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@THISHOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Olympic Figure Skating Controversy; Arizona's Controversial Religious Freedom Bill; Noose Found Around Statue at Ole Miss

Aired February 21, 2014 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: The bill on the table that has sparked a white-hot debate, is it freedom of religion or the freedom to discriminate against gays?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: The weed windfall, the marijuana millions, Colorado swimming in cash, are we headed towards state governments running on pot?

BERMAN: And then there is something shocking about this man. No, not that his beard is pink, but why his beard is pink. It's guaranteed to make you love him.

Hello there, everyone. I'm John Berman.

PEREIRA: And I'm Michaela Pereira, good to have you with us this morning, those stories and much more, right now.

@ THIS HOUR, we're learning more about the new shoe-bomb threat. A law enforcement sources says it's tied to the master bomb maker for al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

He is believed to be working on a bomb design that would pass screening.

Homeland Security warned airlines this week to watch for attempts to hide bombs in shoes and in liquids on U.S. bound flights from overseas.

BERMAN: It could be another couple of weeks before thousands of people in West Virginia know if their water is safe to drink after that big chemical spill last month.

Experts are trying to figure out just how dangerous the chemical in their water is. No one seems to know right now. What's happening there at this point is being called unprecedented.

PEREIRA: We're expecting severe storms along the Eastern Seaboard. We just got word that D.C. is under a tornado watch until 5:00 this afternoon.

A breakthrough in the Ukrainian crisis, a day after dozens of protesters were killed, the president and opposition leaders have agreed to a deal that includes less power for the president and constitutional reform.

Now, in return, protesters must withdraw from the streets and turn in any weapons within 24 hours.

BERMAN: In Sochi, Team USA is getting ready to take on Team Canada in men's hockey. This is a semifinal with bragging rights on the line, of course, coming after the unbelievable win from Canada yesterday.

PEREIRA: And we're not talking about bragging rights on our desk. We're talking about in North America, of course.

But we also have a result to tell you about, and this could be a spoiler. So, mute the TV. If you can read lips, avert your eyes. We're talking men's curling.

Canada went up against Great Britain for the gold. And the winner is -- wait. Can you say it for me, John? It sounds better coming from you.

BERMAN: It is, in fact, Canada. Sorry, Queen Elizabeth, the Dominion did not win, no. Great Britain did not win. The Dominion, right there. Canada is just killing it right now.

So, let's take a look at the medal board as it stands. There are seven medal events today. The United States of America leads with 25 medals, eight of them gold, then Russia with 23, Canada and the Netherlands are tied with 22, then you can see Norway and Germany.

PEREIRA: We've got to talk the big story out of the Olympics @ THIS HOUR, figure skating.

Many figure skating fans, even some competitors, are saying something stinks in Sochi, mainly the judges. Russia's Adelina Sotnikova was the surprise winner of the gold.

Some folks are now wondering if she benefited from so-called "home cooking."

BERMAN: Some of the judges do honestly have suspect pasts.

One of them was actually banned from judging for a year. He was busted for trying to fix an ice dancing competition in the '98 Games in Nagano, Japan.

Another one of the judges is married to a Russian figure skating official.

I honestly don't think that's the biggest problem with the judging. I think it's a mess.

Andy Scholes joins us to talk about the whole thing. Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS: Think about this. A guy that was busted for cheated in the Olympics is allowed to judge this year's women's figure skating competition. It's just outrageous. So many people are outraged over this that Change.org, the Web site where you go on and sign petitions about things, over 1.6 million people have signed a petition to try to get these results overturned.

Now, 90 percent of those signatures are coming from South Korea because, of course, the country believes that their skating sensation -

PEREIRA: Right.

SCHOLES: -- Yuna Kim, who was the defending gold medalist, should have gotten gold, once again. She, of course, got silver in these Olympics.

And, as you said, John, the Ukrainian judge that was caught cheating, he was not the only controversy. The Russian judge is married to the head of the Russian Skating Federation.

