PEOPLE FOR BLOG

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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Health Care and the Politics of Anti-Choice Activists

Anti-choice politics have become dangerously entangled with health care reform as evidenced by the troubling vote in the House of Representatives over the weekend for the Stupak-Pitts amendment. The legislation makes it virtually impossible for private insurance companies participating in the proposed new health care system to cover abortion services.

In an effort to maintain the status quo and avoid the use of federal funds to cover abortion care, the House had fashioned a compromise that required all health insurance plans to separate public and private dollars, thereby insuring that no tax dollars would be used to cover abortion services. At the urging of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that approach was rejected as unworkable; what was adopted instead, in the Stupak-Pitts amendment, is a radical departure from current law.

And, in an interesting note, here’s a must read op-ed from NARAL Pro-Choice America and Catholics for Choice pointing out that the system for separating out public and private dollars rejected by the House as unworkable employs the same principle for segregation of funds that the Catholic bishops have routinely used for managing federal funds they receive to ensure that tax dollars don’t finance religious practice.

Please sign our petition to Senator Reid urging him to help keep the Stupak-Pitts amendment out of the Senate health insurance reform bill.
 

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Progressives Make Significant Gains at the Local Level

Among the mixed results from high profile races last week, progressives had many reasons to celebrate last Tuesday with the election of young progressives at the local and state level. Several members of our Young Elected Officials Network (YEO Network), the first national program singularly-focused on providing a network of support to young progressive state and local elected officials age 35 and under, were re-elected to their posts while others were successful in their runs for elevated positions.

Among them:

  • City Commissioner Sean Becker was elected Mayor of Bozeman, Mont.
  • Tompkins County Legislator Nathan Shinagawa won re-election to his post with 91 percent of the vote.
  • Alderwoman Rebekah Gerwirtz beat her opponent handily. She received 76 percent of the vote to his 24 percent.

As results are still coming in from across the country, one thing rings true: support for young progressives, and the changes they seek, is growing in state and local races. Young Elected Officials are shaping public policy and promoting progressive values in congressional, gubernatorial [is that true?], legislative, and city and county commission seats across the United States.

The YEO Network, a project of People For the American Way Foundation, brings together officials between the under the age of 35 to build professional relationships with other young progressive leaders who face similar challenges. The network provides an infrastructure for members to learn from each other and from policy experts how to be more effective leaders on issues that matter to their constituents.

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Extremism and Hypocrisy: A Capitol Tea Party

Yesterday's protest in front of the U.S. Capitol, organized by Rep. Michele Bachmann, had the usual cast of tea-party extremists. But this time, they were openly assembled by GOP leaders as an official House Republican event. Republican members of Congress stoked the crowd's extremism and gave them their seal of approval.

Dana Milbank described the scene:

In the front of the protest, a sign showed President Obama in white coat, his face painted to look like the Joker. The sign, visible to the lawmakers as they looked into the cameras, carried a plea to "Stop Obamunism." A few steps farther was the guy holding a sign announcing "Obama takes his orders from the Rothchilds" [sic], accusing Obama of being part of a Jewish plot to introduce the antichrist.

But the best of Bachmann's recruits were a few rows into the crowd, holding aloft a pair of 5-by-8-foot banners proclaiming "National Socialist Healthcare, Dachau, Germany, 1945." Both banners showed close-up photographs of Holocaust victims, many of them children.

Not just their extremism and frothing-at-the-mouth hatred of Barack Obama was on display. The crowd's hypocrisy was also on full display. Again from Milbank's column:

[A] man standing just beyond the TV cameras apparently suffered a heart attack 20 minutes after event began. Medical personnel from the Capitol physician's office -- an entity that could, quite accurately, be labeled government-run health care -- rushed over, attaching electrodes to his chest and giving him oxygen and an IV drip. ...

By the time it was over, medics had administered government-run health care to at least five people in the crowd who were stricken as they denounced government-run health care. But Bachmann overlooked this irony as she said farewell to her recruits.

"You," she said, "are the most beautiful sight any of us freedom fighters have seen for a long time."

Talk about hypocrisy - and not just about government-run health care. They say they're "freedom fighters." Whatever principle it is that motivates these extremists, it sure isn't freedom.

Where were they when President Bush claimed that simply by declaring an American citizen an "enemy combatant" - a decision unreviewable by a court or any other entity - he could have that person arrested without a warrant and imprisoned for life without access to a lawyer or an impartial judge?

Where were they when Americans were arrested at Bush events simply for wearing John Kerry tee-shirts and having anti-war bumper stickers? Or when President Bush planned a Total Information Awareness program, in which the federal government would regularly monitor our credit card purchases, our travel, our telephone records, and other everyday activities? Or when President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program was executed in flagrant violation of the law, to say nothing of the Bill of Rights?

Where were they? These "freedom fighters" did nothing.

Perhaps some enterprising journalist will ask people who attended yesterday's staged event where they were when freedom was genuinely threatened during the course of the Bush presidency.

Of course, journalists don't need to ask where the people who organized the event were while Bush was engaged in a war against America’s civil liberties: They were helping him.

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What a Shooting Doesn’t Mean

The attack that took place yesterday at Fort Hood was utterly horrifying, and Americans of all stripes are holding the victims of the violence in their thoughts and prayers.

That the perpetrator of the attack was deeply disturbed is obvious, but it’s also been widely reported that he is a practicing Muslim.

If he were a Christian, no one would use the incident to spread suspicion of Christians, but because of deeply ingrained cultural misunderstanding of Islam, some commentators are pushing the lie that Nidal Malik Hasan’s reprehensible actions should in some way reflect on all Muslims.

