people for the american way

Correcting the Court is nothing new

On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, restoring the rights taken away by the Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. One year to the day, a new movement is afoot to correct the Court.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted to protect individuals from discrimination they face in the workplace.  In Ledbetter, the Supreme Court undermined that protection by holding that employees who are subjected to pay discrimination must bring a complaint within 180 days of the discriminatory compensation decision and that each paycheck that is lower because of such discrimination does not restart the clock.  Advocates fought hard for a law that would reiterate Congress’ intent to hold employers accountable for their discriminatory practices and to allow employees a fair chance to challenge unlawful pay discrimination.

Advocates are now calling for another Court correction, this time in response to the Citizens United ruling, which prohibits Congress from limiting the influence of corporations in elections for public office. Not only is this a radical departure from longstanding precedent, it defies common sense: it argues that corporations and American citizens have identical free speech rights under the Constitution. As Justice Stevens pointed out in his dissent, corporations are not people. They cannot vote, they cannot hold office, and they should not be allowed to pour billions of dollars into our system of government.

Unfortunately the fix we found in for the Ledbetter decision is not enough to fix Citizens United. Legislation, while important and critically needed to mitigate the effects of the decision, may ultimately prove to be inadequate against the unfettered influx of corporate election spending. Only a constitutional amendment can restore the American people’s authority to regulate corporate influence in our elections and restore our democracy.

People For the American Way is calling for just such an amendment. Click here for more information and to sign our petition.

PFAW

Obama: Repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

In last night's State of the Union Address, President Obama pledged to work with Congress and the military to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" this year.
 

Thousands of activists joined People For the American Way in urging the President to include the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the defense budget proposal he sends to Congress early next month.
 

While it's not yet clear what the vehicle is going to be for repeal, the President's strong statement last night is an indication that he's getting the message. Now, it's up to the Obama administration to deliver on last night's pledge and it's up to all of us to make sure that it does.
 

We can't slack up in our fight to make sure that the administration and Congress advance pro-equality reforms this year. Anti-LGBT discrimination in the military, the workplace and, yes, in the institution of civil marriage must be addressed by this president and this Congress without delay.
 

You can join the fight for equality at:
 

PFAW

Reproductive rights 37 years later

Roe v. Wade established a constitutional right to privacy and protected a woman's right to make reproductive decisions based on her own life, health, and conscience. Today, on the 37th anniversary of this landmark ruling, we face a new call to action.

People For the American Way shares the widely held view that abortion should be safe, rare, and legal. We believe that healthcare reform can and should uphold these principles. Unfortunately, current legislation would do more to restrict the rights of women than it would to protect them.

In the House, health insurance plans that participate in the new exchange would be prohibited from providing full reproductive health benefits to millions of American women. Senate language sets up an unworkable system in which women are forced to purchase abortion coverage separately from other healthcare needs, which violates privacy and stigmatizes abortion, and also has the potential to dissuade insurance companies from offering abortion coverage in the first place.

While the Senate has not gone as far as the House in its restrictions, neither bill upholds President Obama’s promise that those who are happy with their healthcare before reform will be able to keep it after. It is critical that whatever he is asked to sign is, at the very least, abortion neutral. Now is the time to defend women’s rights – not roll them back.

Please stand up to right-wing activists who want to hold healthcare reform hostage.

PFAW

The Pew and the Bench: A Faith Summit on the Federal Judiciary

Today, there was a panel at the Religious Action Center discussing the role of religious communities in debates over judicial nominees. Joi Orr, program assistant with People for the American Way’s African American Religious Affairs department spoke about the role of the religious vote and what People for the American Way is currently doing around judicial nominations.

Other panelists included: Nancy Zirkin from the Leadership Conference on civil rights, Jim Wimkler from the general board of the United Methodist Church, Holly Hollman from the general counsel of the Baptist joint committee, Sammie Moshenberg from the National Council of Jewish Women, