PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Supreme Court Takes Church-State Case

Yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a case with important consequences for church-state separation.

The group, the Christian Legal Society, says it welcomes all students to participate in its activities. But it does not allow students to become voting members or to assume leadership positions unless they affirm what the group calls orthodox Christian beliefs and disavow “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle.” Such a lifestyle, the group says, includes “sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman.”

The law school, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, part of the University of California, allows some 60 recognized student groups to use meeting space, bulletin boards and the like so long as they agree to a policy that forbids discrimination on various grounds, including religion and sexual orientation. The school withdrew recognition from the Christian group after it refused to comply with the policy.

Hastings is a public university, and it has a clear policy requiring all student groups to be open to all comers. So, to make a long story short, the group, CLS sued and the case made its way to the Supreme Court.

At stake is whether or not tax dollars—your tax dollars—should go to fund a group which specifically excludes people based on religion or sexual orientation. The answer, in case you were wondering, is “no.”

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New GAO Report Exposes More About Politicization of Department of Justice Under Bush

With a new Government Accountability Office report on the activities of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice between 2001-2007, we are learning even more about a department that had been politicized to a dangerous degree under the Bush Administration. Instead of representing the best interests of the American people, the DOJ had been turned into a political machine. The report, obtained by The New York Times, found:

When compared with the Clinton administration, its findings show a significant drop in the enforcement of several major antidiscrimination and voting rights laws. For example, lawsuits brought by the division to enforce laws prohibiting race or sex discrimination in employment fell from about 11 per year under President Bill Clinton to about 6 per year under President George W. Bush.

The report also found that recommendations of career DOJ lawyers to pursue voter intimidation and other cases were inexplicably rejected, with the supervisors leaving no information explaining why the cases had been closed.

The office also found that case files often had no information explaining why supervisors had decided to close cases, sometimes against the recommendation of career officials. In a companion report, it also found that six years of internal audits about the division’s case-tracking system were missing.

People For the American Way followed the politicization of the DOJ during the Bush Administration, calling for the resignation of then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others who played a part in the department’s politicization. We reported on the U.S. attorneys scandal, in which career attorneys at the department were instructed to follow the lead of the White House, not the rule of law, to smear Democratic candidates, protect GOP candidates, and suppress voter turnout through overzealous pursuit of baseless voter fraud claims. We responded to the Inspector General’s report which confirmed the inappropriate actions surrounding their firing.

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Stop the 'Stupak Attack'

Today, several hundred pro-choice activists from across the country descended on Capitol Hill to tell members of Congress, “Stop Stupak,” and oppose language in the health care reform bill which would cause millions of women to lose reproductive health care insurance they already have. The Stupak amendment goes far beyond current law, the Hyde amendment enacted more than 30 years ago, which has unfairly prohibited the use of federal funds for abortion in most cases.

People For the American Way joined more than 60 groups with the Coalition to Pass Health Care Reform and Stop Stupak and dozens of members of Congress rallying to keep this anti-choice amendment out of the Senate’s health reform bill.

Among the members of Congress on hand to express their support of our efforts to stop the Stupak amendment were Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Patti Murray (D-WA), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) Diana Degette (D-CO), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Lois Capps (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Judy Chu (D-CA), among others.

Upon passage of the Stupak amendment in the House, Rep. Diana Degette wrote a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, signed by a total of 90 Pro-Choice Members of Congress, vowing to oppose any conference report from the health care legislation that included the Stupak amendment language:

The Stupak-Pitts amendment to H.R. 3962, The Affordable Healthcare for America Act, represents an unprecedented and unacceptable restriction on women’s ability to access the full range of reproductive health services to which they are lawfully entitled. We will not vote for a conference report that contains language that restricts women’s right to choose any further than current law.

Advocates made statements with various signs including one that read “a woman is not a pre-existing condition,” “Stop the Stupak Attack,” and another that read “Don’t make me ‘unfriend’ health care reform.” Speakers called on activists to call their senators to remind them that women need health reform that covers all of their needs, including comprehensive reproductive health care. After the two hour rally, advocates dispersed through the halls of the Senate to lobby members to protect the rights of millions of women and families and take a stand against this restrictive and overly-burdensome language.

 


 

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Happy Birthday, Origin of Species!

In case you had somehow overlooked it, today is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” the scientific landmark that reshaped the way we see the natural world—and which religious extremists rail about to this day.

People For the American Way Foundation has a long history of opposing religious belief being taught as fact in public schools, and we’ve worked hard to defend classrooms against religious doctrine dressed up as science.