So it's these questionable things that are allowed to happen in the judging --

PEREIRA: One of the American skaters said, I didn't fall.

SCHOLES: Ashley Wagner.

PEREIRA: I had a flawless routine. She, the one who won the gold, stumbled. She fell. This doesn't make sense to me.

SCHOLES: Yeah, the Russian skater who got fifth fell twice. Ashley Wagner fell not once, got seventh.

So she's saying -- you know, the judges are anonymous. We don't get it like we used to. We used to get the little plaque and score. We just two scores lumped together.

We don't know who scored what, and Ashley Wagner says this has got to stop. We need to get rid of the anonymous judging to really make the scores more legitimate.

BERMAN: The judging all changed after 2002 when there was that blowup at the Games in Salt Lake City.

One of the problems, as you said, is they made the judging anonymous. Then the other thing they started doing is scoring each individual move in a different way, giving it points.

So what people are saying is that the Russian, Adelina Sotnikova, she had a more athletic performance. She had, what, seven triple-score combos, as opposed to six-triples and three combos for Yuna Kim. Some people are saying it was just athleticism.

Still, the sport is losing popularity in droves now, and people think judging's the reason.

SCHOLES: And I would completely agree. In the IOC, they're really -- they're trying to hide behind --

PEREIRA: What are they saying?

SCHOLES: They're saying nothing is wrong. We're not going to do anything about this unless a formal complaint is made.

Now, as of right now, a formal complaint has not been made by South Korea or Italy. Kostner got third for Italy, so it doesn't look like changes are in order here, unless further complaints are made.

PEREIRA: (Inaudible) reality when you think about it. We know that they've seen numbers dwindling in terms of -- the people that are fans are ardent fans, tried-and-true, but are we getting more fans?

And is this kind of thing going to compromise the future of the sport and the amount of eyeballs that tune in for it?

SCHOLES: That's exactly what Ashley Wagner was saying. We're losing fans because of this judging.

We need to hold these people accountable or else we're going to start losing fans because people just think it's rigged from the get-go.

PEREIRA: Doesn't the Olympics risk losing fans because of this kind of thing, too?

SCHOLES: It looks hard. Anything of these events that are subjective, that don't have a finish line, that don't have a time, it's really hard to say who the real champion is and who's not, especially when you have so many judges with a questionable past.

BERMAN: Figure skating's got to clean up its act right now. It's not just me saying that. It's a lot of people in the sport.

Andy Scholes, great to see you. Thanks for coming in. Appreciate it.

Under Armour's CEO is defending the speed skating outfits that the U.S. team got rid of.

Remember, some of the athletes were saying that the super-fancy suit was slowing them down, getting between them and Olympic medals.

PEREIRA: The costume change hasn't really helped. It has been goose eggs for U.S. speed skaters in Sochi.

But now, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank is coming out swinging. He's saying his company was the victim of a witch hunt and that the Mach- 39 was the witch.

BERMAN: Apparently, there are no hard feelings, however. Why? Well, Under Armour has signed on to suit up Team USA for the next eight years.

PEREIRA: I'd be curious what the athletes have to say.

BERMAN: I don't think they are going to have the vents in the back.

PEREIRA: I don't think so either. BERMAN: That's my prediction.

PEREIRA: Ahead @ THIS HOUR, Arizona lawmakers pass a bill that critics say violates human rights. They say it could allow stores to ban gays.

But they question, is this religious freedom or is it discrimination?

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PEREIRA: Freedom of religion or discrimination against gays? A heated battle in the Arizona legislature ended with the passing of a bill that would allow religious beliefs as a defense against discrimination lawsuits.

Opponents say it would allow restaurants -- or businesses like restaurants to deny gays service.

BERMAN: The bill's supporters say people should not be forced to do something that goes against their religion.

But the question is, does that mean you could ban gays or ban anyone as long as you say it's against your religious beliefs?

