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Friday, May 23, 2008

Controversial development training cited in religious discrimination lawsuits

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A controversial development training course called "Landmark Forum" is cited in religious discrimination lawsuits in United States federal courts in New York and Washington, D.C. The seminars are run by a San Francisco, California-based for-profit training company called Landmark Education. The company evolved from Erhard Seminars Training "est" which was developed by Werner Erhard, and has faced criticism regarding its techniques and its use of unpaid labor. The sperm bank and surrogacy company Los Angeles-based Growing Generations is named as a defendant in the New York lawsuit, and the Democratic political action committee Twenty-First Century Democrats is a defendant in the Washington, D.C. case.

In separate lawsuits filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, New York, and in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C., former employees are suing their employers for monetary damages and claiming religious discrimination after their employers allegedly mandated that they attend courses at Landmark Education.

This is not the first time employees have sued claiming mandatory attendance at "Forum" workshops violated their civil rights. In a lawsuit filed in December 1988 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, eight employees of DeKalb Farmers Market in Decatur, Georgia sued their employer claiming their religious freedom and civil rights were violated when they were allegedly coerced into attending "Forum" training sessions.

Landmark Education itself has come under scrutiny for its controversial labor practices. The company has been investigated by the United States Department of Labor in separate investigations originating out of California, Colorado, and Texas. Investigations focused on the heavy reliance of unpaid labor in the company's workforce, which Landmark Education calls "assistants" and deems volunteers. Government labor inspectors in France have also investigated Landmark Education for its employment practices and use of unpaid labor.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Asbestos controversy aboard Scientology ship Freewinds

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Controversy has arisen over the reported presence of blue asbestos on the MV Freewinds, a cruise ship owned by the Church of Scientology. According to the Saint Martin newspaper The Daily Herald and the shipping news journal Lloyd's List, the Freewinds was sealed in April and local public health officials on the Caribbean island of Curaçao where the ship is docked began an investigation into the presence of asbestos dust on the ship.

Former Scientologist Lawrence Woodcraft supervised work on the ship in 1987, and attested to the presence of blue asbestos on the Freewinds in an affidavit posted to the Internet in 2001. Woodcraft, a licensed architect by profession, gave a statement to Wikinews and commented on the recent events.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

University hosting panel continues discussion on Wikipedia ethics without Wikimedia

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Wikinews has learned that the Wikimedia Foundation has decided not to participate in a panel discussion that is to take place at Santa Clara University in California. The discussion, which is titled 'The World that Wikipedia Made,' was to be based on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and ethics involved in the editing of the website. It is the ninth such meeting in a series on technology, ethics, and law and is taking place today.

In an e-mail to Wikinews, Miriam Schulman the communications director for the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University which is to host the discussion, states that Mike Godwin, legal counsel for the Foundation, will not be speaking during the discussion as was originally planned.

According to Schulman, the Foundation canceled Godwin's scheduled appearance just one week ago and has decided not to have anyone from the foundation replace him. Valleywag, a gossip website about technology, recently reported that Godwin was not attending due to a "groundswell of criticism of Wikipedia," something Schulman denies.

"I don't want to speak for Mr. Godwin or WikiMedia, but someone else made an incorrect assumption about this, so let me clarify that in our understanding, the problem was never with the composition of the panel. Mike Godwin, General Counsel of Wikimedia, was scheduled to participate in the panel, 'The World that Wikipedia Made,' on May 15. Last week, Mr. Godwin informed us that he would not participate, and subsequent discussions with Wikimedia Foundation indicated that they would not designate a replacement speaker," stated Schulman to Wikinews.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wikimedia Foundation receives copyright infringement claim from Mormon Church

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The Wikimedia Foundation has received a copyright infringement claim from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church. The infringement claim is in reference to a URL used as a source in a Wikinews article about Mormon Church documents leaked to the website Wikileaks, titled "Copy of handbook for leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints obtained by Wikinews". The URL was originally cited as a link in the sources subsection of the article. The Wikimedia Foundation is a donor-supported non-profit organization which runs Wikipedia and Wikinews. This is the first time that the Wikimedia Foundation has received a copyright infringement claim regarding an article published by Wikinews.

The Wikinews article, originally published on April 19, described material in the Church Handbook of Instructions. The work is a two-volume book of policies and is a guide for leaders of the Mormon Church. Wikinews obtained the Church Handbook of Instructions from Wikileaks, a whistleblower website which publishes anonymous submissions of sensitive documents while preserving the anonymity of its contributors. Wikileaks describes the material as significant because "...the book is strictly confidential among the Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka LDS in short form) bishops and stake presidents and it reveal [sic] the procedure of handling confidential matters related to tithing payment, excommunication, baptism and doctrine teaching (indoctrination)."

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Monday, May 5, 2008

'Suspicious package' causes closure of busy street in Buffalo, New York

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Buffalo, New York – Early Cinco De Mayo celebrations were interrupted after a suspicious package caused the closure of a busy street in Buffalo, New York's Allentown District. For nearly three hours on Monday May 5, 2008 a busy street, popular with bars and hotels, was shut down while authorities examined the package.

According to Buffalo Police spokesman Mike DeGeorge, workers in the offices on the 500 block of Delaware Avenue witnessed a suspicious person placing a suspicious package inside a United Parcel Service (UPS) drop box at around 4:30 p.m. EDT (UTC-4).

"It is my understanding that at about 4:30 this afternoon, a call went out for a suspicious person. Police responded and it appears there may have been a suspicious individual who was acting somewhat suspicious when he threw or tossed a package into a UPS box," DeGeorge stated to reporters.

"The individual had a package under his jacket which tipped off the person as being suspicious. He dropped the package into the [box], and made his way out to Delaware Ave. towards Allen," stated Buffalo Police Lt., K Szyszkowski.

When police arrived on scene, they evacuated the offices at 570 and the New York State Health Department building at 584 Delaware Avenue, while the Erie County Bomb Squad was called in to examine the drop box and the packages. The street between Allen and North was shut down to traffic while police secured the scene. When Wikinews freelance reporter Jason Safoutin arrived on scene, at least 20 people were standing outside the buildings, most of whom appeared to be office employees.

>>Click here for the full Special Report.