To learn more about the many ways creationists have tried to push Darwin out of public schools, check out our Creationism Timeline as well as Right Wing Watch’s coverage of creationism. And don’t forget to raise your glass tonight to wish “On the Origin of Species” a very happy birthday.
 

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The Senate Armed Services Committee has confirmed that a scheduled November hearing on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) has been indefinitely postponed. The delay has been attributed to the pressures of Committee work on other issues, including the recent shootings at Ft. Hood, Texas and the possibility of sending additional troops to Afghanistan.

Committee Chairman Carl Levin said that one possibility for ending DADT could be attaching the legislation to the 2011 Defense Reauthorization Bill, a tactic that was used to pass hate crimes legislation this year. This approach is supported by the White House and several Democratic leaders in the House.

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Not the End of DOMA (Reprise)

This week, there was a new development in a California case where a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in February ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. The Los Angeles Times reports the new development:

In a legal end-run around the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a federal judge Wednesday ordered compensation for [Brad Levenson,] a Los Angeles man denied federal employee benefits for his spouse because they are both men. ...

[In February, U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen] Reinhardt, who is responsible for resolving employee disputes for public defenders within the 9th Circuit, had ordered the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to process Levenson's application for spousal benefits. But the federal Office of Personnel Management stepped in to derail the enrollment, citing the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal government recognition of same-sex marriage.

Levenson appealed, seeking either an independently contracted benefits package for Sears or compensation for the costs they incurred in the absence of coverage. Reinhardt ordered the latter, based on a back pay provision in the law governing federal defenders' employment.

As reported on this blog back in February, this case is less than it might seem at first blush. DOMA remains the law of the land. Rather than being a traditional court case, this is an internal employee grievance procedure within the office of federal public defenders of the Ninth Circuit. As a result, the judge is not acting in his capacity as a judge. Instead, he is acting in his capacity as the designated administrative decision-maker for the Ninth Circuit's Standing Committee on Federal Public Defenders.

Since it's not a traditional court case, it imposes no binding precedent and is not going to be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Nevertheless, the new order does add an important new element to the conversation over DOMA's constitutionality. And coming from a federal circuit court judge, its reasoning has resonance, even if it is not binding precedent.

In the new order, Judge Reinhardt repeats his February analysis of DOMA's constitutional infirmities, rejecting various arguments in its favor. He also addresses a new argument and determines that it, too, fails under the rational basis level of scrutiny, the easiest of standards to meet:

Recently, the government has advanced an additional argument in defense of DOMA: that the statute serves a legitimate governmental interest in maintaining a consistent definition of marriage at the federal level for purposes of distributing federal benefits while individual states consider how to resolve the issue of marriage equality for same-sex couples. ... Even under the more deferential rational basis review, however, this argument fails. DOMA did not preserve the status quo vis-à-vis the relationship between federal and state definitions of marriage; to the contrary, it disrupted the long-standing practice of the federal government deferring to each state's decisions as to the requirements for a valid marriage. ...

Congress thus sided with those states that would limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, and against those states that would recognize the marriages of same-sex couples. Taking that position did not further any government interest in neutrality, if indeed such an interest exists.

And just where did this additional argument come from? From Barack Obama's very own Justice Department.

Equality cannot wait. It's time to dump DOMA.

PFAW

New York Court Rules Some Same-Sex Couples Entitled to Benefits

Yesterday, the New York State Court of Appeals rejected the right-wing Alliance Defense Fund’s challenge to two local and state policy determinations that had the effect of extending benefits to the same-sex spouses of government employees who were married outside of New York. The 4-3 decision did not address whether the New York must recognize same-sex marriage or declare that same-sex couples are generally entitled to the rights of other married couples.

From The New York Times:

The state’s highest court on Thursday upheld policies giving some government benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married outside the state, but did not rule on whether gay marriage should be legal in New York, leaving that issue for the Legislature to decide.

Though the majority in the 4-to-3 decision focused its decision on the narrow question of benefits, the three judges in the minority went further and said the court should have upheld the policies because same-sex marriages legally performed in other states deserved to be recognized in New York.

This comes just as the State Senate is poised to vote on legalizing same sex marriage. Again from the Times:

Advocates have been pressing the Senate to at least vote on the matter, forcing lawmakers to make their positions known and ensuring a passionate debate on the floor. Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, seized on the court’s urging the Legislature to act.

“The Court of Appeals was unusually explicit in its ruling today,” Mr. Van Capelle said. “We agree and eagerly anticipate a debate and vote on the marriage bill in the State Senate. Full recognition of the rights of gay couples is imperative.”

Perhaps the Alliance Defense Fund should spend less time finding ways to hurt innocent people. When victory for you is stripping people of their health insurance, it may be time to question your mission.

PFAW

Reid Announces Senate Health Care Bill Without Stupak Amendment

Surely we have a lot of fighting left to do, but it’s encouraging that the Senate has introduced a health care bill without the Stupak-Pitts anti-choice amendment, which passed in the House. There’s no doubt that the right-wing will attack this bill, and work fervently to get the anti-choice language into this bill. This summer, People For the American Way alerted you that the right wing was fanning the flames on abortion:

Religious Right leaders have enthusiastically joined Republican-led opposition to health care reform efforts.

Much of the Religious Right’s organizing energy has been devoted to incendiary and false claims about the administration’s alleged stealth plan to force every health plan to cover - and force all doctors to provide - abortion services. None of these approaches are actually included in the plans working their way through Congress. In fact, anti-choice members of Congress are using health reform to institute a new nationwide abortion ban in private insurance plans taking away coverage women already have.

And guess what’s happened… By now you know that the House recently passed a health care reform bill with the Stupak-Pitts amendment. As you’ve read here before, the Stupak-Pitts amendment prohibits private insurance companies participating in the new health care system (which will be created by the bill) from covering abortion services. Translation: private insurance companies that individuals pay to provide quality health care with their own money cannot provide the option of abortion coverage.

The right wing is already out in force on this. They’ll be lobbying members of Congress and talking to their allies at Fox News, The Washington Times, and news sources across the country spreading lies and misinformation. Our representatives need to hear from us, and know that this is unacceptable. Earlier this week, NARAL and People For the American Way delivered more than 97,000 petitions to Sen. Harry Reid’s office, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. More than 97,000 of you have spoken up and called for Sen. Reid to reject the anti-choice language to this bill. Now it’s up to us to make sure it stays this way.

UPDATE: On Saturday night (11/21), the Senate voted along party lines -- 60-39 -- to move forward the Reid-introduced health care bill for debate.

We have plenty of work ahead in the Senate. If you have not joined our petition, please take a moment to do so now.

PFAW

DC Marriage Equality and Religious Liberty

Over the past few weeks, the DC Council has been considering a bill to allow gays and lesbians to marry in Washington, DC. In light of some misleading charges by Catholic Charities that the existing bill would impair its religious liberty – and its threat to withdraw charitable services from the homeless, the sick, and the orphaned – the Council is considering a poorly-worded amendment that would apply only to same-sex marriages, but not to any other civil marriage. The amended bill would provide that:

a religious society, or a nonprofit organization which is operated, supervised, or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, facilities, or goods for a purpose related to the solemnization or celebration of a same-sex marriage, or the promotion of same-sex marriage through religious programs, counseling, courses, or retreats, that is in violation of the religious society's beliefs (emphasis added).

If the issue is genuinely protecting religious liberty, shouldn't it apply to all civil marriages and all religious beliefs?

If the issue is genuinely religious liberty, then shouldn't those with religious opposition to interracial marriages receive the same protection of their religious beliefs, noxious though they may be? Shouldn't those who believe God wants America to throw out all people of color be protected from having to provide services for non-whites' weddings? Or shouldn't they be allowed to force people to present proof of citizenship, if they claim their religious belief calls for America to expel undocumented aliens? If someone's religious belief is that Christians are worshipping a mortal man in violation of the Ten Commandments, why is her religious liberty less protected when she wants to deny services related to Christian weddings?

If the concern is genuinely religious liberty for all, then the bill should be written that way.

But if the only religious beliefs being "protected" are those condemning homosexuality, then that is in no way a religious liberty protection. The DC Council would be elevating one group's religious beliefs above all others, giving them special legal rights denied to others with different religious beliefs.

Any religious exception should apply to all religious beliefs and all types of civil marriages.

PFAW

Washington Post Publishes One-Sided Feature Story on Bishop Harry Jackson

The Washington Post published a one-sided piece on Bishop Harry Jackson that neglected to mention his ties to right-wing political figures such as James Dobson, Lou Sheldon, Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council.

Bishop Harry Jackson has enthusiastically opposed equality and basic civil rights for gays and lesbians couples, and has worked overtime to make discrimination the law of our land. He has dedicated his life’s work to denying gay and lesbian couples important legal protections that could determine whether couples can be kept apart when one person is sick, or forced out of a home when one dies. The government should not put obstacles in the path of those who are trying to care for their loved ones with a lifetime commitment, and neither should Bishop Harry Jackson.

