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LIVE FROM...

Korans in Court; Dirty Ice

Aired June 22, 2005 - 13:32   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Now in the news, giving new meaning to the term joyriding. Police say a Connecticut man took off in a stolen plane before dawn today. The 20-year-old was arrested upon landing in White Plains, New York. His two 16-year-old passengers were released to their parents.
An apology for Oprah Winfrey. Officials with the luxury store Hermes said we're sorry after the talk show host was turned away from its Paris store. It had already closed, the store that is, and the store was setting up for a public-relations event. No comment from Winfrey.

And you can check out CNN's most popular video of the day at CNN.com. Click on the video link at our Web site and look for the most popular video of the day. Watch it as many times as you want, whenever you want. It's a whole new way to experience the power of CNN video, and the best part, it's free.

A change in attitude is the order of the day for all Air Force personnel. This follows an investigation of investigations into allegations of religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy. In the past four years, dozens of cadets have reported being harassed by evangelical Christians on campus for not believing the way they do. After the complaints became public, commanders ordered everyone to take classes on tolerance, and a Pentagon-based task force has concluded that's a good first step.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL DOMINGUEZ, ACTING AIR FORCE SECY.: The report shows our challenges are more about improving sensitivity to the needs of all groups, and less about intentional discrimination. We sincerely desire to strike the right balance between a person's right to freely exercise their religion and avoiding any appearance of establishing one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: For one chaplain at the academy, the investigation and recommendations come a bit late. Last month, Captain Melinda Morton said she was being fire for speaking out about religious bias and was being reassigned to duties overseas. Well, yesterday, she resigned her commission.

Others argue religious bias is being practiced in the courtrooms. They want judges in North Carolina to allow the Koran to be used, as well as the Bible, when swearing in witnesses. Just last week, the Greensboro Islamic Center offered to donate copies of the Muslim holy book to the court. Judges in Greensboro said thanks, but no thanks.

Joining me now from Washington Arsalan Iftikhar, the national legal director of the Council on American/Islamic Relation, known as CAIR. Good to see you.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR, CAIR NATL. LEGAL DIRECTOR: Thank you for having me.

And with me here in Atlanta, Phil Kent, former president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation and author of "The Dark Side of Liberalism." Good to see you as well.

PHIL KENT, PRESIDENT, PHIL KENT CONSULTANTS: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: Well, Phil, let me begin with you. How far does the legal system need to go to recognize or respect all religions during a swearing-in?

KENT: Well, in most courtrooms in the country, you can simply do an affirmation. You don't have to swear to an oath. And this is why the whole North Carolina thing is a publicity stunt. It's promotion for multiculturalism with CAIR's agenda. Just hold your hand up and swear and affirm to tell the truth.

I mean, if you take their argument to the logical conclusion, well, I have to have a Koran because I'm a Muslim. If you're an atheist, do you have to have the book "The Origin of the Species" and just swear on that? That's absurd.

WHITFIELD: All right, Arsalan, how do you respond to that? Why not just refrain from swearing in on the Bible? Why not just reaffirm, and that's it?

IFTIKHAR: Well, actually, Mr. Kent is misunderstood when he talks about affirmations. Affirmations are used for people who are agnostic or atheist. The New York law states, quite unequivocally, that a person may swear on the holy scriptures. Now a judge in Guilford County, North Carolina has decided that some reason unbeknownst to us that the Koran is not a holy scripture. And the Supreme Court has found in numerous cases that any law, any state action which gives a privilege or a preference to one religion over any others is considered unconstitutional.

WHITFIELD: So if the Bible is used, if the Koran is used, do you also believe that the courts have to recognize every other religious symbol or book in which to respect every witness's swearing-in and their religion?

IFTIKHAR: Absolutely. We are a nation of pluralism and of many different faiths. And the Koran is as sacred to Muslims as Bible is to Christians, as the Tora is to Jews. And you know, we cannot take the word of some right-wing judge in North Carolina who is going to unilaterally decide what is a holy scripture and what is not.

Keeping in mind, Fredricka, that the Administrative Office of Courts in North Carolina has already issued a preliminary ruling saying that Korans will be allowed. They're going to come out with a final ruling in about another week.

IFTIKHAR: And apparently this week a number of North Carolina judges is already starting to discuss this during a conference, and perhaps take it on to the next step. So, Phil, at what point does multiculturalism go too far? Is this an issue of that?

KENT: It is, and you can respect anything. And I disagree with my colleague. You can just affirm and be sworn-in, in Georgia where I live, in North Carolina. I did some research. You can simply swear to tell the truth. So it's, again, a silly issue. You don't need to really get into it. I know CAIR is trying to get publicity and raise money.

But in North Carolina, there's also the issue of original intent. He talks about a right-wing judge and gets into name calling. No, the original intent of that law was the holy scripture was the Bible. Everyone knows that it wasn't the Koran.

WHITFIELD: Should it be the discretion of the judge?

KENT: Yes, and it is now already.

WHITFIELD: Arsalan, do you want that changed?

IFTIKHAR: Well Absolutely. And I think that this law will be challenged.

And to correct Mr. Kent, if you look at the history of America and the intent of the founding fathers, George Washington in a treaty that he wrote that was ratified by the president, signed by President Adams in 1787, said quite unequivocally that the government of the United States is not, in any sense, based on the Christian religion. The concept of God is one of Deism, which respects a greater being.

But we have to understand that the separation of church and state is a sacrosanct hallmark of our legal system.

KENT: This has nothing to do with the separation of church and state, as you well know. Tradition, it's tradition.

IFTIKHAR: Conservative judges, including Sandra Day O'Connor, have said that any state action which gives any inclination to the reasonable person that none adherence to the faith of outsiders is unconstitutional. And essentially what this law is doing is saying that anyone who is not Christian, their book is not considered holy. And that, in my opinion, that is wrong.

KENT: Well, as you well know, there's tradition that we stand up for a judge in an American courtroom. There's tradition that we swear on the Bible, or just affirm to tell the truth. Why don't you just admit you don't like our Western traditions and culture and you're trying to attack it. Admit that.

IFTIKHAR: Mr. Kent, I'm American. I am part of the Western tradition.

KENT: Then respect the culture.

WHITFIELD: All right, before I let you guys go -- this is the last question, Arsalan particularly, you know, what entity, or who would be responsible for the proper storing of or caring of the religious symbols of a Bible or a Koran or anything else that might be allowed in court if it came to that, so that no one might be able to say it's offensive, as to how something is being handled?

IFTIKHAR: The controversy in North Carolina actually started when the Greensboro Islamic Center tried to donate copies of the Koran they got on wwwexploringthekoran.com, where we've given out 11,000 free Korans to the general American public, trying to show Americans that the seven million Americans living in this country today are law- abiding, and good citizens, and part of the social fabric of this country. People like Mr. Kent are trying to marginalize minority groups and trying to springboard their own evangelistic platform.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, Phil, would that eventually be a problem potentially, the handling, the storage of, the respect for these symbols if more than one religious symbol is allowed in the courtroom.

KENT: Sure, and that's another problem. I think obviously, all Americans show respect for all religious symbols. I certainly -- I would think if you took a poll, 99 percent of the American people would agree with that. It goes back to simply affirming in a court of law that you're going to tell the truth. A lot of this is just smoke- screen by groups like CAIR.

WHITFIELD: All right, Phil Kent, president -- or former president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, and now president of the Phil Kent Consultants.

And Arsalan Iftikhar, legal director, Council on American Islamic Relations, or CARE. Thank you very much for joining us from Washington and Atlanta. Gentlemen.

IFTIKHAR: Thanks for having us.

KENT: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: Well, straight ahead on LIVE FROM, the shocking truth about something you probably consume every day. Who knew ice was so disgusting? Part two of the series, "Enough to Make Your Sick," coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Just in, we're following this story for you, three nearly simultaneous car bombs taking place in northwest Baghdad, 18 civilians have reportedly been killed. We'll have more on this story as we get it.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there. I'm Veronica De La Cruz from the dot-com desk. CNN.com is now offering free video on the site. You can browse and search by 14 different categories. And one of my favorites is most popular, which shows you the video clips receiving the most clicks. A view clip hot on the Web now, our correspondent Heidi Collins is asking you, how dirty is your ice? Heidi went to a few cities across the U.S. and tested ice in fast food restaurants. Let me say this, the results are not even shocking, they're just downright disgusting.

And from dirty ice in fast food restaurants to downsizing at McDonald's, another piece of video receiving a lot of clicks -- everyone knows the filmmaker who gained over 20 pounds after eating nothing more than McDonald's for a month, right? But another filmmaker did the same and lost weight. Jeanne Moos offers you a fresh perspective on Mickey D's.

Now, to find the most popular pieces of video, you can log on to CNN.com, look for the green "watch" box and click on "browse and search," then select the tab that says "most popular." Don't forget, you can find free video now at CNN.com.

