PFAW Foundation YEOs & YP4 Alum Unite with Missouri Protesters to Demand Accountability

Protesters throughout the nation have come out to march and peacefully protest the unjust criminal system that led to Michael Brown being gunned down in Missouri on August 9, including members of the People For the American Way Foundation family.

In Missouri, two members of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network have taken key roles speaking out for justice. State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal and Alderman Antonio French were both part of the protests in Ferguson; Chappelle-Nadal was tear-gassed, and French was arrested. Other members of the YEO Network have also been organizing national petitions, marching, buying food and water for protestors, trying to dissuade looting, among other things.

Chappelle-Nadal, elected in 2010, represents part of St. Louis County in the Missouri Senate. She has been vocal in her criticism of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and his response to the crisis in her community.

“I never expected to represent a war zone,” she tweeted Thursday.

French, on the other hand, has been documenting the protests through “advocacy journalism.” Born and raised in O’Fallon, French has dedicated his time in public service to improving the quality of life in north St. Louis, often working in conjunction with police to create safer spaces.

During the protests last Wednesday, French was arrested and then released early Thursday, but the reason behind the arrest remained unclear. His arrest, along with his work documenting the protests, have made him a “national voice against the militarization of police.”

In Miami, another PFAW Foundation voice joined the protests. Young People For alum Phillip Agnew, founder of the Dream Defenders, organized a similar demonstration to protest how “police departments around the country will continue to use black and brown bodies for target practice.”

Many Americans are appalled at the actions taken by law enforcement officials in Ferguson, Missouri this month. PFAW Foundation is proud of the work being done by members of our leadership networks to build a more equal America.

PFAW Foundation

Ferguson and the America We Need to Build

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post.

An unarmed teenager gunned down in the street. Peaceful protesters attacked in a military-style assault. Journalists tear-gassed and arrested to prevent them from covering the actions of government officials. This is not the America to which we aspire.

Many Americans are both angry and appalled at the actions taken by law enforcement officials in Ferguson, Missouri, this week. These actions do not reflect a commitment to the Constitution or to the principles of equal justice under the law and freedom of the press. We applaud the Department of Justice for undertaking an investigation into the violence, and we are grateful that state officials have stepped in to institute a more sensible law enforcement presence. We encourage state and federal officials to continue monitoring the situation and to intervene as necessary to prevent further civil rights violations.

At the center of this controversy is a dead teenager and a grieving family. We recognize that the pain and outrage felt by so many people is grounded in the fact that this kind of killing of young men of color happens far too often. Part of the tragedy is that a killing like this is not surprising. If our commitment to equality and human dignity is to have real meaning, we cannot continue to tolerate conditions that require so many parents to teach their children how to live through a chance encounter with law enforcement.

In the long run, our elected officials must grapple with many complex policy questions, including racial disparities in the administration of justice. Today we support community leaders who are demanding accountability.

PFAW Foundation

One More Win Towards Ending Discrimination: Non-Discrimination Ordinance Passes in Roeland Park, KS

The following is a guest post by Roeland Park Councilwoman Megan England, member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.

Before a city council vote last week in Roeland Park, Kansas, it was legal in our town to refuse or terminate housing, services, or employment for someone on the basis of who they are or who they love. I didn’t believe that our community would tolerate this kind of treatment for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender neighbors and friends. As a councilmember, I felt the obligation to ensure that everyone — regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or military status — has the opportunity to live, work, and contribute here.

This spring, Councilwoman Jennifer Gunby and I introduced a non-discrimination ordinance providing protections for the LGBT community and others. This seemed like the right thing to do for many reasons. First, it’s fair and just. It shows that our town, like so many others, values diversity and inclusion. It highlights the shared values of our community. It’s good for our economy, since it attracts businesses and visitors who want to feel that everyone is welcome in our town. It supports a strong and productive workforce and happier, healthier communities. What’s more, many of our neighboring towns were already a few steps ahead of us. Cities like Lawrence, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri have had similar non-discrimination protections for over 20 years. In every corner of the country, cities and towns are increasingly understanding the importance of passing laws that prevent discrimination. And we were thrilled last week when Roeland Park finally did, too.

However, we still face an uphill battle in the larger fight for equality. In my work on this ordinance, I’ve learned that many people — even members of the press — are still unaware of the lack of federal protections in place for the LGBT community. There’s no end in sight to congressional gridlock in Washington, and it may be a while before our state of Kansas has the leadership necessary to wipe discrimination from the books. My hope is that other local elected officials will realize, like I did, that they have the power to make a simple but profound change in the lives of those they are sworn to represent. While change may be slow nationally, at the local level we have a tremendous opportunity to protect and serve our constituents, and to drive progress and innovation.

