National News Explained: March-April 2014

Sheila Gregory & Gennifer Geer, Staff Writer & Sports Editor

After conflict for months in Ukraine, President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia, leaving the country to scramble for leadership. The majority of Ukrainian citizens wanted to modernize and become a member of the European Union (EU), leaving the Russian influence behind. But due to that influence, Russia had invaded Ukraine province Crimea, essentially taking it over and re-annexing it back to themselves. Crimea had been a part of Ukraine from 1954 to 1991 when it became an autonomous republic, or a state, under Ukraine’s rule. Now Ukraine has pulled its troops and their families out of Crimea since Russia now has control over two major naval bases there. According to a vote among Crimean citizens, they had no problem joining back with Russia.

Why is this a big deal?
The United States and EU stand behind Ukraine’s independence and decision to rid itself of Russian influence. Russian President Vladimir Putin has not spoken of plans to take Ukraine but since Russia gets the majority of their oil from Ukraine, conflict could arise and bring in other allies to a war. Ukraine has been building up its military to combat any potential breaches in security. Leaders are taking various measures to stop Putin before he spreads Russia’s power grab to other countries. The Global Eight had been scheduled in Sochi, Russia, but was called off and left Russia out of the new meeting. Many view Putin as a threat to global security and want to deploy troops into Ukraine to ensure safety. There is still much speculation as to what will happen to Ukraine though hopes aren’t high that this conflict will resolve itself.

A Kansas House Bill sparked controversy when it passed the House of Representatives but was closed by the State Senate. House Bill 2453, short-titled “Protecting religious freedom regarding marriage,” would have allowed individuals and religious organizations to refuse service to those who violate their religious beliefs — specifically concerning same-sex marriage. If this bill was passed, people who don’t believe in same-sex marriage wouldn’t be forced to recognize those marriages as legal. However, government employees would still have to provide services to same-sex couples or ensure those services are provided if employees don’t do it themselves. Supporters of the bill, such as Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, said it was necessary to protect religious freedom, but opposers question the relevance of the bill.

Why is this a big deal?
A bill allowing religious individuals to delegitimize same-sex marriage seemed hardly necessary, considering same-sex marriage is illegal in Kansas regardless.
Protesters have spread negative feelings of the bill, saying the bill legalizes discrimination. Because of the public outcry, Senate Vice President Jeff King said the Kansas Senate will not consider the bill. However, religious liberty remains a key issue. In March, the Judiciary Committee heard testimonies concerning LGBT rights and religious freedom, but the stance solidified.Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican, said the hearings didn’t convince her Kansas needed further legislation regarding religious freedom. Because of this, Kansas Legislature has pushed the issue to debate in 2015.

Arts and crafts store Hobby Lobby went up against the Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that companies provide contraceptive drugs. It is not the first case of its kind but will set a precedent for the future of religious freedom arguments. If Hobby Lobby doesn’t win and refuses to offer contraception for their female employees, then they will be fined $100 per person, per day resulting in $475 million in one year.
Why is this a big deal? If Hobby Lobby doesn’t have to offer contraceptives, this case can be used to pass other companies concerned with religious right infringement. This case in itself, if Hobby Lobby wins, will not drastically affect the Affordable Care Act.