(CNN Student News) -- October 6, 2009
Global Headlines - Check out global headlines from India to California to Washington, D.C.
Supreme Court Class - Consider arguments about a Supreme Court case involving a memorial display.
Autism in America - Explore the questions raised by an apparent increase in the rate of autism.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CARL AZUZ, CNN STUDENT NEWS ANCHOR: New numbers on a medical disorder and a look at the Supreme Court's case load. That's what's on today's docket for CNN Student News. I'm Carl Azuz. Let's go.
AZUZ: We begin in India, where severe flooding has forced a million people to leave their homes. These are devastating floods. They've claimed at least 270 lives, and officials say their focus is now mainly on relief. The military is helping out with aid efforts. They've rescued more than 1,300 people so far, and they're helping get food to those who have survived.
Moving to California, where firefighters are gaining ground battling a fast-moving blaze there. The Sheep Fire, which was first reported on Saturday in San Bernardino County, had scorched about 7,500 acres yesterday. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in the county in order to free up resources to help fight the fire.
And President Obama is meeting with congressional leaders from both parties today to discuss the war in Afghanistan. As we've reported, he's currently reviewing the U.S. strategy in that conflict before making any decisions on whether or not to send more troops there. The White House says the president wants Congress's input because he believes they're an important part of the decision.
TOMEKA JONES, CNN STUDENT NEWS: Today's Shoutout goes out to Mr. Houston's 8th grade Georgia studies class at Valley Point Middle School in Dalton, Georgia! Who is the Chief Justice of the United States? If you think you know it, shout it out! Is it: A) Sonia Sotomayor, B) Mitch McConnell, C) John Roberts or D) Nancy Pelosi? You've got three seconds -- GO! John Roberts took his seat on the U.S. Supreme Court in September of 2005. That's your answer and that's your Shoutout!
AZUZ: Chief Justice Roberts and the eight Associate Justices are getting down to business; the Supreme Court's new term started yesterday. In legal terms, this is as high as it gets. The Constitution talks about the country's ultimate judicial power in one Supreme Court; all others are "inferior." The High Court's job is to interpret the law. But how does that affect our lives? Here are some of the issues it's considering this term: One: Can criminals younger than 18 years old be sentenced to life without parole -- basically, a permanent prison sentence -- if they committed a crime other than murder? Two: Can cities make it illegal for individuals to own handguns? This goes to the Constitution's Second Amendment and exactly who has the right to own a gun. Three: Should the government be able to keep criminals in prison after they've served their sentences, if they're still considered a threat after they're released?
And another case has to do with religious displays on public property. The Constitution says Congress can't make any laws that establish religion or to keep people from worshipping freely. Some say that a cross displayed in the Mojave Desert does establish religion. Others say no, that it's a memorial that pays tribute to veterans. Here's Kate Bolduan to illustrate the controversy.
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KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON, D.C.: You could very easily drive right by, or mistake it for a forgotten billboard in the middle of 1.6 million acres of desert. But inside is a cross boarded up by order of a federal judge, a cross creating a huge constitutional controversy.
Henry and Wanda Sandoz have been the unofficial caretakers of what has for decades been known as the Mojave Memorial Cross, first erected in 1934 by their friend, a World War I veteran, to honor fallen soldiers.
WANDA SANDOZ, UNOFFICIAL CARETAKER OF CROSS: We just love our veterans and we feel that they should be honored. And this is, right here in this little piece of our world, that's how we did it.
BOLDUAN: But it also sits in the Mojave National Preserve, government land. Peter Eliasberg is the ACLU attorney for Frank Buono, a former ranger who worked in the preserve, the man who filed the original lawsuit. While Buono is Catholic and a veteran, he says the Mojave cross should go.
PETER ELIASBERG, ACLU OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: For the government to say we're going to impose on each and every one of you veterans this religious symbol, even though for many of you it is not your religious symbol, that is not an appropriate expression of religion in public life.
BOLDUAN: Jewish and Muslim veterans groups support Buono, but attorneys for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Sandozes say the cross is a historical memorial, not a religious symbol, warning the outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications.
HIRAM SASSER, LIBERTY LEGAL INSTITUTE: And this is the first one that's going up to the Supreme Court, and they want to make sure that this one prevails so that all the veterans' memorials with religious imagery across the country can be protected.
BOLDUAN: Why not just take this memorial -- same cross, same memorial -- and just move it to a less controversial location?