When Councilwoman Gunby and I began this process, we thought change might come quickly; we didn’t expect five months of revisions, public hearings, and tense discussions. While much longer and more difficult than we imagined, I now realize the importance of that process. It reaffirmed my respect for the political process. I saw the benefits of engaging the community in a critical dialogue, and in bringing light to the issue week after week. In some of the more difficult moments, when I wasn’t sure that the ordinance would ultimately pass, I wondered if it had all been worth it. One local transgender man answered that for me by sharing the story of how speaking publicly for the first time and simply telling his personal story encouraged young trans people to reach out to him for support and guidance. It was this act of kinship, of humanity and community, that reinforced for me the importance of the process no matter the outcome.

When focused on the big picture, we sometimes fail to see the smaller impacts of our work, the daily reverberations. But now, with both the ordinance in place and many conversations started, our community is all the better for it.     

PFAW Foundation

PSSST -- Rand Paul Calls for End Run Around Roe v. Wade, Is Just Another Extremist

Share this article:

Sen. Rand Paul is urging his supporters to push for passage of the Life at Conception Act, which he says will “overturn Roe v. Wade.” The bill “declares unborn children ‘persons’ as defined by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, entitled to legal protection.

This is something that every progressive and every American who cares about women’s equality and reproductive freedom needs to remember in the next couple of years, as Sen. Paul continues to position himself for a presidential run.

Paul

Rand Paul’s election to the Senate was among the very first high-profile victories for the Tea Party movement. He thanked the Tea Party in his Election Night victory speech. And he’s remained an iconic figure in the movement.

As a member of Congress, Paul has carved out his own lane as an iconoclast by embracing some ostensibly Libertarian positions in defiance of Republican Party – and even Tea Party – orthodoxy. He has been extremely vocal against NSA spying on Americans, leading a class-action lawsuit against the Agency. At times, he has been similarly out-front in arguing against the use of drones, draconian Drug War policies and aggressive military action. A sharp departure from the modern Republican Party’s commitment to blaming President Obama for everything bad that happens in the world, on Meet the Press, Paul said, “What’s going on now [in Iraq] -- I don’t blame on President Obama,” and instead pointed the finger at “those who supported the Iraq War.”

Some of these ostensibly “anti-war” or “civil libertarian” positions are popular with independents and a great many on the political Left. And Sen. Paul has even been a recent critic of his party’s unwillingness to reach out to minority voters and address their interests. Indeed, he seems like a “different kind of Republican” than we’ve seen these last few years, and he certainly seems to have his finger on the pulse of the American public.

Paul is uniquely situated to use his credibility as a “Tea Party original” to buck right-wing positions on certain issues (“only Nixon could have gone to China”). But despite his masterful ability to read the zeitgeist, beneath the façade one finds the same hypocrisy and extremism that have come to define the modern GOP.

  • For all of Sen. Paul’s big talk on “civil liberties,” his purported commitment to individual freedoms stops well short of support for LGBT people to be guaranteed equal rights or enter into marriage, or for women to have control over their own reproductive choices – as evidenced by his crusade against Roe v. Wade.
  • While Sen. Paul is acknowledging the need – and touting his ability – to reach out to minority voters and meet their concerns, he remains in favor of the voter ID laws that keep minorities from the polls … and let’s not forget his troubling past with the Civil Rights Act.
  • He takes a softer tone on immigration than the hardline nativists  who comprise one of the Tea Party’s most vocal constituencies, acknowledging the need for reform but refusing to advocate for a path to citizenship -- instead promoting the banal “secure the border, and provide more work visas” line (something to satisfy both the Minutemen and corporations looking for cheap labor).
  • He sheds crocodile tears over the corrupting influence of money in politics but is completely on board with Citizens United.
  • And, of course: guns, guns, guns, guns.