Two joining us now to talk about this is Cathi Herrod, the head of the group behind the bill. That's the Center for Arizona Policy Action. We're also joined by Robert Boston for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

And, Cathi, I wonder if you can explain to me the intention behind this bill. Why does your organization feel that it's necessary?

CATHI HERROD, CENTER FOR ARIZONA POLICY ACTION: Sure. Thanks.

The Arizona bill has a very simple premise, that Americans should be free to live and work according to their religious faith.

Arizona has had a Religious Freedom Restoration Act on our books since 1999, just like the federal government and many, many states.

The Arizona law, Senate Bill 1062, simply updates and clarifies that law to ensure that person's can use their Religious Freedom Restoration Act rights whether or not the government is involved in the lawsuit.

PEREIRA: So, Cathi, in order -- in the effort to clarify, I think it's muddied things, because there are going to be people that say, would it not have the effect of not only allowing restaurants to deny gay patrons service, what -- it makes the case that maybe it could go against allowing anyone service, African-Americans, women, pregnant people?

What do you say to that?

HERROD: Not at all. The parade of horribles, the fear-mongering, the irresponsible accusations being made on Senate Bill 1062, really, if they were going to happen, they would have been happening for the last -- since 1999, since the mid-'90s when so many of the states and the federal government passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Again, the Arizona bill simply makes one clarifying change to what's already been law. It also codifies the test from our Arizona supreme courts. It's really irresponsible, the attacks that are being made against the bill.

It's simply about protecting religious liberty and nothing else.

BERMAN: Robert Boston, jump in here. Do you think the accusations against this bill are irresponsible, or do you think there's a real problem here?

ROBERT BOSTON, AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: Of course there's a real problem here.

If the bill wasn't doing anything, it wouldn't have been a need to update it. Legislation like this is going to fling the door wide open to discrimination, not just against gay people, but basically to any class of individuals that a religious fundamentalist decides he or she doesn't want to deal with.

A woman who is pregnant out of wedlock, for example, well, out the door, you don't get served in my business.

We have public accommodation laws in this country. If you don't want to serve the business, don't open a business.

Now, churches are free to deny membership to anybody they want. The First Amendment guarantees that.

But when you open a business, you're saying, I want to serve the public. If you don't want to serve the public, don't go into that line of work.

BERMAN: Cathi, who's to say -- who gets to choose which religious beliefs are valid here and which are not?

What's to stop someone from founding a religion based on banning people who wear blue dresses? Where do you draw the line?

HERROD: Again, if the examples that are being referenced were going to happen, they would have already happened.

PEREIRA: Do we know that, though?

HERROD: They have not happened under existing -- they haven't happened. For example, in Arizona, since 1999, we've had one case under our Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Our Arizona supreme court ruled against the individual who was claiming his religious beliefs as justification for being able to smoke marijuana. Arizona's supreme court ruled against that individual.

And basically enacted a three-prong test for determining what would be a religious belief in Arizona that that would uphold -- would hold up under our state law.

We've taken that test from our supreme court and put it into the law, so there are incredible safeguards in the law to protect individuals.

And, again, this goes back to under our First Amendment foundational principle of our country, is that Americans should be free to live and work according to their religious faith --

PEREIRA: But Cathi, you can understand that there are going to be people that will say, in order to protect one group's freedom, we step on another group's freedom. That doesn't seem just or American.

HERROD: Well I would encourage everyone go to AZpolicy.org, read the bill for yourself. Read the bill, read the explanation, and you'll see that this is simply protecting people of faith. And to oppose this bill really is showing incredible hostility to religious beliefs.

BOSTON: If I could just make this point here that religious freedom is a shield to protect your own rights. It's not a sword to lash out at others. And legislation like this does. It take as very noble concept, religious freedom, and it turns it into a tool of oppression of other people, and that is simply not right. That is a fundamentally anti-American value. It's at odds with the First Amendment. And I really think bills like this, they're the dying last gasp from people who just cannot accept the fact that American society is changing.

