Thursday morning news – July 9, 2020

Supreme Court upholds contraceptive exemption » The Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling on Wednesday in a major religious liberty case.

The justices ruled in favor of the Catholic nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor who sued over the Obamacare contraceptive mandate. WORLD’s Leigh Jones has more. 

LEIGH JONES, REPORTER: The high court ruled 7-2 to uphold a regulation issued by Health and Human Services. It carves out exemptions to Obamacare’s so-called contraceptive mandate. The controversial mandate forced private employers to include coverage for contraceptive and abortifacient drugs in their health insurance plans.

The carveout exempts employers who have religious objections to paying for those drugs.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ had ruled that HHS did not have the authority to create exemptions to Obamacare. But the high court disagreed. 

With Wednesday’s decision and the high court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby ruling, almost any employer with religious convictions can now opt out of the Obamacare mandate.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Leigh Jones. 

Religious schools keep the right to hire for beliefs » And in another 7-to-2 ruling on Wednesday, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the government shouldn’t second guess who fills religiously significant roles in faith-based organizations. 

The justices ruled in favor of two Catholic schools that fired teachers.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said both teachers fell under the “ministerial exception,” which protects religious groups from lawsuits for firing people in religious roles. 

He added that the government should stay out of “matters of church government, as well as those of faith and doctrine.”

FBI director issues dire warning about Chinese espionage, theft » FBI Director Christopher Wray this week said China’s espionage, cyberattacks, and theft from the United States have amounted to “one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history.”

WRAY: China is engaged in a whole of state effort to become the world’s only superpower by any means necessary. 

Speaking at the Hudson Institute in Washington, Wray said economic espionage cases with links to China have increased 1,300 percent over the past decade. 

He added that “The stakes could not be higher, and the potential economic harm to American businesses” and the economy “almost defies calculation.”

WRAY: And at this very moment, China is working to compromise American healthcare organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research. 

Wray said confronting the Chinese threat doesn’t mean we have to cut all business ties to China. But he said “It does mean that when China violates our criminal laws and international norms, we are not going to tolerate, much less enable.”

The FBI director’s comments came just hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. government is “looking at” banning Chinese social media apps over national security concerns. That would include the popular smartphone app TikTok. 

Trump administration continues push to reopen schools in fall » The Trump administration on Wednesday continued a full court press on reopening schools in the fall. 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told the nation’s governors on Wednesday that virtual classes won’t cut it. 

DEVOS: It’s clear our nation’s schools must fully reopen and fully operate the school year. Anything short of that robs students, not to mention taxpayers, of their futures. 

DeVos heard there in a conference call with governors.

The White House insists students must return to classrooms for the sake of their mental and physical health as well. 

President Trump on Wednesday threatened to withhold federal funding if America’s schools don’t reopen, though he did not say what funding he would pull. 

Some local school districts have considered offering a mix of in-person and virtual classes in the fall due to the coronavirus.  

And Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that in certain situations, that may be acceptable. 

PENCE: There may be some states and local communities that given cases or positivity in that community may adjust to either a certain set of days or certain limitations and we’ll be very respectful of that. 

Pence said the CDC is revising its guidelines for schools after President Trump complained the agency’s guidance was too expensive and impractical. 

According to a report from two national groups of educators, it could cost the average school district about $1.8 million per year to outfit buildings for safety during the pandemic. 

New rules bar online-only international college students from staying in U.S. » Meantime, international college students in the United States will have to leave the county or transfer to another college if their schools offer classes entirely online this fall. That according to new federal immigration guidelines announced this week. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin reports. 

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: Colleges received the guidance just as some schools, including Harvard, announced that all fall instruction will be held online. 

Under the updated rules, international students must take at least some of their classes in person. The government will not issue new visas to students at schools or programs that are entirely online. 

The rules state that those attending schools that are staying online must “depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction.”

The changes drew fire from the American Council on Education, which represents university presidents. It called the guidelines “horrifying” and said they will result in confusion as schools look for ways to reopen safely.

The council’s senior vice president, Terry Hartle said he’s especially concerned that students won’t be exempt from the rules, even if an outbreak forces their schools online during the fall term. He said it’s unclear what would happen if a student ended up in that scenario but faced travel restrictions from their home country. 

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin.

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) The Supreme Court, Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in Washington. 

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