 

PFAW

The Right Wing's Inflammatory Reaction to the Border Crisis

Share this article:

As we’re dealing with the refugee crisis on the southern border, right-wing elected officials have amped up their inappropriate, inflammatory rhetoric to dehumanize immigrants and attack immigration reform:

  • Sen. Ted Cruz announced last week that his new “top priority”  in Washington is to end President Obama’s deferred action program for DREAMers and deport undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. While trying to soften his appearance by bringing teddy bears and soccer balls to children at the southern border, he proclaimed that “as long as that promise of amnesty is there, more and more children will come... We need to eliminate the promise of amnesty.”
  • Rep. Louie Gohmert claims children being held are a problem because “we don’t even know what all diseases they have” and added that our healthcare system “can’t withstand the influx,” which, he believes was orchestrated by President Obama to recruit millions of people to cast fraudulent ballots for Democrats.
  • Sen. David Vitter has “had it with undocumented immigrants,” and tweeted on Friday that “enough is enough.” To deal with the crisis, he introduced a bill that would “require mandatory detention for anyone” that is in the U.S. illegally, in order to get “illegal aliens on the next plane home.” (Mother Jones calculated that this effort would require more than 64,000 planes to actually work.)
  • Rep. Tom Tancredo shared a similar plan when he said that President Obama should “sign an executive order saying all these people ought to be returned. Put them on buses or planes, send them back to the countries from which they came and have the governments there take care of it.”
  • Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, claimed that these unaccompanied minors from Central America are probably “gangbangers” and questioned why they are being sent to this county in the first place.

Of course, elected extremists aren’t the only ones making outrageous statements:

  • The Minuteman Project’s Jim Gilchrist said this crisis is “part of a concerted effort to transfer populations of Central America and Mexico into the United States using minor children, illegal immigrants under the age of 18, as human shields… to detour our ability to enforce our immigration laws.”
  • The American Family Association’s Sandy Rios suggested the child refugees should be quarantined like lepers used to be, harking back to “biblical times” when the “lepers were separated” because it was “understood that leprosy was so contagious.” Rios' fretted that these children are transported in the “same planes that you and I fly in… How do we know about lice and disease before they get on public transportation?”
  • Jody Hice, running to replace Georgia Rep. Paul Broun in the U.S. House, suggested that people take up arms in response to “a government that refuses to secure our borders” because “that is the reason we have a Second Amendment.”

The Right Wing's inflammatory rhetoric distorts the reality of the crisis, causing more conflict and damage.

PFAW

President Obama Signs Executive Order Protecting LGBT Workers

Today President Obama signed an executive order protecting LGBT employees of federal contractors from workplace discrimination. In remarks this morning, the president said that our government “will become just a little bit fairer” today.

President Obama pointed out that many Americans go to work every day with the fear that they could lose their job because of who they are. It’s time to “address this injustice for every American,” he said, urging Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). While today’s executive order expands protections to millions of LGBT people who work for federal contractors, we still lack a nationwide law to protect LGBT workers across the board. In many states, you can still be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Following the Obama administration’s announcement that an executive order was in the works, People For the American Way joined nearly 100 other organizations, including many faith groups, in a letter urging the president to reject a call for an additional religious exemption — which ultimately was not included. The letter noted:

Religious freedom is one of our most cherished values, a fundamental and defining feature of our national character. It guarantees us the freedom to hold any belief we choose and the right to act on our religious beliefs within certain limits. It does not, however, provide organizations the right to discriminate using taxpayer dollars. When a religiously affiliated organization makes the decision to request a taxpayer-funded contract with the federal government, it must play by the same rules as every other federal contractor. [emphasis added]

Jonathan Capehart from the Washington Post reports that in the past few weeks, there have been “extraordinary meetings” in the White House among LGBT and religious communities about both the necessity of protecting workers from discrimination and religious liberty. As Capehart writes, “The president’s action today shows the two are not mutually exclusive.”

PFAW

Will Anti-Gay Groups Learn from Florida Court Ruling for Marriage Equality?

A Florida state court today became the latest in recent months to rule that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying violates the U.S. Constitution. (As Freedom to Marry notes, the ruling applies only in Monroe County.)

One interesting part of the Equal Protection portion of the ruling discusses whether proponents of Florida's ban have anti-gay animus. Circuit Judge Luis Garcia discusses the arguments of two parties who had submitted amicus briefs in support of the ban: Florida Family Action (which is affiliated with the Florida Family Policy Council) and People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality. Perhaps not surprisingly, he finds the animus in the types of arguments they choose to make:

The court finds that despite the Amici Curiae assertion that there is no evidence of animus towards homosexuals by the proponents of the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment (FMPA), there is ample evidence not only historically but within the very memorandum of law filed by the Amici Curiae. ... [It] paints a picture of homosexuals as HIV infected, alcohol and drug abusers, who are promiscuous and psychologically damaged and incapable of long term relationships or of raising children. They contend, "the personal, social and financial costs of these homosexual-specific health problems concern not just those who engage in homosexual activity, but also the larger community of citizens who help provide services and who must bear part of the burden imposed by the health challenges. It is eminently rational for the voters of Florida to seek to minimize the deleterious effect of these conditions on public health, safety and welfare by affirming that marriage in Florida remains the union of one man and one woman."

