A Connecticut teenager who says she was mocked and shamed for not standing up during the Pledge of Allegiance filed a federal lawsuit this week against her teacher and the school board.
The unnamed 14-year-old student said she and other students remained seated as part of a “peaceful and nondisruptive” protest over racial discrimination against black people in her lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court.
The Waterbury Arts Magnet School teacher brought another teacher into the classroom to lecture the students on their “supposed lack of patriotism” while praising others who stood, according to the lawsuit.
The student’s attorney, John Williams, said the teacher “went way overboard,” and his actions violated her First Amendment rights.
“As long as they are not being disruptive, they are entitled to freely express political views,” he said.
Williams told the Republican-American the student’s mother reached out to him after attempts to resolve the issue with school administrators failed.
He said the student has been “frightened and intimidated” as a result of the teacher’s actions.
Williams said they’re seeking an injunction to stop the teacher’s behavior and get undisclosed damages.
A message left at the school district’s superintendent’s office Thursday was not immediately returned.
Congolese gynecologist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Denis Mukwege, in his office at Panzi Hospital on Feb. 6, 2013, in eastern Congo. Photo by PINAULT/VOA/Creative Commons
NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — At a tender age, Denis Mukwege accompanied his father, a Pentecostal church pastor, as he moved around the villages of Congo’s South Kivu Province praying for sick parishioners.
Those experiences inspired Mukwege to become a doctor — and later to found Panzi Hospital, a church-run facility in Bukavu, a community in eastern Congo. There, Mukwege has become known as the doctor who heals women suffering horrific damages after rape.
On Oct. 5, Mukwege and Nadia Murad, a young Iraqi human rights activist, won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict in their countries.
The 63-year-old gynecologist, a Pentecostal Christian, is the medical director at Panzi Hospital, where for two decades he has treated thousands of women and girls badly mutilated after being subjected to rape.
In eastern Congo, armed men have been using rape as a weapon of war in a prolonged conflict largely centered on the control of mineral wealth. The region is rich in tantalum, a rare earth metal, along with tungsten and gold.
“I think they want to destroy the community. They rape in the presence of family members and the villagers,” Mukwege told this writer in an interview at Panzi Hospital at the peak of the violence in 2009.
“I feel bad when I see children, the same age as mine, have been raped, and they have been destroyed. They have no rectum, no sex organs, and this has been done by men who just want to destroy. This affects me as a person.”
But at the hospital, survivors of sexual violence have been finding help.
The doctor has been performing reconstructive surgery, giving them a new lease of life. And when they leave the hospital, the women are also emotionally and mentally empowered, apart from receiving financial and educational support to help rebuild their lives.
Since its founding, the hospital has treated more than 85,000 women and girls with complex gynecological injuries. More than 50,000 are survivors of sexual violence.
Rape survivors learn practical skills while recovering at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in eastern Congo in 2009. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili
The doctor has dedicated his award to women all over the world harmed by conflict and suffering violence every day.
“Indeed, this honor is an inspiration because it shows that the world is … paying attention to the tragedy of rape and sexual violence and that the women and children who have suffered far too long are not being ignored,” Mukwege said in a statement released soon after he learned of the prize. He was in the midst of a surgery when the announcement was made.
“This Nobel Prize reflects this recognition of the suffering and the need for just reparation for female victims of rape and sexual violence in countries across the world and all continents.”
According to the doctor, the Nobel Prize will have real meaning only if it helps mobilize people to change the situation for victims of armed conflict. For years, he has advocated for the reclassification of sexual assaults, gang rapes and sexual mutilations by soldiers as war crimes. He has taken this advocacy to the United Nations, the U.N. Security Council and other international organizations.
Since the beginning, his work has been inspired by his faith.
Dr. Denis Mukwege in November 2014. Photo © Claude Truong-Ngoc/Creative Commons
In 1999, he founded the Panzi Hospital with support from the Communauté des Eglises de Pentecôte en Afrique Centrale. CEPAC, which was founded in 1921 by Swedish Pentecostals, is one of the largest Pentecostal groups in Congo. The church manages the hospital.
Although the hospital’s main focus is to offer medical and psychological treatment to survivors of sexual violence, it runs other projects too, including a training for medical staff on repair of fistulas, an HIV and AIDS program and a nutrition one, among others.
In Congo, CEPAC has an estimated membership of about 800,000 in more than 700 congregations concentrated in the eastern parts. The church runs more than 1,000 schools and about 160 health centers and implements several humanitarian and development projects in the war-torn region.
