Recently uncovered government documents reveal that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s unmanned Predator B drone fleet has been custom designed to identify civilians carrying guns and track cell phone signals, reports “I am very concerned that this technology will be used against law-abiding American firearms owners,” said Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation. “This could violate Fourth Amendment rights as well as Second Amendment rights.” The Electronic Privacy Information Center obtained a partially redacted copy of Homeland Security’s drone requirements through a Freedom of Information Act request; CNET uncovered an unredacted copy. Homeland Security design requirements specify that its Predator B drones “shall be capable of identifying a standing human being at night as likely armed or not” and must be equipped with “interception” systems capable of reading cell phone signals. The first known domestic use of a drone to arrest a U.S. citizen occurred last year in the small town of Lakota, N.D., when rancher Rodney Brossart was arrested for refusing to return six of his neighbor’s cows that had wandered on to his property. Critics say the fact that domestic drones are being used in such minor matters raises serious concerns about civil liberties and government overreach. “That drone is not just picking up information on what’s happening at that specific scene, it’s picking up everything else that’s going on,” says drone expert and Brookings Institution senior fellow Peter Singer. “Basically it’s recording footage from a lot of different people that it didn’t have their approval to record footage.” Others, like progressive author Naomi Wolf, have warned that domestic drones may soon be weaponized. The military version of the Predator B drone carries 100-pound Hellfire missiles, but the Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection says the 10 drones in its domestic fleet are unarmed. Last month, NBC News uncovered a confidential 16-page Justice Department memo that concluded the U.S. government may execute a drone strike on an American citizen it believes to be a “senior operational leader” of al-Qaeda or “an associated force.” The Obama Administration defended the use of drones to kill Americans thought to be working with terrorists. “These strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.

Other news:

  • U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder argued that using lethal military force against an American in his home country would be legal and justified in an “extraordinary circumstance” comparable to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, reports The Telegraph. “The president could conceivably have no choice but to authorise the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland,” Holder said. His statement was described as “more than frightening” by Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, who had demanded to know the Obama administration’s position on the subject. “It is an affront the constitutional due process rights of all Americans,” said Paul, a 50-year-old favorite of the anti-government Tea Party movement, who is expected to run for president in 2016. Meanwhile, Fox News reports the FBI used National Security Letters—a form of surveillance that privacy watchdogs call “frightening and invasive”—to surreptitiously seek information on Google users, the web giant has just revealed. Google’s disclosure is “an unprecedented win for transparency,” privacy experts said Wednesday. But it’s just one small step forward. “Serious concerns and questions remain about the use of NSLs,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Dan Auerbach and Eva Galperin wrote. For one thing, the agency issued 16,511 National Security Letters in 2011, the last year for which data was available. But Google was gagged from saying just how many letters it received, leaving key questions unanswered.
  • Arkansas lawmakers overrode a veto Wednesday and gave the state the most restrictive abortion law in the country—a near-ban on the procedure from the 12th week of pregnancy onward that is certain to end up in court, Fox News reports. A day after the Republican-led state Senate voted to override Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto, the GOP-controlled House voted 56-33 to do the same. Only a simple majority was needed in each chamber. The vote comes less than a week after the Legislature overrode a veto of a separate bill banning most abortions starting in the 20th week of pregnancy. That bill took effect immediately after the final override vote, whereas the 12-week ban wouldn’t take effect until this summer. Abortion rights proponents have already said they’ll sue to block the 12-week ban from taking effect. Beebe warned lawmakers that both measures are likely to fail in court and that the state would end up wasting money defending them if they became law. The measures’ supporters, who expected court challenges, were undaunted. “Not the governor, nor anyone else other than the courts, can determine if something is constitutional or unconstitutional,” Rep. Bruce Westerman, a Republican from Hot Springs, said in urging his colleagues to override Beebe.
