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Five Best Wednesday Columns

Paul Butler on jury nullification, John Steele Gordon on Christmas, Juliette Kayyem on Iraq, Holman Jenkins on AT&T, and Maureen Dowd on Gingrich's religion.

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Paul Butler in The New York Times on jury nullification Early this year, Julian P. Heicklen, a retired professor, stood outside a federal courthouse and handed out pamphlets to inform people about jury nullification, the right of a jury to vote "not guilty" to protest unfair laws. Prosecutors charged him with jury tampering. "The prosecutors in this case are wrong. The First Amendment exists to protect speech like this — honest information that the government prefers citizens not know," writes Butler, a GWU law professor. He describes the history and logic behind jury nullification. He equates support for jury nullification with support for the jury system itself as a check on government power, and he argues that Heicklen's actions were vastly different from the intimidation tactics that jury tampering laws were designed to prevent. "Dropping the case against Mr. Heicklen would let citizens know that they are as committed to justice, and to free speech, as they are to locking people up."

John Steele Gordon in Bloomberg View on the history of Christmas We can attribute the fixed date of Christmas on December 25 to Pope Liberius of the 4th century. "And his probable reasons for doing so should give pause to the holiday's most devout champions and its shrillest critics ...  frankly, it was added as a marketing ploy," writes Gordon. He notes the 4th century church's attempt to integrate the religion into the culture of the recently converted Roman Empire, hence pegging it to the end of a widely celebrated Roman festival that ended December 24. He then traces its rising popularity through the Middle Ages and its waning support from the Protestant Reformation. He describes the slow creation of the modern myth, the incorporation of gift giving, the myth of Santa Claus, and the choice of the Christmas tree. First Amendment "warriors," he says, should take note that most of these popular symbols represent a holiday with cultural roots as much in a Roman sun festival as in any Biblical tale.

Juliette Kayyem in The Boston Globe on Iraq's toll at home Last month we learned that the Air Force disposed of the remains of 274 soldiers in a Virginia landfill. "A war sold on shock and awe did not leave room for the effects of a long slog, and the kind of warfare we would experience in Iraq," Kayyem writes, saying the story of the mistreated bodily remains provides a symbol of "how our expectations about the war in Iraq were so catastrophically in error." Her brief essay leads off a series in today's Globe of short arguments, essays, and reflections on the war in Iraq and the challenges that remain. She argues that the military's short-sightedness meant they didn't have the resources to provide for soldiers returning from war for 10 years, either in military hospitals or in Arlington cemetary. "Walter Reed, Arlington, Dover: These are not cities we liberated in Iraq but indignities our soldiers suffered here."

Holman W. Jenkins Jr. in The Wall Street Journal on the AT&T merger AT&T announced this week it was abandoning its attempted merger with T-Mobile in the face of resistance from the Justice Department and the FCC. "The truth is, the spectrum argument was never as strong as AT&T thought, and it needlessly played into the hands of competitors such as Sprint, who turned the alleged scarcity into a reason the deal must be stopped," Jenkins writes. "The spectrum argument" he explains, is the idea that too many smartphone had met with a shortage in spectrum to serve them. Jenkins argues that a better case would have been to show that Verizon was succeeding in dealing with the spectrum crisis and this merger would have provided Verizon with a strong competitor in that game. Further, both AT&T and the government were foolish to look at the issue as if innovation on the spectrum technology has come to its end. "Wireless competition and innovation, far from reaching 'maturity,' are just beginning."

Maureen Dowd in The New York Times on Gingrich's 'freedom of religion' Newt Gingrich, on his website, recently declared his intention to examine threats to freedom of religion from the first day of his presidency, by which he meant threats to Christians whose religious objections to same-sex marriage are being limited. "Just when you thought Newt couldn't get any more grandiose, he leaps in to save freedom of religion in the most religiously free place on earth," writes Dowd. "President Newt just wants the right to limit other peoples' rights in the name of religion." She characterizes his latest tack as a pander to Iowa's religious conservatives, but notes that he's not the most convincing man to take on their cause. She notes the exceptions of liberal Catholics to that church's all-too-warm embrace of the twice-divorced Gingrich and his culturally conservative causes. "Whatever shrine Newt goes to, he makes into a shrine to himself," Dowd says.

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