“We (churches) see Dr. Mukwege as a true blessing and a gift from God to CEPAC and Congo,” the Rev. Mateso Muke, spokesman of the 8th Community of Pentecostal Churches in Central Africa, said in a telephone interview Thursday (Oct. 18). “It’s a rare commitment to be helping ordinary citizens badly affected by violence, especially women. He is a true patriot.
“The award has given a good image to CEPAC and its work. Through him Congo and Africa have got a true defender of peace,” added Muke.
Other churches in eastern Congo have welcomed news of Mukwege’s Nobel Prize, saying it will boost the war against sexual violence in the region.
“We are very happy,” Bishop Josue’ Bulambo Lembelembe of the Church of Christ in Congo said. “This is also great recognition for the work of the church.”
Roman Catholic Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa of Kisangani said the award was an encouragement to all to oppose any forms of violence against women.
“The criminal use of rape as a weapon of war is a serious violation of life and respect for all human beings, especially women,” said Utembi.
JUBA, South Sudan — During a recent Sunday service, Pastor Jok Chol led the congregation at his Pentecostal church to pray for a sustainable peace after President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed the latest peace agreement in neighboring Sudan.
The two leaders signed an agreement in mid-September, hoping to end years of conflict.
“I want to rebuke the spirits of confusion in our leaders,” Chol prayed, amid cheers of “Amen” from hundreds of worshippers. “We thank God and pray that he touches the hearts of our leaders so that they can embrace the new peace agreement.”
During his sermon, Chol urged his congregants to have faith and hope and continue to pray for a sustainable peace. He said they should refuse to be divided by political leaders along ethnic lines.
“We are all children of God,” said Chol, 55, a father of three. “We should treat each other with the love of Jesus Christ. Please don’t do anything wrong because your leader has told you. Follow what the Bible says and you will be blessed.”
Chol and his congregants are among thousands of Southern Sudanese gathering in churches and various mosques across major cities and refugee camps to pray for their country, which has been embroiled in civil war since 2013.
South Sudan, red, in central Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons
South Sudan erupted into civil war after a power struggle ensued between Kiir and Machar. The conflict spread along ethnic lines, killing tens of thousands of people and displacing millions of others internally and outside the border. The economy has collapsed as a result of the ongoing war. Half of the remaining population of 12 million faces food shortages.
The latest treaty is the second attempt for this young nation to find peace. South Sudan became officially independent from Sudan in 2011. In 2013, civil war broke out after Kiir fired Machar as his deputy, leading to clashes between supporters of the two leaders.
A previous peace deal in 2016 tried to bring warring sides together so they could find a permanent solution. But fighting broke out in the capital city of Juba a few months later when Machar had returned from exile to become Kiir’s vice president as outlined in the peace agreement.
Under the new power-sharing arrangement Machar will once again be Kiir’s vice president.
Religious leaders such as Chol are optimistic that the latest peace agreement will hold up. They believe it is an answered prayer for thousands of faithful.
“I have hope in the new peace agreement,” said Bishop Emmanuel Murye of Episcopal Church in South Sudan. “We have been praying for peace to return to the country and we are happy that our leaders are committed to bring peace.”
Murye has been holding evangelistic meetings in refugee camps in Uganda, where more than 1 million South Sudanese have taken refuge. He said people in the camps have been praying for leaders to embrace the new deal.
“People want to come back home,” he said. “They are tired of staying in the camp. Life in the camp is not easy because there is no food to eat and children are not going to school. They have been praying for peace and they believe this is an answered prayer.”
But others still doubt the new peace deal.
South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, center, and opposition leader Riek Machar, right, shake hands during peace talks at a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on June 21, 2018. The two leaders signed an agreement in mid-September. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)
Fighting broke out in the country, killing 18 civilians, two days after the warring sides signed the latest agreement to end the civil war. Kiir and Machar supporters blamed each other for the attacks.
Religion has played a major role in South Sudan’s conflicts.
According to a recent report by Pew Research Center, Christians make up about 60 percent of the population of South Sudan, followed by 33 percent who are followers of African traditional religions. Six percent are Muslim.
The war for South Sudanese independence was often framed in religious terms — pitting Christians and followers of traditional religions against the Muslim leaders of Sudan.
Achol Garang, a catechist at the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in northern Uganda, said God was punishing her country for its sins. She said political leaders in South Sudan used religion as a tool to fight for independence from Sudan.