HENRY SANDOZ, UNOFFICIAL CARETAKER OF CROSS: It was put here by the veterans for the veterans of all wars, and that's where it should stay.
BOLDUAN: In recent years, the Supreme Court has taken a case-by-case approach on this issue, allowing the Ten Commandments to remain on public property in a Texas case. The same day ruling a display of the Ten Commandments in a Kentucky court house unconstitutional. With its caretakers anxiously standing watch, it's now up to the High Court to decide the fate of this cross. No matter the outcome, this case could be a major test of if and where the government will draw the line when it comes to any private expression on public land.
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AZUZ: Alright, some interesting arguments on both sides. Now, we want to hear yours. Do you think the memorial should be moved or taken down? Or should it be allowed to stay right where it is? Head to our blog at CNNStudentNews.com and sound off with your opinions. But remember, please use only your first names.
AZUZ: Shifting gears now to a new study about autism. It's a type of medical disorder that usually shows up before the age of three. The symptoms and severity can be different, but all autism disorders affect communication skills and the ability to interact with other people. This new study we're talking about seems to indicate that the number of people with autism is on the rise. But as Alina Cho explains, the reasons why are still unclear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good job.
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If there was any doubt about the extent of autism, look here: 27,000 families, all affected by autism, walking for a cause.
KATHLEEN LANESE, MOTHER OF TWO AUTISTIC SONS: Pretty soon, there won't be anybody that doesn't know somebody who has a child with autism. We're everywhere.
CHO: A new comprehensive government study says one in 91 children in the United States has autism spectrum disorder; 673,000 children, more than one percent of the population of kids aged 3 to 17. Boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed; one in 58. The Centers for Disease Control calls the study significant, autism a serious issue that warrants urgent attention.
DR. JAMES PERRIN, AUTHOR OF AUTISM STUDY: It is staggering. It's quite amazing, and I wish we had the answers for what's going on.
MARK ROITHMAYR, PRESIDENT, AUTISM SPEAKS: Is there a better diagnosis? Yes. Is there a wider diagnosis? Yes. But it doesn't account for these striking numbers. Something else is going on. The something else that's going on is we don't know.
CHO: A medical mystery. The study's authors say part of the increase can be attributed to more awareness. Doctors are more willing to make the diagnosis than even three years ago. Parents are more willing to talk about it. But that doesn't explain everything. Buried in these numbers, they say, is a true increase. Ari Kantor is moderate to severely autistic. He can read, write, even cook, but only with the help of his parents. At 13, he's still a child. But soon, Ari will grow up. Then what?
CHO: They really have nowhere to go.
ILENE LAINER, MOTHER OF AUTISTIC SON: Nowhere to go, and we are wholly unprepared to help them. They may need different supports.
CHO: Such as?
LAINER: Such as they may need a job coach.
CHO: Ari's father's great hope?
STEVE KANTOR, FATHER OF AUTISTIC SON: That he finds a place in society and society finds a place for him. I'm not smart enough to know what that place is.
LAINER: That's the greatest fear. What will happen to him when we're gone? Who will love him? Who will watch him to make sure he's okay? Who will take care of him?
CHO: That is the challenge of all parents of children with autism. The authors of the study say that if there are 673,000 kids on the spectrum right now, it wont be too long before there are 673,000 adults with autism. And that presents special challenges with respect to housing, employment, social support and education. The study's authors say that's why this report is significant, and the mandate now is to look closely at how well prepared we are as a nation to deal with this. Alina Cho, CNN, New York.
AZUZ: Ordinary people taking extraordinary action to make the world better. Sound like heroes? They're CNN Heroes, and the top 10 were just named recently. So, who's the hero of the year? You tell us! Voting is open right now, and the winner will be named in a special "Heroes" tribute on Thanksgiving night. Cast your vote at CNNStudentNews.com.
Before We Go
AZUZ: Before we go, some people are gonna have a real beef with this last story. But don't bring it here, or it'll end up gettin cooked! Welcome to the American Royal, the biggest barbecue contest on the planet. Jerk spice from Jamaica, kangaroo from Australia, and of course all sorts of American classics were in competition. If BBQ makes you drool, and if you and some friends want to treat your taste buds...
AZUZ: Then this sounds like the perfect place to meat. Oh man, we're gonna get grilled on that one. You guys have a great day. For CNN Student News, I'm Carl Azuz.