original here

Experts Review Welding Job In Crane Accident

A construction crane snapped and smashed into an apartment building with a thunderous roar Friday, killing two workers in the city's second such tragedy in 2½ months and renewing fears about the safety of hundreds of cranes towering over the New York skyline.

The accident killed the crane's operator, identified as 30-year-old Donald Leo of Staten Island. Leo was the son of a retired city firefighter.
The medical examiner's spokeswoman, Ellen Borakove, said the second victim was a 28-year-old man, Ramadan Kurtas.The crane collapsed on the Upper East Side Friday morning, smashing into a high-rise apartment building.The incident happened at construction site of the 32-story Azure condominium building at 333 E. 91st Street. The crane collapsed shortly after 8 a.m. onto a 23-story apartment building across the street before falling to the ground.Two other male construction workers were seriously injured and transported to a New York hospital. One worker had an open chest wound and the other had gone into cardiac arrest.A pedestrian also suffered minor injuries.A leading question Friday night was whether the crane had a previous crack from a previous job, perhaps in Lower Manhattan, and whether a past welding job might have been a factor in the accident.The clean break where the crane came apart might provide a key clue for investigators.“Forensic experts will be focusing on a particular weld that failed…” acting Buildings Commissioner Robert Limandri said in a statement.One crane expert explained what might have gone wrong.The house or the turntable, which spins the crane, snapped off for whatever reason, Dan Mooney said; it might have not been balanced improperly. If the crane is unbalanced, it would have a tremendous amount of torque on the bolts and it would just be a matter of time before it could happen.The Buildings Department released updated information on past violations at the site.While there were eight complaints about this crane, officials said they found no violations. Two stop work orders were put in place in April when the crane failed initial load tests.Inspectors said they monitored the crane from installation to the time it was raised.The city said for the overall construction site, there were 22 complaints and 14 violations.Inspectors were on hand Thursday investigating one of those complaints.The main construction firm, DeMatteis Construction, said the crane seemed to have been working fine and in the morning, workers had already lifted two sets of steel beams. They were about to go for a third when the accident happened.The crane was rented out by New York Crane Company, the same firm that owned the crane that fell last March and killed seven people.Investigators stressed the two accidents are different in nature.Bloomberg, speaking at a news conference at the scene of the accident, said seven buildings near the accident site were evacuated as a precaution, just blocks from the mayor's official residence."What has happened is unacceptable and intolerable. Having said that, we do not know at the moment what happened or why," Bloomberg said, adding that it appears the builders followed regulations.A large portion of the crane tumbled onto a building, spilling debris over the street and crushing cars. Emergency workers flooded the scene after the first 911 call came in at 8:06 a.m.Witnesses told News 4 New York that they heard a loud, snapping sound, followed quickly by the sound of sirens.Construction foreman Scott Bair said being hungry saved his life. Bair said he left the construction site to get an egg sandwich just before the crane fell."The sound was like a thunder clap. Then, an earthquake," said Peter Barba, who lives on the seventh floor of the building across the street from where workers were erecting a 32-story luxury apartment building on the site of a former public school.With the city going through a supercharged building boom and an estimated 250 cranes in operation as of mid-March, New York has seen a series of deadly construction accidents. Nine people have died in crane accidents so far this year. None died in crane accidents last year; two were killed in 2006."Construction of buildings is out of control in this city," City Councilman Tony Avella said. "How many people have to die before the mayor decides enough is enough?"In a March 15 accident about 2 miles to the south, contractors building a 46-story condominium near the United Nations were trying to lengthen the crane when a steel support broke, killing seven people.A four-story town house was demolished, and several other buildings were damaged.A city inspector resigned after his arrest on charges of falsifying business records and offering a false instrument for filing.In April, the city's buildings commissioner resigned, under fire over a rising number of deadly construction accidents that have left more than 26 construction workers dead in the past year.After the March crane collapse, the city has added extra inspections at building sites and required that its staff be on hand whenever the towering cranes were raised higher, a process known as a jump. However, the city changed course on Wednesday.City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, who represented the neighborhood affected by the March collapse, said: "People shouldn't live in fear walking near a construction site -- and certainly shouldn't feel fear sitting in their living rooms."Department records also indicate several neighborhood complaints about cranes at the site in recent weeks. At least two callers had expressed concerns about parts of the crane extending past safety barriers. One complained that workers were hoisting heavy metal and concrete over the heads of pedestrians.Inspectors found most of the concerns were unwarranted, and Building Department officials said the crane had been inspected frequently.The city no longer requires building inspectors to be present during all jumps. Instead the city said it will conduct unannounced spot inspections. Contractors are now required to notify the city and hold safety meetings before raising, lowering or lenthening a crane."I am appalled that the city’s inspection procedures are so lax that we could have another massive crane collapse," Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., said in a statement. "Safety has to be the top priority at every construction site."

Original here

Vatican says will excommunicate women priests

By Phil Stewart

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican issued its most explicit decree so far against the ordination of women priests on Thursday, punishing them and the bishops who try to ordain them with automatic excommunication.

The decree was written by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and published in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, giving it immediate effect.

A Vatican spokesman said the decree made the Church's existing ban on women priests more explicit by clarifying that excommunication would follow all such ordinations.

Excommunication forbids those affected from receiving the sacraments or sharing in acts of public worship.

Rev. Tom Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, said he thought the decree was meant to send a warning to the growing number of Catholics who favor admitting women to the priesthood.

"I think the reason they're doing this is that they've realized there is more and more support among Catholics for ordaining women, and they want to make clear that this is a no-no," Reese said.

The Church says it cannot change the rules banning women from the priesthood because Christ chose only men as his apostles. Church law states that only a baptized male can be made a priest.

Proponents of women's ordination say Christ was only acting according to the social norms of his time.

They cite the letters of Saint Paul, some of the earliest texts of Christianity, to show that women played important roles in the early church.

Attempts to ordain women priests are highly unusual. But the archbishop of St. Louis earlier this year declared three women excommunicated after an ordination ceremony in his diocese.

Excommunication is usually "ferendae sententiae", imposed as punishment.

But some offences, including heresy, schism, and laying violent hands on the Pope, are considered so disruptive of ecclesiastical life that they trigger automatic excommunication, or "latae sententiae".

The decree says that women priests and the bishops who ordain them would be excommunicated "latae sententiae".

This was the same excommunication invoked against a renegade African archbishop who also broke Vatican rules when he ordained four married men bishops in 2006.

The archbishop, Emmanuel Milingo, made world headlines in 2001 for getting married himself in Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church at a mass wedding in a New York hotel. His union was never recognized by the Catholic Church.

(Writing by Phil Stewart, editing by Tim Pearce)

Original here