News In Brief

In two important First Amendment decisions on Wednesday, the US Supreme Court decided that (1) workers have no absolute right of religious observance; and (2) private citizens and businesses suing for libel don't have to meet the high standard of ``actual malice'' to collect damages, if the libelous statements do not involve ``a matter of public concern.'' In an 8-to-1 vote, the high court overturned a Connecticut law that protected employees from retaliation for taking off their sabbath when others were required to work.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger said the state statute was in violation of constitutional church-state separation, because it provided ``sabbath observers with an absolute and unqualified right not to work on their sabbath.''

The case involved a store manager who received a demotion and pay cut for refusing to work Sundays.

This ruling is considered a defeat for the Reagan administration, which had urged the Supreme Court to uphold the Connecticut law.

In a 5-to-4 decision, the court lowered the barriers to prove libel for individuals and companies suing a non-news-media defendant in a private matter.

It upheld a Vermont Supreme Court ruling that required Dun & Bradstreet, the financial reporting service, to pay $350,000 to Greenmoss Builders Inc. for incorrectly reporting that the Vermont construction company had filed for bankruptcy.

``In the light of reduced constitutional value of speech involving no matters of public concern, we hold that state interest adequately supports awards of presumed and punitive damages -- even absent a showing of actual malice,'' Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell wrote.

The landmark Sullivan decision in 1964 held that public officials (later extended also to public figures) can win libel suits against the media only when they prove that an allegedly libelous statement was made deliberately and with reckless disregard for the truth.

In this case, the court did not require the construction company to prove actual malice. And none of the courts that studied the lawsuit against Dun & Bradstreet had considered the firm to be a member of the media.

Senate panel backs move on school-prayer amendment

A Senate Judiciary subcommittee voted 4 to 1 yesterday for a proposed constitutional amendment to permit individual or group silent prayer in public schools. If approved by Congress, the proposal must be ratified by legislatures of 38 states within seven years to become law. The Supreme Court ruled June 4 that public schools may not set aside daily moments of silence if students are told that ``prayer'' is one possible activity during the silence.

Thai police, US agents break dollar counterfeiting ring

Thai police and US Secret Sevice agents said Wednesday they hadsmashed the ``biggest US dollar counterfeit case in a decade.'' A raid on a Bangkok house capped the seven-year international hunt and three Malaysian-Chinese and a Thai were arrested. The chief Thai investigator said US agents told him the bogus US bills seized were the best fakes they had seen in 22 years.

UAW workers ratify contract at GM-Toyota in California

The ratification Tuesday of a ``landmark'' contract between members of the United Automobile Workers Union and New United Motor Management, a joint General Motors-Toyota venture, would give the workers greater protection against layoffs and permit greater access to plant decisionmaking, according to a union official. The contract, approved by 92 percent of the employees, ``meets or exceeds US auto industry standards. . . ,'' the official said.

Bush in Europe promotes missiles, security measures

US Vice-President George Bush told Dutch parliamentarians yesterday that deployment of NATO cruise missiles on Dutch soil would strengthen the US position at the Geneva arms talks. The Netherlands accepted the new medium-range missiles in principle in 1979, but is the only one of five NATO nations stalling on the actual siting. Parliament members stressed to Mr. Bush a need for progress at the US-Soviet talks and the importance of arms limitation.

Meanwhile, Dutch and West German government leaders promised Bush Tuesday to join forces with the US in a fight against terrorism, and a West German spokesman said experts from seven leading industrial nations would discuss counterterrorism at a Bonn meeting planned for next month.

Soviets and lone Argentine capture Moscow dance prizes

As expected, 10 (out of 11) of the Soviet dancers waltzed away with most prizes, including four gold medals, at Moscow's international ballet competition Wednesday. But the top male winner was an Argentine, Julio Bocca. Li Cunxin from the Houston Ballet Company was awarded a bronze medal, while Maria Teresa from the Pittsburgh Ballet won the Soviet Ballet magazine award for ``best performance in a classical ballet.''

The Chinese group of seven dancers showed in earlier rounds a possible challenge to the Soviets, but only two passed from the second round.

Costs, new technology eclipse 1919 telescope in California

Eclipsed by $750,000-a-year operating costs and newer technology, the 100-inch Hooker telescope, which gave early 20th-century astronomers an until then unparalleled look at the heavens, closed Tuesday night. The Carnegie Foundation, which built the telescope in 1919, announced the closing a year ago, unless a group could be found to underwrite the operating costs.

OAS unit sees no conclusion in Costa Rican border dispute

A special commission of the Organization of the American States sent down to investigate an incident on the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border in which two Costa Rican civil guards were killed stated Wednesday that no conclusions can be reached. The commission stated that it can assign blame to neither the Nicaraguan government nor the anti-Sandinista ``contra'' forces operating on the border, the Monitor's Dennis Volman reports.

Tentative settlement reached in New York City hotel strike

A tentative settlement in the 26-day-old hotel strike was reached Wednesday between the owners of 165 hotels and the union representing 25,000 hotel workers. Terms of the contract were not released pending ratification by both sides, and the strikers were not returning to work before ratification, the union said. Final ratification is expected today.

Both sides said none of the 16,000 striking workers would lose jobs, but the president and chief negotiator for the Hotel Association of New York Inc. declined to say what might happen to the thousands of replacement workers.

Iraq recalling its diplomats from Libya over war alliance

Iraq said Wednesday it is recalling its diplomatic mission from Libya and broke relations with Col. Muammar Qaddafi's ``Libyan regime'' to protest Libya's alliance with Iran in the Persian Gulf war. 30{et

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