The judge concluded that there was animus behind the Florida ban, such that the law is subject to a somewhat higher level of scrutiny than the ordinary law for Equal Protection purposes. Not surprisingly, the ban fails that scrutiny.

It is not a good day for right-wing groups that peddle in vicious anti-gay stereotypes.

PFAW Foundation

When Will Marriage Equality Head Back to the Supreme Court?

As state and federal courts continue to issue marriage rulings, one question remains – when will marriage equality head back to the Supreme Court?

We're getting closer to the answer.

Late last month, a ruling by a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit concluded that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause (by denying a fundamental right to marry) and Equal Protection Clause (by making that right depend on a classification – the sex of the couple – that bears little if any relation to the state's purported goals).

Then yesterday we heard from the Utah Attorney General's office that the state will forego an appeal to the full Tenth Circuit and instead proceed to the US Supreme Court:

The U.S. Supreme Court is not obligated to hear Utah’s appeal — or any case regarding state same-sex marriage bans.

Should the justices decline to hear such a case, the rulings of lower courts, like that of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, would stand as the law of the land.

"We don’t really know if the Supreme Court will take this up or they won’t," said Equality Utah Executive Director Brandie Balken, who attended Wednesday’s march. "Unfortunately, today we have families, couples, children who are living in legal limbo."

Check out our website for more LGBT equality updates.

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Files Amicus Brief Supporting Fair Trials for Undocumented Immigrants

Last Thursday, People For the American Way, joined by the UC Hastings Appellate Project (HAP) and the ACLU of Southern California, submitted an amicus brief to the California Court of Appeal in Velasquez v. Centrome, Inc. dba Advanced Biotech, a toxic tort case brought by an undocumented immigrant that resulted in a gross denial of justice.

Wilfredo Velasquez filed a lawsuit against a chemical manufacturer seeking damages for medical expenses after contracting a devastating lung disease due to exposure to one of the company’s toxic chemicals while on the job. During the jury selection process, where prospective jurors are questioned to discover potential biases, the trial judge wrongly disclosed Mr. Velasquez’s immigration status to the entire jury pool, despite the fact that it was not relevant to any issues in the case. The disclosure appears to have harmed Mr. Velasquez’s pursuit of justice: Even though the jury ultimately found the chemical manufacturer negligent, it awarded no damages to Mr. Velasquez. He effectively lost his case. The court refused to grant a mistrial for its error in possibly tainting the jury, and Mr. Velasquez appealed the verdict. 

PFAW submitted its amicus brief in support of a new trial for Mr. Velasquez because of the highly prejudicial nature of the court’s wrongful disclosure of his citizenship status, explaining, “Rather than protect against prejudice, the judge’s statement unnecessarily injected prejudice into the [jury] selection process, making it impossible to know whether Mr. Velasquez received his constitutionally guaranteed fair trial by impartial jurors.” Given the ongoing hostility towards undocumented immigrants, as chronicled by PFAW’s Right Wing Watch blog, PFAW’s brief urges the appellate court to find that when a trial court erroneously discloses a litigant’s citizenship status to the jury during voir dire a new trial must be awarded.

Read the full text of the amicus brief for more information
 

PFAW

Obama to Issue Executive Order Protecting Federal Contractors’ LGBT Employees

The White House announced today that President Obama will issue an executive order protecting the employees of federal contractors from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. According to the White House, it is an action rooted in the principle that “your ability to get ahead should be determined by your hard work, ambition, and goals – not by the circumstances of your birth, your sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Though most Americans don’t realize it, in the majority of states you can still be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. But across the board Americans believe that workplace discrimination is wrong, and that employees should be judged on how well they do their job, not on who they are or who they love.

The upcoming executive order, which ThinkProgress characterizes as “the single largest expansion of LGBT workplace protections in our country’s history,” could protect up to 16 million workers — a major step forward for LGBT equality and for basic fairness in the workplace. But even as we celebrate the anticipated expansion of protections, it’s important to remember that our country still needs a federal law like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to protect LGBT workers across the country — not just those who work for federal contractors — from employment discrimination. In addition to covering more workers, ENDA would not be at risk of being undone by a future president, as the upcoming order may be.

No one should be forced to choose between risking their job and hiding who they are or who they love.

PFAW