“They called themselves Christian liberators when they were fighting and promised to take us to the promised land of self-government,” said Garang, 45, a mother of five who fled Yei town in southwest South Sudan in 2015. “They lied to God and that’s the reason we are suffering now. We should just continue to pray for forgiveness of sins. We will get the answer one day.”
The South Sudanese government has accused church leaders of promoting violence among congregants by dividing them along ethnic lines.
The East Africa nation has two major tribes that have been involved in the civil war. People from Dinka tribe are loyal to Kiir, while people from Nuer tribe are led by Machar.
Religious leaders agree there has been ethnic conflict. But they say the church still remains strong.
“While individual clergy may have their own political sympathies, and while pastors on the ground continue to empathize with their local flock, the churches as bodies have remained united in calling and for an end to the killing, a peaceful resolution through dialogue, peace and reconciliation — in some cases at great personal risk,” John Ashworth, who has advised Catholic bishops and other church leaders in South Sudan, told Inter Press Service in Juba.
Chol, the Pentecostal pastor, believes the country has now found new peace after prayers.
“We must have faith that we have already found peace,” he said. “God has promised that he will never abandon his children, and we are happy he has answered our prayers.”
In this Sept. 17, 2018, photo, Republican U.S. Rep. Mia Love speaks during an interview in Murray, Utah. Love is battling Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams for Utah’s 4th Congressional District. In conservative Utah, the first black female Republican in Congress is trying to fend off a strong challenge from a well-known Democratic mayor in a largely suburban district where many are wary of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
The first black female Republican in Congress is facing a tough challenge from a well-known Democratic mayor in a largely suburban Utah district where many say they are wary of President Donald Trump.
U.S. Rep. Mia Love has sought to create some distance from the president while challenger Ben McAdams criticizes her record and pitches himself as a moderate.
The tight race also has a potential down-ballot wild card: A hotly contested medical-marijuana proposal that could bring out new voters.
Love, considered a rising star in the GOP, is fighting to keep her seat in a race targeted by national Democrats hoping to regain control of the House. She contends that she stands up to Trump on issues like immigration and trade.
“I wasn’t sent to Washington to walk in lockstep behind the president, or just be there and fight everything,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press, pointing to the federal tax overhaul as a GOP accomplishment.
McAdams, meanwhile, is seeking to burnish his image as a family man planted firmly on the political middle ground who would not support California Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker if the Democrats gain control. “I don’t like President Trump, but that’s not going to stop me from working with him,” he told The AP.
In another year, a Democrat would have little chance of making serious headway against a GOP incumbent in a Utah district where Republicans hold a 3-to-1 registration margin.
This year, it’s a dead heat.
Utah voters, though generally conservative, have long been wary of Trump’s brash style and comments about women and immigrants. While Republican politicians elsewhere have fallen after running afoul of the president, Utah GOP voters picked onetime critic Mitt Romney as Senate nominee in a landslide.
Love’s district includes suburbs of blue Salt Lake City, where anti-Trump sentiment runs particularly high.
Aaron Wood of Orem, who works with people with disabilities and is concerned about possible cuts to programs like Social Security, said he’s leaning toward voting for McAdams because he feels like Love is too closely aligned with Trump.
“It’s a problem and not a good direction for Utah,” he said.
The candidates exchanged sharp words during a debate on Monday, with McAdams accusing Love of supporting cuts to Social Security and environmental regulations while failing to be available at town halls.
“I feel like you’ve changed, honestly, you went to Washington and you’ve changed,” he said.
Love says he is distorting her record. She said she supports reforms to Social Security for younger people as well as compromise environmental legislation and is available to voters in small groups or telephone town halls.
“We have to let people know honesty still means something, integrity still means something,” she said.
The race could be affected by factors that have little to do directly with either candidate.
Voters will also be deciding on a medical-marijuana ballot proposal opposed by the highly influential Mormon church. The faith now backs a compromise to legalize it with strict regulations.
The issue could bring more people to the polls, said Damon Cann, a political scientist at Utah State University. New voters can register on Election Day for the first time this year.
McAdams says he’ll vote for the medical marijuana ballot proposal, while Love said she supports the compromise but wouldn’t say if she’ll vote for it.
While that issue could be a bump for McAdams, the ballot also holds a potential lift for Love with Romney’s high-profile Senate run. The record there is mixed, though: His presidential candidacy didn’t lift her to victory over a well-known Democrat in 2012.
Love, a daughter of Haitian immigrants, became the country’s first black female Republican in the U.S. House in 2014. She was clear when asked whether her race runs counter to a national narrative about more minority women running for office, mostly Democrats: “Diversity is great for them until you actually have an independent thought.”
