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Spirit of service flourishes on Martin Luther King Day

CEDAR FALLS — The spirit of service was evident Monday at the University of Northern Iowa’s Maucker Union.

Tables lined with volunteers in the union’s ballroom assembled thousands of bags filled with canned and packaged food destined for the backpacks of needy students across 16 counties.

It was all part of the third annual Martin Luther King Day of Service, a partnership between UNI’s service and leadership council, the food bank and the Volunteer Center of the Cedar Valley. The event drew UNI students and others from across the community.

Somber anniversary recalled this MLK Day

WATERLOO – It was early 1968. A charismatic minister Anna Mae Weems had hosted on a visit to Waterloo nine years earlier and his organization needed help. She answered the call.

“We probably have 200 in this room and probably about 200 in Lang Hall,” said Jessica Haring, volunteer services manager for the Northeast Iowa Food Bank. The others were hearing a presentation on Martin Luther King Jr., poverty and the food bank. Later, the groups would switch so they could work on filling the bags too.

“Our goal is to pack 15,000 bags,” she noted, supplying weekend breakfasts, lunches and a snack for identified students from 143 schools. “That equates to about 100 pallets.” Each pallet has 24 boxes containing the packed bags.

The packages with items such as soup, macaroni and cheese, cereal and juice will be distributed to students over the course of a month. Haring said it was nice to see “people are willing to push through that cold and wind” to attend the event.

Other King Day service events were held throughout the area. Among those were Columbus Catholic High School in Waterloo, Wartburg College in Waverly and the volunteer center through the Cedar Falls Public Library.

The Waterloo Center for the Arts held King Day of Service workshops for youths on leadership and personal responsibility. Most involved the arts as a learning tool.

“I was a little bit scared because of the weather,” said Cherie Kabba, one of the organizers. But she was happy to see more than 60 young people turn out for the seven workshops along with a number of unexpected volunteers.

Children were among the volunteers at UNI. Sophie Cooley, a fourth-grader at Cedar Heights Elementary School, didn’t mind missing out on a day at home to participate in the volunteer activity.

“My friend’s mom brought me,” she said. “It’s kind of fun.” She knows about King’s “I have a dream” speech and has done similar volunteer activities at the food bank.

Many other volunteers were UNI students.

“I’m a future educator myself,” said sophomore Jessica Sholes. Volunteering “for the kids” appealed to the first-time participant. “There’s no better way to give back.”

For Sophomore Shannon Jones, the inspiration for participating came from King, a civil rights leader who was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., 50 years ago this April.

She wanted to use the day to give back “because Martin Luther King was a wonderful leader and he made a huge impact on America.”

Junior Josh Mostaert said King’s leadership is an important focus of the day that he was striving to emulate.

“Dr. King was one of the ultimate leaders,” said Moestaert. “He organized a bunch of people that were disinfranchised from the system.

“Our fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, we’re really big on community services. This is one way we can come together and do something good for the community — and really fun. We’re having a great time here.”

Abby Martin, an Americorp worker in South Tama County Community Schools who graduated from UNI in December, was back on campus for the event. “It brings the community together,” she said.

At the Center for the Arts, a showcase was staged allowing students to perform something they worked on during the day. People sang, performed spoken word poetry and recited what they learned in the workshops.

“We wrote a poem about our dream,” said Rebekah Luloff, a fifth-grader at Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence. “It was fun.”

“It was fun and learning about other people at the same time,” said Sanai Scott, a fourth-grader at Kittrell Elementary School.

Iowa lawsuit pits gay rights against religious freedom

DES MOINES (AP) — The University of Iowa is caught up in a legal fight with a conservative Christian student group that denied a leadership position to a student who is gay.

The case pits a university policy barring discrimination based on sexual orientation against the religious beliefs of a 10-member group called Business Leaders in Christ. The group sued after the state’s flagship university in Iowa City revoked its campus registration in November.

The group says its membership is open to everyone, but that its leaders must affirm a statement of faith that rejects homosexuality. The university says it respects the right of students, faculty and staff to practice the religion of their choice but does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.

The group, founded in the spring of 2015 by students at the university’s Tippie College of Business, met weekly for Bible study, to conduct service projects and to mentor students on “how to continually keep Christ first in the fast-paced business world.” The group’s loss of registration as an on-campus student organization means it can no longer reserve campus meeting space, participate in student recruitment fairs, access funds from student activity fees or use university-wide communication services.

A student member of Business Leaders in Christ, Marcus Miller, filed a complaint with the university last February after the group denied his request to serve as its vice president. Miller’s request was rejected after he disclosed he was gay.