  • Venezuela president and socialist revolutionary Hugo Chavez is dead at age 58. The revolutionary who crusaded against United States influence and helped lead a leftist revival across Latin America succumbed to a two-year struggle with cancer. reports Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba in June 2011 to remove what he said was a baseball-size tumor from his pelvic region, and the cancer returned repeatedly over the next 18 months despite more surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. He kept secret key details of his illness, including the type of cancer and the precise location of the tumors. “El Comandante,” as he was known, stayed in touch with the Venezuelan people during his treatment via Twitter and phone calls broadcast on television, but those messages dropped off as his health deteriorated. Two months after his last re-election in October, Chavez returned to Cuba again for cancer surgery, blowing a kiss to his country as he boarded the plane. He was never seen again in public. In the wake of Chavez’s death, Venezuela deployed its army and police. Venezuela accused the United States of giving Chavez his cancer. The big question now, reports Mission Network News, is: Will there be a huge change? Not likely. “Chavism” is expected to reign on. The Voice of the Martyrs spokesman Greg Musselman explains concerning Chavez’s successor, “He’s a guy that does hold to the socialist ideology. We don’t expect things to change drastically for the evangelical Church when it comes to evangelism and freedom to gather.” From what Venezuelan Christians report, Musselman says in the 14 years he was in office, “Chavez may have had his points of trying to help the poor and some of those things which we say are great. But ultimately, he didn’t deliver on everything that he promised. Some would say the country is a lot worse.” The “worse” Musselman is referring to is the loss of freedoms. “When you start preaching the Bible—that there’s one King and one Kingdom (the Kingdom of God), and not the government of a dictator (as we see with Hugo Chavez), the Christians run into difficulty.”
  • Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress says an atheist organization’s billboard advertisement featuring a picture of his face and a quote from one of his sermons is evidence that his church is on the right track. “Any day we are being attacked by the American Atheist(s) . . . we consider it to be a good day,” Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, told The Christian Post on Tuesday. “It only proves that we are doing our job.” The billboard is just one in a series promoting American Atheists’ upcoming 50th anniversary celebration and convention, which will be held in Austin at the end of March. Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI are also featured on at least one of the signs in the series. “What they (homosexuals) do is filthy,” Jeffress is quoted as saying on the billboard. “Go godless instead,” the bottom of the advertisement says. Jeffress says the atheist organization accurately quoted him, but they failed to convey his entire message. The quote was taken from a sermon he preached five years ago, he says, in which he described homosexual behavior as “unnatural” based on the teachings of the Apostle Paul found in Romans 1. “What homosexuals do is certainly filthy, but I never said homosexuals were filthy,” said Jeffress. He went on in his sermon to emphasize that everyone—homosexuals and heterosexuals—need a Savior, and that their sins are all “filthy” in the eyes of God, he says. Dave Muscato, director of public relations for the American Atheists, says some people might be surprised by some of the quotes on his organization’s billboards. “The purpose of showing the political figures and the pope and Robert Jeffress was basically just to show people what kinds of things these people are saying and just how bigoted their statements are,” said Muscato. He also says the American Atheists had plans to put up the Jeffress billboard even before Tim Tebow canceled an April speaking engagement at First Baptist. The New York Jets quarterback and outspoken Christian announced via Twitter last month that “due to new information” he had decided not to speak to Jeffress’ congregation. Prior to Tebow’s decision, he was criticized by some for agreeing to speak at Jeffress’ church because of the pastor’s views on homosexuality and on other religions. “Neither my church nor I hate anyone,” Jeffress said Tuesday. “We are simply preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, which says, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, by trusting in Christ you can have the forgiveness of sins that we all desperately need.”