McAdams’ six years as mayor included going undercover as a homeless person pushing back against a tax breaks for a once-planned Facebook data center.
Now 50 years later, sportswear manufacturer Puma has launched a commemorative line of footwear to celebrate Tommie Smith’s bravery and the impact of his actions.
When African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos famously raised their fists from the medal-winners podium at the Olympic Games in Mexico City, October 1968, many saw this as a “black power” salute. Smith always said it was a “human rights salute,” but regardless, he and Carlos were expelled from Mexico City for failure to represent the Olympic ideal. Smith, who won the gold medal and set a new world record in that race, never competed again.
Now 50 years later, sportswear manufacturer Puma has launched a commemorative line of footwear to celebrate Smith’s bravery and the impact of his actions. The centerpiece of the line is a casual suede shoe virtually identical to the one Smith held in his unraised left hand in 1968, with profits from shoe sales going to charities supporting equality.
Puma’s anniversary campaign comes just over a month after rival footwear company Nike featured NFL player Colin Kaepernick in its own campaign celebrating the 30th anniversary of Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan. Kaepernick spent much of 2017 using his status as a professional football player to raise awareness of human rights issues – specifically, racial injustice and police brutality in the US. While Smith raised a fist during the national anthem, Kaepernick took a knee. Like Smith, Kaepernick’s high-profile protest may have ended his career: he has been unemployed since the end of the 2017 season. Appropriately, Kaepernick’s tagline in the Nike campaign is: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
While both Kaepernick and Smith demonstrated that they are willing to sacrifice everything fighting for what they believe, could the same be said of Nike and Puma? Are these companies also willing to put principles ahead of profits and risk everything to take a stand on highly divisive social issues? No, of course they aren’t.
Nike and Puma, and other companies that take a stand on controversial social issues leverage the interest in these social movements to generate profits. Few companies understand how to create customer and brand value better than Nike and Puma. They have gauged their customers’ sentiment and are using this to forge new corporate social opportunities. From entry into new markets, engaging new customers or increasing brand awareness, the business case behind social opportunities increasing profits can be very strong.
What makes campaigns like this controversial is the human element. Nike is taking a stand on racism and social division because the company has decided that’s what its consumers and employees care about. Many may not remember that Nike celebrated the 25th anniversary of its “Just Do It” slogan only five years ago. Under the title “Possibilities”, this anniversary campaign challenged people to set goals and to do things they’d never done before, with a video that featured famous and everyday athletes doing extraordinary things narrated by Bradley Cooper. Racism and social injustice were problems in 2013, too, of course: George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing black teenager Trayvon Martin just a month before Nike’s campaign launched.
While Nike’s 30th anniversary of the campaign includes a similar montage of famous and everyday athletes, the tone is very different. Kaepernick is the narrator, and the theme is that they all “leverage the power of sport to move the world forward”. Times change. Opportunities change.
This doesn’t make these companies evil or hypocritical. It’s about opportunity. Starbucks has benefited from its partnership with Conservation International through which it works with rural farmers in developing countries that grow and sell fair trade coffee. Tesla has become a US$50 billion company thanks to changing consumer sentiment around electric cars and generous government subsidies. Walmart has also benefited from changing sentiment and government subsidies, investing more in on-site solar facilities than any other US company in the past few years. And it’s very clear about why: “At Walmart, renewable energy is about our customers and helping them save money so they can live better.”
Few companies in recent history have been more socially-driven than Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. When Unilever acquired the brand in 2000, questions hung over whether Ben & Jerry’s would become more like Unilever or whether Unilever would become more like Ben & Jerry’s. Today, few large companies are more socially progressive than Unilever: the Unilever behemoth has indeed become more like the tiny company it acquired. It should be noted that in the 18 years since it acquired Ben & Jerry’s, Unilever’s stock price has outperformed the S&P 500 by more than 2.5% per year. Social and environmental principles sell products well.
Why would we negatively judge companies that capitalize from human-centered social issues? Companies survive and thrive by capitalizing on business opportunities. Certainly, there are risks for the companies: they may have misread the business case and these investments may end up hurting in the long-run. All companies occasionally make bad investments. But that’s not their expectation. Nike, Puma, Unilever and others who tie their fortunes, short or long-term, to social movements believe they are acting in the best interests of their stakeholders while seizing an opportunity to make their companies better. If a consequence is that society becomes a better place as a result, then that’s OK too.
Brian Bolton, Associate Director, Global Board Centre, IMD Business School
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.