The group says it denied Miller’s request because he rejected its religious beliefs and would not follow them. Group leaders must affirm a statement of faith that affirms that they “embrace, not reject, their God-given sex” and support the idea that marriage can be only between a man and a woman.

“Every other sexual relationship beyond this is outside of God’s design and is not in keeping with God’s original plan for humanity,” the statement of faith says.

The group’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in Davenport, says it “cannot and will not ask leaders who do not share its beliefs to lead members in prayer or to convey those beliefs.”

“Every organization to exist has to be able to select leaders who embrace its mission,” the group’s attorney, Eric Baxter with the nonprofit law firm Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said. “You would never ask an environmental group to have a climate denier as their leader. It’s the same thing here.”

Judge Stephanie M. Rose has set a hearing for Thursday on a request from the group to reinstate its on-campus privileges in time to participate in spring recruitment fairs Jan. 24-25 — something the group says is “crucial to its existence.”

The university said it has a right and obligation to ensure an open and nondiscriminatory environment on campus. University spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said that on-campus groups must guarantee “that equal opportunity and equal access to membership, programming, facilities, and benefits shall be open to all persons.”

But the university also acknowledged that the court “must carefully weigh the compelling interest of religious freedom on the one hand and the compelling interest of preventing discrimination on the other hand.”

Miller did not respond to messages seeking comment about the lawsuit. He has since started his own university-recognized, Jesus-centered student organization, Love Works, to advocate for justice on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual issues.

(AP Photo/The Gazette, Brian Ray 


Lawmakers will debate returning death penalty to Iowa


DES MOINES — Bringing the death penalty back to Iowa likely will get debated but probably not approved during the 2018 legislative session, key lawmakers say.

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he plans to assign a subcommittee to take up Senate File 335 with an eye on possibly expanding the provisions, but he is uncertain how far the issue may go in a session already loaded with more pressing priorities.

S.F. 335, introduced by a group of Senate Republicans last session, would restore capital punishment in Iowa for the first time since 1965 by establishing a two-pronged process.

A jury or judge could convict a perpetrator of committing multiple class A offenses, and separately make a decision whether to execute the offender by lethal injection. Any death penalty conviction automatically would be appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, and juvenile offenders would be exempted.

Proponents say it would allow capital punishment in cases where an adult kidnaps, rapes and murders a minor. Zaun said there are some who would like to expand it to situations where police officers are killed in the line of duty or other heinous circumstances.

“My promises at this point are that I will promise that I will assign a subcommittee and the subcommittee will hold a hearing so people could weigh in on whether they’re for or against that,” he said. “I think considering some of the tragedies that have happened here in the state of Iowa, and I’ve heard from so many Iowans who would at least like to have the conversation started.”

One of those is Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, the bill’s lead sponsor who has raised the issue for nearly two decades in the Legislature without success in getting it passed.

“Right now in Iowa, if you kidnap and rape someone, there’s a perverted incentive to murder your victim because you’re no worse off. I think that’s not appropriate at any level and we’ve had a couple horrific crimes of similar nature in the past and I would just as soon not wait for another one of those horrific crimes before we try to do something about it,” Behn said. “That was the genesis of introducing the bill in the first place to fix that.”

The Boone Republican said he believes the death penalty is a deterrent to crime worth considering and believes it would get public backing if it were a topic of discussion again in the Legislature, although he has not gauged support for it among legislators.

Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, a ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who worked for 27 years in the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, said he is willing to listen to the arguments for reinstating capital punishment but he doubts there were be enough support for Senate passage.

“For me, it’s a no. Somebody’s going to have to show me some real good reason to change my mind on that,” said Taylor.

“There’s too many chances for error and we’ve seen that over the last few years with the new DNA sampling. There are a lot of people in prison who really shouldn’t have been there in the first place. So, if we have the death penalty, there’s no return from that,” he said.

“It rather surprises me that the Republicans on one hand say all life is precious and believe that life begins at conception and then are for the death penalty on the other end,” added Taylor. “It’s pretty contradictory.”

Taylor said the death penalty is such a divisive issue he questions whether lawmakers should take it up in a year already beset with some major issues as the GOP-run General Assembly works to erase a projected budget deficit and consider a major rewrite of the individual income tax code.

Top lawmakers from both parties had similar views in pre-session interviews.

“I haven’t heard from folks in my community about that being a key priority this year,” said House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights. “I just haven’t seen it rise as a priority on our side yet, so I’m not particularly concerned about.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said he is aware there is interest within his caucus to have a debate on the issue and he is willing to let the process work and see where it goes.