You look at the polls and you must be horrified when you're on the religious right to see the acceptance of same-sex marriages increasing, to see the tolerance accepting, and instead of dealing with that and realizing that's the new face of America, they're choosing instead to react and take a noble concept, religious freedom, and turn it into a club to beat other people. And that's just not going to succeed. If the courts don't strike down these laws, then they will die because it's not what people want anymore. We're not a nation of bigots.

BERMAN: Cathi, we got to go here but I just want you to clarify one thing, because you say the interpretation of this law is wrong here. Would a business, a restaurant, be able to ban a gay couple under this law and do you think they should be able to?

HERROD: This doesn't change what has been happening --

BERMAN: That is not my question.

HERROD: Okay. What this law does is protect individuals, it protects businesses, it protects Americans to be free to live out their religious faith in their work. It means that the government cannot compel a business owner or individual --

BOSTON: Her answer is yes.

PEREIRA: That's a yes. Is that a yes?

BOSTON: Yes, her answer is yes, they will be able to discriminate. Her answer is yes. I'll answer it for her because she's afraid to say it. They would be able to discriminate -- fundamentally anti- American, fundamentally wrong.

HERROD: Read the bill. Read the bill.

BOSTON: I have.

BERMAN: Cathi, without saying right or wrong, just let us understand the law. Would a business -- if it was within their religious beliefs, if they say it's within their religious beliefs, would that restaurant be able to ban a gay couple?

HERROD: That has not happened under the many years that we've had the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. There's no case in this country where you've had that scenario happen. So again this is about Americans being able to live however --

BOSTON: But now that you've passed the law, they will be able to do it.

HERROD: You know, just go and read the bill. It's very simple.

BOSTON: They will be able to do that.

BERMAN: Robert, let her talk.

BOSTON: She's afraid to answer the question. They will be able to discriminate. And it's a shame. And it's fundamentally anti- American.

BERMAN: Cathi, want the last word here?

HERROD: I just say, the opponents are showing unbelievable hostility toward religious beliefs. America still stands for the principle that religious beliefs matter something in this country, that we have the right to freely exercise our religious beliefs.

PEREIRA: Religious beliefs do matter in this country and also do individual freedoms to live their lives. And I think that's the part that a lot of people are grappling with. Cathi, want to thank you for joining us to explain your side. It's Cathi Herrod and Robert Boston. Thank you for your passion on both ends. We really appreciate it.

It's another thing that you and I were discussing -- matters of faith are so subjective, right? They are so intensely personal and it's a hard conversation for us to be having. You hope that this doesn't devolve into just hate mongering and finger-pointing.

BERMAN: And you're wrong, you're right, you're wrong, you're right. But we should say the governor Arizon right now, Jan Brewer, the bill is on her desk. We simply do not know at this point if she will or will not sign it. It's her decision.

PEREIRA: Ahead @ THIS HOUR, something else that might get you steamed. A noose tied around the neck of a statute at Ole Miss. How can the country and that campus specifically overcome its racial past? We'll have that discussion next.

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BERMAN: Welcome back. @ THIS HOUR, a noose tied around the neck of a statue at Ole Miss is being investigated as a possible hate crime. The FBI joined the search this week for vandals who desecrated the statue of James Meredith. Of course James Meredith was the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi.

PEREIRA: Apparently a contractor spotted it. He says he saw two white men at the statue early Sunday morning. He then he says he heard them screaming racial slurs, and then spotted the noose and an old version of the Georgia state flag, the one with the Confederate battle symbol, draped on the statute.

About 150 Ole Miss students rallied around the statue earlier in the week to protest the vandalism. In fact, the university's alumni association is now offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to arrest in the case.

Alisha Brooks of Southern Poverty Law Center joins us from Sacramento, California. She is director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center. Good to have you with us this morning to talk about this. You know, I think a lot of people are saying, well, clearly still more work needs to be done. I think we often think that young people are doing better than our generation and past generations have done with race. Maybe not the case?

