9th Circuit Court panel rejects prayer at school board meetings

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court decided Wednesday that a California school board’s meetings may not include prayers, proselytizing or the citing of Christian Scripture.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2016 injunction against the religious practices, which the court said dated back to at least 2010.

In its appeal, the Chino Valley Unified School District board argued that it was covered by an exception for traditional prayer at the start of state legislatures, Congress and town hall meetings.

The 9th Circuit disagreed, noting that the school board meetings include children and teenagers who are more vulnerable than adults to outside influence and who have been obligated to attend to give presentations, perform or receive awards.

“These prayers typically take place before groups of schoolchildren whose attendance is not truly voluntary and whose relationship to school district officials, including the board, is not one of full parity,” the court said in an unsigned decision.

—Los Angeles Times

Court: Parkland school shooting surveillance video must be released

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Hours of surveillance footage captured outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during February’s mass shooting must be released to the public, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The Broward School Board had sought to block the release of the footage, arguing that it will expose the blind spots in the surveillance systems in place at the Parkland high school and other campuses throughout the county.

The state attorney’s office also objected to the release, calling the records a part of an active criminal investigation.

Media outlets, including the South Florida Sun Sentinel, argued that the video should be released as a public record that may shed light on the law enforcement response to the shooting as it unfolded.

Shooter Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the school, faces the death penalty if convicted of 17 counts of first-degree murder. During his rampage, he also wounded 17 other victims.

—Sun Sentinel

Police are seeking more digital evidence from tech companies

WASHINGTON — U.S. law enforcement agencies are increasingly asking technology companies for access to digital evidence on mobile phones and apps, with about 80 percent of the requests granted, a new study found.

The report released Wednesday by the Center for Strategic and International Studies found local, state and federal law enforcement made more than 130,000 requests last year for digital evidence from six top technology companies — Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp., Twitter Inc., Verizon Communications Inc.’s media unit Oath and Apple Inc.

If results from telecom and cable providers Verizon, AT&T Inc., and Comcast Corp. are added in, the number jumps to more than 660,000. The requests covered everything from the content of communications to location data and names of particular users.

“The number of law enforcement requests, at least as directed at the major U.S.-based tech and telecom companies, has significantly increased over time,” the Washington-based think tank found. “Yet, the response rates have been remarkably consistent.”

—Bloomberg News

Parasite found in cat feces could reduce people’s fear of failure

A parasite found in cat feces could reduce humans’ fear of failure, leading more people to become entrepreneurs, according to a new study.

Researchers found that Toxoplasma gondii — the behavior-altering parasite that infects an estimated 2 billion people worldwide — could be responsible for breaking down the mental barriers that stop people from taking risks, like launching a business, the study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B., found.

Toxoplasmosis can increase the risk of “car accidents, mental illness, neuroticism, drug abuse and suicide,” the study’s authors write in the paper — which doesn’t prove a causal relationship between the parasite and a decrease in people’s fear of failure.

Stefanie Johnson, a business professor at the University of Colorado and an author of the study, teamed up with her husband — a biology professor at the university — to look at college students and business professionals to determine the parasite’s influence.

They saliva tested nearly 1,700 subjects for antibodies to toxoplasma. About 22 percent of the people they tested had once been infected.

Students who tested positive for T. gondii were 1.4 times more likely to major in business and 1.7 times more likely to focus on management and entrepreneurship compared to other business-related areas of study, the team found.

—New York Daily News

200 killed in suicide blasts, fighting in southern Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria — More than 200 people were killed Wednesday in a string of suicide bombings carried out by Islamic State militants and fighting in Syria’s southern city of Sweida and surrounding areas, a monitoring group said.

Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, told dpa that 221 people were killed among them 127 civilians and the rest are pro-Syrian fighters.

He added that 45 Islamic State militants, among them seven suicide bombers, were killed.

Earlier Wednesday, Islamic State suicide bombers blew themselves up in different areas across Sweida, a pro-government city in southern Syria, while fighting between militants and government forces intensified in the countryside northeast of Sweida.

— dpa