Student Groups on the Dole

A few years ago, conservative students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison sued the university on the grounds that it was unconstitutional to force them to pay student fees which went to groups who espoused views they disagreed with. Essentially the students argued they were being forced by the state to subsidize certain viewpoints. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with the students, ruling that student fees used to fund student groups were within the realm of the educational mission of the university.

At the time it seemed like a slam dunk victory for the student groups on the dole in Wisconsin, but now it appears those groups may yet end up being made losers by the litigation. Specifically the U.S. Supreme Court said that student fee systems such as Wisconsin’s were Constitutional so long as they had a viewpoint-neutral system. Last week a U.S. Circuit Court ruled that, in fact, Wisconsin’s system was not viewpoint neutral and hence unconstitutional.

One of the interesting things about the latest development is that even one of the benefactors of the system admits it is not viewpoint-neutral. Here’s what Heidi Richgruber, the project coordinator for University of Wisconsin student group Sex Out Loud, told the Badger Herald,

I think the decision is significant. It scares me and makes me nervous thinking that the things which keep student organizations going is in jeopardy. However, I do agree that it is a biased system.

One of the amusing things is the number of groups the Badger Herald was able to track down who complain they simply wouldn’t survive without all of the money they confiscate from other students. From a lot of personal experience, groups that would truly fail without such funding are almost always very poorly managed and/or considered irrelevant by the vast majority of students. By crying that they won’t survive, such groups simply beg the question of what role they serve in the first place if there is almost no independent demand for their message.


Court decision worries U. Wisconsin student groups. Jill Bower, The Badger Herald (University of Wisconsin), December 12, 2000.

Scientist’s decode a plant’s entire genome

Genetic researchers from around the world recently announced they had successfully read the entire genetic code for arabidopsis thaliana, commonly known as thale cress. Although only a small weed, thale cress has already played important roles in several important genetic advances in plants and the full decoding of its genome promises even more advances.

According to the BBC, the work of decoding the genome took four years, cost upwards of $70 million and involved scientists working around the world in a massive collaborative effort.

Since thale cress is basically a small weed, it grows very quickly and has been an ideal plant for scientists to test ideas on how to genetically alter plants. Among other innovations first pioneered on the plant were methods of protecting wheat from diseases and genetic modifications that double the yield of oilseed rape.

According to Dr. Daphne Preuss of the University of Chicago, having the full genome available for study will further accelerate research involving the plant. “This landmark achievement,” she said, “means that every lab around the world working with Arabidopsis, as well as any other flowing plant, will be doing their science faster, easier and in a more thorough way.”

Dr. Ottoline Leyeser of New York University underscored the importance of the accomplishment by noting that in many ways it could prove even more important than the decoding of the human genome. “Plants are fundamental to all ecosystems in the world,” he said. “They are the energy inputs of those systems. But even if you take a human-centric view, the plant genome is still more important because far more people die from malnutrition than died from the diseases the human genome will help target.”


Little weed in science landmark. The BBC, December 13, 2000.

Animal Rights Activists Suspected in UK Bomb Blast

On December 11 a man barely escaped with his life after a bomb planted near his van destroyed the vehicle shortly before he was to leave for work. At the moment, animal rights activists are the focus of police suspicion.

The man worked for an electrical firm that was subcontracted to work for a pharmaceutical firm, which the UK media reported was probably Astra Zeneca. The van was used to transport electrical workers to the pharmaceutical company.

London’s Daily Mail reported that the bomb, which was powerful enough to destroy windows in homes and other vehicles 100 feet away, was similar to devices previously used by animal rights activists. The Daily Mail quoted detective superintendent Michael Ward who said, “The suspicion is that it has come from animal rights activists and it was directed towards one company. The vehicle attacked was used by a sub-contractor working for a company which has attracted the interests of animal rights activists.”

Update: This case was later definitively proved not to have had any animal rights connection.


Bomb blast blamed on animal rights activists. David Wilkes, Daily Mail, December 12, 2000.

Kenyan Girls Win Female Gential Mutilation Injunction

A Kenyan judge recently granted an injunction sought by two teenage girls to stop their father from forcing them to submit to female genital mutilation — the first time that a court has intervened to stop the practice which is prevalent in rural Kenya.

The BBC reported that,

The human rights group [The Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Kenya] says girls from the Kalenjin tribe are normally subject to circumcision and immediately forced into sexual activities or marriage.


Kenyan girls win circumcision ban. The BBC, December 13, 2000.

Somebody’s Offended, So Ban the Christmas Music

The other day I wrote about a city banning fire fighters from erecting Christmas trees in city-owned fire stations on the separation of church and state grounds. Now Accuracy in Academia’s Sara Russo reports that Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania has banned the school’s bell tower from playing Christmas carols that have religious overtones. Apparently non-Christian professors and students will be permanently harmed by hearing an instrumental version of “Silent Night.”

Bloomsburg University seems to be a hotbed of absurd anti-Christian protests. Russo writes,

The controversy over Carver Hall bell tower is not the first dispute over religion to erupt at Bloomsburg this semester. When a drug and alcohol awareness group on campus erected crosses on the university quad to commemorate the college students who have died due to alcohol related incidents, the campus was beset by protests that placing a religious symbol such as a cross on public grounds was inappropriate.

In this incident, too, faculty vehemently denounced the presence of Christianity on the campus. “[The crosses] shove it in the face of every minority that we are a Christian campus,” said Dr. Walter Brasch, professor of mass communications and the instigator of criticism. Dr. Wendy Lee-Lampshire, professor of philosophy, added, “Crosses are narrowly Christian symbols. If the only way we can think to represent death is by Christian crosses, then that is … monumentally offensive … We are not all Christian … Did they mean to imply the only lives that have value are those that end with crosses on their graves?”

Representatives from the Drug, Alcohol and Wellness Network (DAWN), who helped arrange the display of crosses, argue that their actions in no way violated the principle of separation between church and state. Dr. Barry Jackson, the director of DAWN asserted, “The cross is used as an international symbol of death, and is not in any way religiously connected.”

Don’t these folks have better things to do?

Officer Receives Probation in Mexican Immigrant’s Death

On September 29, 1999, Mexican immigrant Ismael Mena was shot and killed in a no-knock drug raid on his house. The only problem was police had the wrong house; the target of the raid lived in the house next door, but police officer Joseph Bini wrote the wrong address on the search warrant.

A couple weeks ago, Denver District Judge Shelly Gilman sentenced Bini to a year of probation and 150 hours of community service. Bini had plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct in October.

LeRoy Lemos, a spokesman for the Justice for Mena Committee, was outraged by the sentence. “She’s the worst judge I’ve ever seen in my life not to impose any type of sanction on a man who was derelict in his duty, who through his actions cost an innocent citizen’s life.”

While Lemos is correct and Bini’s sentence should have involved at least some time in jail, Bini’s attorney David Bruno also has a point when he said that “[Bini] made a mistake, but did not create the mistake.” The overarching mistake is a drug war in which no-knock raids by paramilitary police armed to the teeth are now routine.

Until police and prosecutors decide to declare a ceasefire in the drug war, Mena will hardly be the last innocent person killed by overzealous police.


Officer gets probation for role in fatal raid. The Associated Press, December 2, 2000.