LECIA BROOKS, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Well, thank you so much for having me on, John and Michaela. I appreciate it. No, it's not the case. I mean, we still have a long, long way to go. I think this despicable act is just one in a long list of offensive events that have happened across college campuses across the country. I do applaud the University of Mississippi for immediately repudiating this act and the fraternities on campus who have spoken out against this act. It tells us that we have much, much work to do.

BERMAN: What work do you do, then? Let me just quote James Meredith here, the man, you know, the statue is of there, a hero of the civil rights movement. He says, "We are not training our children like the Bible says. They just do not know right from wrong". So how do we train them?

BROOKS: Well, I think that first and foremost, we need to educate young people about civil rights history. I mean, it's obvious to me that the vandals do not at all understand what it meant for James Meredith to integrate Ole Miss in 1962. And so when they attacked and desecrated the statue, probably thinking that it was a funny thing to do, have no appreciation for our nation's history.

So first and foremost, I think that we need to educate about civil rights history. I think also schools should, for first-year students in colleges and universities, should do all they can to teach cultural competency, because college is the first time for lots of folks that they're living in integrated settings. And I don't think there's enough done to help students live in diverse -- in a diverse setting. PEREIRA: And we should point out, we don't know if the suspects were students; we don't know if they were young, if they were adults.

BROOKS: That's correct.

PEREIRA: We don't know that at this point. So we assume, we made assumptions given the fact that this happened on a university property.

BROOKS: That's correct.

PEREIRA: You know, I hear you and I think a lot of people hear you. How do we get it to not just feel like a history lesson and a lecture? How do we make it so that there is understanding, that it's not just a Black History Month conversation, that it is something that people understand equality and respect for one another is a part of American life?

BROOKS: Well, that's interesting that you would say that, Michaela. I'm in Sacramento right now speaking to students at Solano Community College about Black History Month, and this year's theme of course is Civil Rights in America. I've done presentations all month across the country and in Europe.

And I think that -- I know when I present the stories, the real stories of real people who made sacrifices to make this country a better place, I know that that is well-received by young people. So I think that it's something in the way that we tell the stories, how we integrate it into American history, and make it clear that this is everyone's history. And everyone can feel good about it and feel proud about how far the country has come.

It's -- it's always the case that young people are appalled to kind of -- to hear about, kind of in plain language, what happened to civil rights activists, what happened in this country when people tried to integrate places like Ole Miss or when they tried to integrate lunch counters, or when they hear the stories about the freedom writers and recognize that they were young people just like themselves, often college students.

So I think that we need to tell the stories in a way that resonates with them. Unfortunately, civil rights history is often taught exclusively about Dr. King and Mrs. Parks. Our Teaching Tolerance program has done a report recently on teaching the movement which shows that most students, and I would say most adults, when you ask them about the civil rights movement, the totality of their knowledge is around Dr. King and Mrs. Parks and they don't know those stories very well.

PEREIRA: That is absolutely true. Lecia Brooks, there's such a long conversation to be had here. We appreciate it; we appreciate the work you're doing there in Sacramento. Thanks for joining us from the West. We know it's a little bit earlier there. Lecia Brooks is with the Southern Poverty Law Center joining us from Sacramento today.

BERMAN: We should make clear, Ole Miss is outraged. The administration, the university. Here's a statement from the university's chancellor, Dan Jones.

He says, "These individuals chose our university's most visible symbol of unity and educational accessibility to express their disagreement with our values. Their ideas have no place here, and our response will be an even greater commitment to promoting the values that are engraved on that statue - courage, knowledge, opportunity, and perseverance."

All right, ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, Colorado's official nickname is the Centennial State, but it's fast becoming the Green State. Green for pot, and also green for money. They are swimming in cash now. We'll tell you how much after the break.

PEREIRA: And from the color green to the color pink, he might have the pinkest beard in America, and it is certainly doing the most good. Promise you, you will love this.

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