  • A federal court is scheduled on Monday to sentence a Mennonite pastor who was convicted of helping a Lesbian-turned-Christian woman to flee the country with her daughter after her former partner was awarded custody of the girl, The Christian Post reports. Kenneth L. Miller of Stuarts Draft, Va., will appear before Burlington, Vt., Judge William Sessions on Monday afternoon, and faces up to three years in prison, according to The Associated Press. Prosecutors want Miller to be sentenced to two-and-a-half or three years in prison, the maximum sentence for his conviction in abetting international parental kidnapping. “Because of his brazen intervention, a child—an American citizen—is growing up outside this country, and a mother must bear the unimaginable daily torment of being separated from her child, without any word on her child’s health or well-being. Kenneth Miller’s offense could not be more serious,” prosecutors said in documents filed in the court. The pastor’s attorney counters he should not be sentenced to prison because he is a law-abiding pastor with no previous criminal record. He’s a leader in his community who regularly helps people, including Lisa Miller (no relation), whom he didn’t know when she came to him for help in 2009, saying she wanted to protect her daughter from her former partner’s lesbian lifestyle. Miller and several other people were involved in helping Lisa Miller and her 7-year-old daughter Isabella out of the country in September 2009 before a judge could transfer custody of the child to Lisa’s former partner, Janet Jenkins. The two women lived in Virginia but went to Vermont to obtain a civil union in 2000. The couple split in Vermont, and Lisa Miller moved back to Virginia with her daughter after renouncing her homosexuality. Then ensued a battle over the custody of Isabella, who was conceived when the two women were living together in Virginia. Lisa Miller is her biological mother, and did not want her to be exposed to the homosexual lifestyle. In 2008, a Vermont court ordered Lisa Miller to turn over Isabella for unsupervised visitations with Jenkins. Lisa Miller later asked a Frederick County, Va., judge to nullify the visitation order after Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage took effect. The judge agreed, but that ruling was reversed by the Virginia Court of Appeals, which said the Vermont court’s order must be recognized. After repeatedly failing to turn over Isabella to Jenkins for visitations, Judge William Cohen of Vermont in November 2009 awarded Jenkins custody of the girl. However, prosecutors say, Pastor Miller took Lisa Miller and her daughter in a car from Virginia to Buffalo, N.Y., on Sept. 22, 2009, and the two crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Canada. Then they flew to Central America to live with Mennonites in Nicaragua. Pastor Miller has been in prison for about a month for his refusal to testify in the case of another man who is also facing charges for his involvement in the matter. Miller reportedly told Judge Sessions that his religious beliefs prohibited him from testifying in the case. Miller’s attorney, David Bercot, says his client has been in good spirits while in prison. “Ken has been doing well,” he recently wrote in an online post. “We hear that a guard quieted his enthusiastic singing in the shower. The same guard later awarded him with some extra telephone time. He’s been reading about 40 chapters of Scripture a day. He’s been receiving a lot of correspondence, which is wonderful. At mealtimes, he was asking the blessing for his own food. The inmates at his table asked him to begin saying grace for the whole table. His wife and a few children were up to visit him on the weekend, and found him well.” After his conviction last August, Pastor Miller told reporters, “I’ve already surrendered my freedom to Christ, and if this is the path he chooses for me, I will walk it. I am willing to accept the consequences. I am at peace with God. I am at peace with my conscience. I give it over to God.”
  • Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said Wednesday that conservatives in Congress should “band together” in refusing to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government unless it includes language protecting Americans from being forced by the federal government to act against their conscience, reports. “This is a principle—this is a constitutional principle—that’s been handed to us from our Founding Fathers, and it’s not something that I think we should be negotiating on,” said Rep. King. “I would like to see the conscience protection language go into that CR, and I’d like to see conservatives band together and refuse to pass the CR until such time as we get that language in there.” Under the Obamacare law, the administration has issued a regulation requiring health-care plans to provide cost-free coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives, and abortion-inducing drugs. The Catholic bishops of the United States have unanimously declared this regulation an “unjust and illegal mandate” that violates the “personal civil rights” of Catholics. Around the country, dozens of Catholic dioceses, schools and business owners, and schools and business owners of other Christian denominations, have sued the administration arguing that the regulation violates their First Amendment-guaranteed right to the free exercise of religion.
  • In the U.S. it is illegal in only four states to have an abortion solely based on the fetus’s gender, but now at least nine states look to join them with their own bans. Utah, Florida, New York, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Kansas, Colorado, and North Dakota have legislation in the works that would ban sex-selective abortions if their bills pass. Currently, only Arizona, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma have laws against sex-selective abortions. Dr. Stephen Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, told The Christian Post in an interview on Tuesday that gender-selective abortions were not much heard of 20 or 30 years ago (shortly after abortion was legalized), but has now “become more common with Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean immigrants coming on shore.” Mosher added, “Secondly, with the decline in family size, more and more people decide they want the perfect family—however they define it—which sometimes don’t include a girl and certainly doesn’t include in many cases more than one girl.” The practice of selective abortion on female fetuses is most common in areas where males are valued more than females as a cultural norm, especially in parts of China, India, and Pakistan. Mosher pointed out, “160 million girls have been killed in India in what is referred to as a ‘gendercide’. While I was in China in 1979 I saw babies killed because of them being little girls.” He added, “I believe that God is the Creator of life and we have a life span from conception to death that should not be interrupted at any point.”