France to get tough on anti-religious acts, says interior minister

France’s interior minister has vowed that the government would use all means to find and prosecute those who attack churches, mosques and other religious monuments.

Gérald Darmanin made the comment on October 5, one day after an attempted arson attack on a Catholic church near the city of Lyon.

“To attack a place of worship is a strike against the Republic,” the interior minister said.

His words echoed those expressed four years ago by the then-French President François Hollande after an elderly priest in Normandy was murdered while celebrating Mass.

“To kill a priest is to desecrate the Republic,” Hollande said after the July 26, 2016 slaying of Father Jacques Hamel.

Darmanin spoke to the press during a quick trip to Rillieux-la-Pape, a city of some 30,000 inhabitants about eight miles northeast of Lyon.

The city’s St. Peter Chanel Church is believed to have been the target of arsonists who, during the night of Oct. 3-4, set a dozen vehicles on fire.

One of the autos was expressly moved in front of the church, which resulted in blackening the facade of the modern building.

But thanks to the intervention of firefighters, who faced projectile fire upon arrival, only the church’s offices and meeting rooms were damaged.

“Christians are defended by the public authorities”

“All means are being put in place, including scientific means, to find the perpetrators of this unspeakable act,” Darmanin promised.

He called the violence “hooded mischief”.

The 38-year-old interior minister said additional police would be sent to the Lyon area, a clear show of firmness in the face of anti-religious acts that seem to be multiplying in the region.

“We have had at least 14 incidents of damage or thefts since the beginning of the year, including seven since the beginning of September,” said Christophe Ravinet, director of press relations for the Archdiocese of Lyon.

But he said these figures could be underestimated, since they only concern cases that parishes report to the archdiocese.

Bishop Michel Dubost, the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese, said the interior minister’s visit to Rillieux-la-Pape was “very important, because it showed Christians that they are defended by the public authorities”.

But Catholics are not the only ones experiencing such violence. In recent months, mosques in the Lyon metropolitan area have also been targeted by attempted fires.

Anti-Semitic tags were also found in Lyon’s historic center, while the front of a Protestant bookstore was covered with anti-Christian slogans.

“A desire by some to set religious communities against each other”

“What’s happening in our good city of Lyon, which has been going through difficult times since this summer?” asked Kamel Kabtane, rector of the city’s grand mosque.

He said anti-religious insults spiked on social media during the coronavirus lockdown, but now the hatred is being transformed into acts.

“The odious act of Rillieux-la-Pape confirms that there is a desire by some to set religious communities against each other,” the Muslim leader lamented.

He said the attack on St. Peter’s is all the more “insidious”

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Trump, White House demand FDA justify tough standards for coronavirus vaccine, raising concerns of political interference

The White House’s involvement appears to go beyond the perfunctory review that agency officials had expected, and is likely to reinforce public concerns that a vaccine may be rushed to benefit the president’s reelection campaign. Polls show that the number of people who say they’re willing to take a coronavirus vaccine if it were available today has nosedived from 72 percent in May to 50 percent as of early this month, according to Pew Research Center, largely because of concerns that politics, rather than science, is driving the process.

Trump has repeatedly said a vaccine would be available by Election Day, or possibly sooner, worrying scientists that he might attempt to intervene in the review process. Companies will begin reporting safety and effectiveness data in coming weeks and months. And in conversations with some advisers, the president has directly tied the vaccine to his reelection chances, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

The White House’s decision to weigh in on the FDA plan was assailed by former FDA commissioners who had served both Republican and Democratic presidents.

“I don’t know of any precedent where the White House asked to adjudicate scientific and clinical guidances, even in past public health emergencies,” said Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s first FDA commissioner. “To build trust among patients and providers, you wanted to leave these matters to the FDA process, which has a lot of rigor and integrity.”

Robert Califf, commissioner under President Barack Obama, said White House officials lack the expertise to assess the FDA’s safety protocols. “For the president to weigh in is not good,” he said, “and it sets a precedent, which is worrisome in many regards, and makes you worry about what he’ll do about the decision itself about individual vaccines.”

The push from the White House comes during a week in which top health administration officials, including FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, vowed there would be no political interference in the vaccine approval process and sought to boost public trust in the process.

So far, the White House has not asked the FDA to withdraw or change the guidance for an emergency authorization of the vaccine — a far quicker process than a formal approval that gives the FDA the flexibility to set a lower bar for safety and effectiveness. The agency expects to use the process because of the urgency of the situation. In a Wednesday phone call, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Hahn the agency had to provide the detailed justification for the guidance, according to two people familiar with the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The FDA, which had planned to release the guidance this week, instead has been working on detailed scientific justifications for the questions raised by White House officials, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. White House officials are especially interested in the agency’s recommendation

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High-profile first-term House member Abigail Spanberger faces tough fight against Republican Nick Freitas

Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, currently represented by first-term Democrat Rep. Abigail Spanberger, was a longtime Republican stronghold until it went Democratic in 2018. The GOP aims to take it back in November.

The suburban Richmond district is located in the center of the commonwealth and includes municipalities like Culpeper, Orange, Goochland, Nottoway, Amelia, and Powhatan counties, as well as regions of Chesterfield and Henrico counties.

In 2016, voters in the district preferred President Trump, 50% to 44%, over Hillary Clinton. But the region has been trending more Democratic in the last few years. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican, previously represented the district. Yet in 2014, Cantor was defeated in an upset by college professor Dave Brat in the GOP primary.

Brat, a tea party activist and later a House Freedom Caucus member, lasted only two terms in Congress, as Spanberger, a former CIA officer, in 2018, defeated him 50% to 48%.

Spanberger currently serves on the House Committee on Agriculture and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where she is the chairwoman of the Conservation & Forestry Subcommittee and a member of the Commodity Exchanges, Energy, & Credit Subcommittee.

The Virginia Democrat is also on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where she serves as vice chairwoman of the Europe, Eurasia, Energy, & the Environment Subcommittee and is a member of the Asia, the Pacific, & Nonproliferation Subcommittee.

Her background as an intelligence officer has made her a sought-out cable news guest, and in the early months of her first term, she could be found on many interview shows.

She now faces Republican Nick Freitas, a two-tour Army veteran and member of the Green Berets who currently represents the 30th District in Virginia’s House of Delegates.

Following high school, Freitas joined the Army and served with the 82nd Airborne Division and 25th Light Infantry Division as an Infantryman. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the Virginia Republican volunteered for U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets) and eventually served two tours in Iraq as a Special Forces Weapons SGT and Special Forces Intelligence SGT.

Following his honorable discharge in 2009, Freitas involved himself in leading local Republican campaigns in the commonwealth for several years thereafter, including the campaign of a successful GOP state Senate candidate who beat a 28-year Democratic incumbent in Culpeper.

Spanberger started the race with a 12-1 cash-on-hand advantage over Freitas, as well as an endorsement from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Freitas, though, touted the endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business and is among a group of candidates receiving money from the House Republicans’ campaign arm as a member of their Young Guns program.

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