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Daniel Lewis Lee: United States executes first federal prisoner in 17 years

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The United States government on Tuesday carried out the first federal execution in 17 years, putting to death a man who killed an Arkansas family in a 1990s plot to build a whites-only nation in the Pacific Northwest. The execution came despite the objection of the victims’ family.

Daniel Lewis Lee, 47, of Yukon, Oklahoma, died by lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

“I didn’t do it,” Lee said before he was executed. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I’m not a murderer … You’re killing an innocent man.”

The decision to move forward with the execution – the first by the Bureau of Prisons since 2003 – drew scrutiny from civil rights groups and the relatives of Lee’s victims, who had sued to try to halt it, citing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Critics argued that the government was creating an unnecessary and manufactured urgency for political gain.

“The government has been trying to plough forward with these executions despite many unanswered questions about the legality of its new execution protocol,” said Shawn Nolan, one of the attorneys for the men facing federal execution.

The developments are likely to add a new front to the national conversation about criminal justice reform in the lead-up to the 2020 elections.

Lee’s execution took place after a series of legal volleys that ended when the Supreme Court stepped in early on Tuesday in a 5-4 ruling and allowed it to move forward.

Four scheduled federal executions had been suspended by Judge Tanya Chutkan of the US district court in Washington, DC, on Monday to allow for legal challenges to the lethal injection that was to be used.

Chutkan’s order came less than seven hours before the former white supremacist Lee, who was convicted along with another man of murdering a family of three during a robbery intended to help fund the founding of an “Aryan Peoples Republic”, was scheduled to be executed.

The prisoners “have not made the showing required to justify last-minute intervention by a Federal Court”, the Supreme Court said in a ruling released in the early hours of Tuesday.

“We vacate the District Court’s preliminary injunction so that the … executions may proceed as planned.”

Attorney General William Barr originally scheduled five executions for last December, but was ordered to delay them by Chutkan while long-running lawsuits challenging the government’s lethal-injection protocol played out.

In staying the executions, Chutkan ruled that the use of a single drug, pentobarbital, to carry out the executions could cause “extreme pain and needless suffering” and may violate a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Lee became the first federal inmate to be executed in the US since 2003 and the first since President Donald Trump announced plans to resume federal executions.

There have been just three federal executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1988.

Lee and another man, Chevie Kehoe, were convicted in Arkansas in 1999 of the 1996 murders of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, and her eight-year-old daughter.

Lee, who had since renounced his white supremacist beliefs according to his lawyers, was sentenced to death while Kehoe received three life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Earlene Peterson, 81, whose daughter and granddaughter were killed, has campaigned against Lee’s death sentence, saying she wants him to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

“It’s an easy way out,” Peterson told The New York Times. “He should have to live through this. Like I did.”

Peterson and relatives of other victims also filed a lawsuit seeking to delay the execution, arguing that it was dangerous for them to travel to Terre Haute to witness Lee’s execution because of the coronavirus pandemic.

An appeals court dismissed the suit on Sunday, but Baker Kurrus, a lawyer for the families, said he would take it to the Supreme Court.

“The federal government has put this family in the untenable position of choosing between their right to witness Danny Lee’s execution and their own health and safety,” Kurrus said.

The Supreme Court, however, denied their application.

The Bureau of Prisons said Sunday that a member of the Terre Haute prison staff had tested positive for COVID-19.

“There’s no reason for anybody to be carrying out executions right now because of the pandemic,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

More than 1,000 US religious leaders urged Trump last week to abandon plans to resume federal executions and Dunham accused the president of “political use of the death penalty”.

Only a handful of US states, mainly in the conservative South, still carry out executions. In 2019, 22 people were put to death.

Most crimes are tried under state laws, but federal courts handle some of the most serious crimes, including terror attacks and hate crimes.

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Pope Francis endorses same-sex civil unions for the first time as pontiff

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Pope Francis became the first pontiff to endorse same-sex civil unions on Wednesday, sparking cheers from gay Catholics and demands for clarification from conservatives given the Vatican’s official teaching on the issue.

The papal thumbs-up to same-sex civil unions came midway through the feature-length documentary ‘Francesco’ that had its debut screening at the Rome Film Festival on Wednesday.

The film, which includes fresh interviews with the pontiff, looks into the issues that mean the most to Pope Francis, including the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality, and the people most affected by discrimination.

“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis said in one of his sit-down interviews for the film. “What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”

ILGA Europe, an association that promotes the interests of LGBTI people, gave the pontiff’s words a cautious welcome.

“In the context where there is so much polarisation and scapegoating of LGBTI people, often endorsed and stoked by religious leaders, Pope Francis’ statement on same-sex unions is to be welcomed and should be carefully listened to,” the organisation said on Twitter. “We will monitor closely to see in how far the statement will be picked up by the churches and will lead to real change for LGBTI people and their families.”

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit who has sought to build bridges with gays in the church, praised the comments as “a major step forward in the church’s support for LGBT people.”

“The pope’s speaking positively about civil unions also sends a strong message to places where the church has opposed such laws,” Martin said in a statement.

However, US conservative Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, called for clarification. “The pope’s statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the church about same-sex unions,” he said in a statement. “The church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships.”

Catholic teaching holds that gays must be treated with dignity and respect but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” A 2003 document from the Vatican’s doctrine office stated the church’s respect for gays “cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”

Doing so, the Vatican reasoned, would not only condone “deviant behavior,” but create an equivalence to marriage, which the church holds is an indissoluble union between man and woman.

That document was signed by the then-prefect of the office, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI and Francis’ predecessor.

While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. However, he had never come out publicly in favour of civil unions as pope.

Director Evgeny Afineevsky had remarkable access to cardinals, the Vatican television archives and the pope himself. He said he negotiated his way in through persistence, and deliveries of Argentine mate tea and Alfajores cookies that he got to the pope via some well-connected Argentines in Rome.

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The liberation of America is only in the hands of Jesus; Franklin Graham announced the fasting prayer on October 25th

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Evangelist Franklin Graham is calling on Christians to participate in a day of fasting and prayer for our nation on Sunday, Oct. 25.

Graham, the president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organization, believes the church needs to call upon the name of God and ask for Him to move in this country. He stressed that our nation is facing multiple crises – from a pandemic to a turbulent presidential election, and widespread racial unrest.

“I am urging followers of Jesus Christ to fast and to pray for our nation next SUNDAY, OCTOBER 25. Mark it on your calendars and prepare now. I hope individuals, families, and churches will join me in asking for the Lord’s help and for His will to be done in this critical election. Will you?” Graham wrote on Facebook.

“We need to call out to God for His help, His intervention, and His mercy. It is only by His hand that America will survive and be able to thrive again. We have an election coming up with so much at stake – two vastly different directions for the future of this country. This not only affects us but our children and our grandchildren,” he added.

Graham led a Prayer March last month in Washington, D.C. where thousands of prayer warriors showed up to bless our nation.

“Prayer is our most important weapon. It allows us to go directly to the King of Kings, directly to stand before the throne of grace and make our petitions known directly to God,” Graham said.

Several worship events have taken place across the country at various venues this year, all for the same purpose: to bring America back to its first love and repent before a holy God.

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