Nor has Bishop Jackson limited his right-wing activism to opposing rights for LGBT people. Bishop Jackson opposed Barack Obama’s presidential bid, saying during the campaign that an ongoing ‘march of darkness’ would overtake the country if ‘we don’t do the right thing in this campaign.’ In an ad, Jackson argued that if Obama was elected president, the nation would not have ‘chosen God’s best.’ Jackson has worked hard to oppose important initiatives that will help all people, especially the poor – from affordable and accessible health care to quality public education to sensible immigration policies.”

People For the American Way released an in depth report on Bishop Harry Jackson earlier this year, “Point Man for the Wedge Strategy.” Click here to view the report.

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D.C. Strikes Down Anti-Marriage Equality Initiative

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics issued a memorandum today keeping anti-marriage equality legislation off the ballot in the District of Columbia. A public hearing was held on October 26, 2009 on the “Marriage Initiative of 2009”, which would establish that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in the District of Columbia.” D.C. law currently recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions and there is pending pro-marriage equality legislation in the D.C. council. Board Chairman Errol R. Arthur said today,

“We have considered all of the testimony presented to the Board and understand the desire to place this question on the ballot. However, the laws of the District of Columbia preclude us from allowing this initiative to move forward.”
Bishop Harry Jackson proposed the initiative and is leading the push for anti-marriage equality legislation in D.C.
 
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Despite Anti-Choice Health Care Attacks, RNC Covered Abortion Services Since 1991

Despite 176 House Republicans voting for the Stupak amendment that makes it nearly impossible for private insurance companies participating in the new healthcare system to cover abortion services, as of yesterday, the Republican National Committee provided employees with an insurance plan that covered elective abortion procedures. The plan has been available to RNC employees since 1991.

According to the insurance provider, Cigna, customers can opt out of elective abortion coverage, but the RNC did not do so. RNC Chairman Michael Steele has instructed staff to stop providing the coverage to RNC employees. Steele said, "I don't know why this policy existed in the past, but it will not exist under my administration. Consider this issue settled."

Not only will women lose coverage for abortion services under the Stupak amendment, but Republican support of the amendment has caused the RNC to strip employees of coverage as well.

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Democratic leaders have announced that a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell will likely be attached to next year's defense authorization bill.

The 1993 policy prohibits anyone that "demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts" from serving in the military. It has resulted in the discharge of an estimated 13,000 soldiers, some having "critical" skills, such as linguistic and engineering expertise.

President Obama made a campaign pledge to end Don't Ask Don't Tell, but didn't lay out specifics for the repeal or a timeline. He reiterated his commitment to end the policy at this year's HRC dinner:

We cannot afford to cut from our ranks people with the critical skills we need to fight any more than we can afford -- for our military's integrity -- to force those willing to do so into careers encumbered and compromised by having to live a lie. […] I will end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That's my commitment to you.

Thanks to Democratic leaders, a timeline to ending the discriminatory policy could now be in sight.

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10 Year Old Stands Up for Equality

Will Phillips, a 10 year old boy in Arkansas, recently refused to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance. His reason? He said he could not pledge allegiance to a country that continues to deny equality to the LGBT community.

Will's teacher tried to reprimand him for not participating in the pledge, despite his constitutional right to do so. His principal acknowledges that students cannot be forced to recite the pledge, but is refusing to apologize to the 10 year old.

While some classmates are supportive of Will's stand for equality, others have taunted him with homophobic remarks. His mother commented that, "It's really frustrating to him that people are being so immature." When asked what it means to be an American, Will said, "Freedom of speech. The freedom to disagree. That's what I think pretty much being an American represents."

We couldn't agree more.

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Quite the 360: The Mormon Church is backing gay rights bill in Salt Lake City

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is publicly supporting two proposed ordinances in Salt Lake City protecting gay and lesbian residents from housing and employment discrimination.

According to Michael Otterson, the managing director of the LDS Church’s public affairs office, “the church supports this ordinance because it is fair and reasonable and does not do violence to the institution of marriage.”

We applaud the church for their stance on this ordinance, but we remember all too well their unfair and unreasonable support of Prop 8 in California:

Last year at the urging of church leaders, Mormons donated tens of millions of dollars to the "Yes on 8" campaign and were among the most vigorous volunteers. The institutional church gave nearly $190,000 to the campaign — contributions now being investigated by California's Fair Political Practices Commission.

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