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Due honors

Barry Black, the first African American chaplain of the U.S. Senate, receives an award for defending religious liberty

Due honors

Barry Black (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP)

A New York moment:

Last week, Catholics, Mormons, Protestants, Native Americans in full ceremonial feather regalia, and others swished into the Pierre Hotel on Fifth Avenue for Becket Law’s annual gala. The party celebrates an individual who has defended religious liberty in the United States—this year, Becket’s Canterbury Medal went to U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black, who has been in his post for 16 years and opens each daily session of the Senate with prayer.

We profiled Black almost a decade ago. He is the first African American Senate chaplain, and the first Seventh-day Adventist. Black, serving as a counselor to senators and their staff, describes his job as being a pastor to nearly 7,000 (he also invites leaders of other faiths to come lead studies with senators or lead particular sessions). Becket recognized him for defending the chaplaincy from an overzealous interpretation of the Establishment Clause. Black likes to point out that the framers created the chaplaincy before passing the Establishment Clause, and that the chaplain opened the session in prayer when the Establishment Clause was created.

At the dinner, Black recounted how central Scripture has been to his life. He grew up in a hard neighborhood in Baltimore, Md., and his mother would pay him and his siblings a nickel for every verse they memorized. One verse from Proverbs that he memorized as a young man kept him from going out with two friends to settle a grudge, he recalled. The friends ended up killing the object of their revenge, and received life prison sentences.

“I didn’t know that my mother was providing me with true freedom,” Black said about memorizing Scripture.

Worth your time:

The city recently capped the number of drivers for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft partly on the theory that they were hurting the taxi industry (and after a rash of taxi driver suicides). Now, after a 10-month investigation by The New York Times, that theory doesn’t seem so strong.

The suicides and pain in the industry, according to the Times, are due not to the arrival of Uber but because of a system of predatory lending in the government-controlled taxi medallion market. Medallions are the license to drive a taxi, and the city government limits the number. To my non-expert eye, it appears that by capping the number of ride-sharing drivers, the city has essentially created another medallion market. But since the cap on Uber drivers is only for a year, maybe the city will learn some lessons from this investigation.

This week I learned:

There has been an 83 percent rise in hate crimes in New York City compared with this time last year, and most of those crimes are anti-Semitic.

A court case you might not know about: 

By now most people have heard of lawsuits against Purdue Pharma (maker of OxyContin) for its role in the opioid crisis. But other companies are facing lawsuits too. Teva Pharmaceutical just settled for $85 million a lawsuit that the state of Oklahoma had brought against it. 

Between 2011 and 2015, 2,100 Oklahomans died of opioid overdoses. The state is about to begin the first major trial in the United States on this issue against Johnson & Johnson, which manufactured ingredients for opioids.

The Wall Street Journal reports: “Teva and its subsidiaries make generic opioid painkillers, including a generic version of OxyContin, along with two branded drugs used for breakthrough cancer pain. Teva has argued that it doesn’t market its generic opioids, which likely weakened Oklahoma’s case.”

Culture I am consuming: 

I’m listening to the Korean pop sensation BTS, whose hugely popular tour just swept through the United States. The boy band is dominating the charts and global concert venues. Fans in New York waited for days in freezing rain to see BTS perform in Central Park, despite police and band members’ efforts to get fans to stay indoors. 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org