That's going to do it from the dot-com news desk. I'm Veronica De La Cruz. More LIVE FROM after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: When you buy a drink at a fast food restaurant or convenience store, do you ever beyond what else you might be getting in your cup? CNN's Heidi Collins did a little investigating as a part of her series "Enough to Make You Sick." And what she found could have you saying hold the ice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's cold, refreshing and oh-so-good on a hot summer day,but did you ever think about what's in your ice?

JENNIFER BERG, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Fecal matter in ice is a serious problem.

COLLINS: Jennifer Berg is the head of the graduate department at the Food Science and Nutrition program at New York University. She says ice can hold bacteria that makes you just as sick as anything else you eat.

BERG: Tainted ice is usually a result of having e.coli, fecal matter inside the ice.

COLLINS (on camera): How worried should people be about something like this?

BERG: You know, we don't want to make the American public completely neurotic and so cared of our food supply, when in reality we have a safer food supply than most countries, but we do need to be careful.

COLLINS (voice-over): Ice can become contaminated in many ways, like microorganisms in the water supply. But according to the experts CNN consulted, the most common causes of ice contamination are poor handling and storage.

Take Denton, Texas, 1999. Fifty-eight members of a high school drill team were infected with various levels of gastrointestinal illnesses at a camp. The ice got contaminated with e.coli after campers used their bare hands to scoop ice out of the machine. And recently, a British government study surveyed clubs, bars and pubs in London, and found half the ice they used was full of bugs and bacteria that can make people sick.

(on camera): So that got us thinking, what would we find if we bought ice just like you would on any given day at any given restaurant across the country?

(voice-over): We took our ice samples in Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles, at a combination of fast food chains and local establishments in each town, a total of 23 samples. In each location, we walked in and ordered our drinks with our ice on the side, and then carefully, without touching the ice, poured it into sterile bags, and then set the samples off to a certified food laboratory, Microbac Laboratories in Warrendale, Pennsylvania.

(on camera): Now, our study didn't follow all EPA protocol. That would mean we would have had to have gone to each restaurant four or five times, tested the city water, and then made sure that our sample ice touched nothing before it went into our sample bags. But our results were tested against the most basic EPA standards, and what we found was disturbing.

(voice-over): In every city but one, there was a restaurant that failed those EPA standards.

This McDonalds in Atlanta failed. This Dunkin Donuts in Chicago failed. This 7-Eleven in Dallas failed, and so did this Burger King in Los Angeles.

On the day we tested, according to Microbac Laboratories, each ice sample from these four establishments was contaminated with fecal matter.

(on camera): That's disgusting.

BERG: It's so easy to spread. It's very easy to prevent, very easy to prevent. It's a matter of washing in very warm water, really washing not just the hands but up until, you know, through the forearm, with soap, very hot water, drying it off, training employees to all do that.

COLLINS (voice-over): And the one city that got a clean bill of ice? Well, that surprised even us.

(on camera): When you think of New York, you think horribly dirty city, but yet when we did our little ice samples, not a single place failed. Why?

BERG: New York City has much more stringent laws and regulations in place inspecting food. The other thing is, in a city like New York, and if you're talking about the fast food places that you've looked at, they have very high volume. By the end of the evening, that ice machine has emptied out. They've completely depleted their supply.

COLLINS (voice-over): We then contacted the establishments that failed our single tests. In every case, after hearing the results of our test, the owner/operator said they shut down their ice machines and cleaned them thoroughly, and also retrained their employees. All four restaurants said they retested their ice after cleaning the machines and found no trace of bacteria.

7-Eleven sent us this: "The safety of 7-11 customers is of the utmost importance to us."

And from Dunkin Donuts: "Dunkin Donuts strives to endure adherence to food safety standards."

McDonald's issued this statement from the franchise owner: "My restaurant has an excellent track record with our local health department. My last inspection score was 99 out of 100." Burger King responded by telling us: "The particular restaurant has consistently achieved high health and safety results from both our internal and external audits, as well as those of the local health department."

However, health departments in Atlanta and in Los Angeles told us they do not test water in ice machines during health inspections.

To be fair, none of the other locations of these establishments failed our tests in other cities, and we only tested the failed establishments once. But clearly, there is contaminated ice out there. So, will it make you sick?

BERG: You personally, Heidi, probably not, but chances are people did. Young children, older people, anybody who was sick to begin with.

COLLINS: Most common complaints: Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

So what can you do to protect yourself? If you are lucky enough to live in one of the handful of states that have food safety officers, look for the sign telling you that one is on duty. Otherwise, if you see the server filling your cup, make sure they are wearing gloves, and they don't touch the ice.

Or you could do what Jennifer Berg does.

(on camera): Do you get ice in any of your drinks when you're out to eat?

BERG: I just decided it's OK to just have beverages room temperature.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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