That’s absurd.

People For the American Way Foundation said as much today.

While the facts of the case are still being established, some commentators have latched onto the suspect’s name and religion and used them to impugn the characters of all Muslim Americans. That’s unacceptable. All Americans are united in condemning this violence, and it would be horrific if this incident was used to sow divisiveness and discord.

Our friends at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) put out a press release that should have been entirely unnecessary, but which should clear up any lingering misconceptions:

We condemn this cowardly attack in the strongest terms possible and ask that the perpetrators be punished to the full extent of the law. No religious or political ideology could ever justify or excuse such wanton and indiscriminate violence. The attack was particularly heinous in that it targeted the all-volunteer army that protects our nation. American Muslims stand with our fellow citizens in offering both prayers for the victims and sincere condolences to the families of those killed or injured.

Yesterday’s shooting was a tragedy, and the proper response is sympathy for the heartbreaking ordeal the Fort Hood community is going through. Not intolerant attacks on fellow Americans.
 

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What Do the Results of this Year’s Gubernatorial Races Tell Us About 2010?

With right wing candidates winning both Virginia and New Jersey's gubernatorial elections, the Far Right is gleefully portraying these victories as a national repudiation of President Obama - and a foreshadowing of crushing defeats for progressives in 2010.

But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that's nonsense.

Go back eight years, to when George W. Bush was in his first year of office like Obama is today. In November of 2001, Democratic gubernatorial candidates in both Virginia and New Jersey handily won their elections, shifting party control of the governor's mansion in both states. What did this tell us about GOP weakness in the next year's midterms?

Not much.

The same month that Democrats won in Virginia and New Jersey, Bush was at the height of his popularity, scoring approval ratings in the mid-to-high 80s. And in the 2002 midterms, he parlayed that popularity into stunning successes for the Republicans in both the Senate and the House.

So what do the results of this year's races tell us about 2010?

Not much.

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A Not-So-Great End to a Very Good Week

In many ways it was a very good week for anyone interested in LGBT equality. Marriage equality legislation took a big step forward in the District of Columbia, federal hate crimes legislation was signed into law after a decade long fight, and today the President reauthorized the Ryan White Act and announced that he would take the final steps to rescind the HIV travel ban. So it’s too bad that the week ended on a disappointing note.

In a brief filed today in federal court, the DOJ moved to dismiss the challenge against DOMA lodged by the state of Massachusetts on behalf of the legally married same-sex couples in the state who are nevertheless being denied federal benefits.

To be clear: Massachusetts is right in this case and the DOJ is wrong. DOMA is unconstitutional and should be struck down.

But the brief (much like most of the other briefs we’ve seen) took pains to point out that the President is defending the law not because he likes it, but because he’s compelled to. In fact, the brief points out, the President is opposed to DOMA and supports its repeal.

Great. Let’s do that.

It’s time for the President to make clear that repealing DOMA is a priority, and that his support is more than lip service. No one expects repeal to be immediate, but it won’t happen without Presidential leadership.

Then we can have good weeks, that are just plain old good weeks.

(If you want to push the process forward, don’t forget to sign our Dump DOMA petition.)
 

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It was a thrill to be at the White House celebrating the historic enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. And now hot off the presses is this memo from Tom Perez, the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division, demonstrating how seriously the Justice Department takes its charge under this law. It';s addressed to U.S. Attorneys around the nation encouraging their active participation in delivering on Attorney General Holder's steadfast commitment to vigorous enforcement of the Act and to "develop[ing] ways that the Justice Department can educate communities about the new law and prevent hate crimes from occurring in the first place."

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Ellison Joins the Stand for Muslim Interns

Last week we mentioned the anti-Muslim witch hunt that some members of Congress wanted to start against, of all people, Congressional interns.

And yesterday People For President Michael B. Keegan wrote about the chilling resurgance of McCarthy-like tactics coming from the Right Wing.

But we'd be remiss in failing to point out another Congressman standing up for religious liberty and against anti-Muslim bigotry.  Representative Keith Ellison,  himself the first Muslim-American member of Congress, took to the floor of the House to read a statement from the Congressional Tri Caucus.  The statement made clear that people of all races and religions are welcome in the halls of Congress.

You can read the statement and watch a video of Rep. Ellison's remarks here.

Congressman Ellison and all the members of the Tri Caucus, we salute you!  Thanks for standing up for religious liberty for all.

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Today marks an historic step forward in the fight for equality. With the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, President Obama sent loud and clear the message that freedom from violence is a right all Americans should enjoy.

As I watched the President put pen to paper, I couldn't help but reflect on my own memories of the tragedies that befell Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. in 1998. How gripped the country was by each man's story. How years later I saw a stage production of Moisés Kaufman's The Laramie Project. I'll never forget the emotion that overcame one of my friends in the audience. He was struck by the fact that Laramie wasn't so different from his hometown. What happened to Matthew could have happened in his backyard. It could happen just about anywhere without people and a government willing to stand up to fear and hate. Today we stood up.

Enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is all the more remarkable for affirming a positive protection for gender identity - a first in federal law. In showing how far we've come, this action also shows how far we have yet to go. Just two years ago, a battle was fought over whether to include gender identity protections in employment discrimination legislation. ENDA's enactment with gender identity intact will hopefully be the next great achievement for the LGBT community, and for us all.

As the late Senator Kennedy so famously said, "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

Click here for today's statement from Reverend Timothy McDonald of African American Ministers in Action and Michael B. Keegan of People For the American Way.

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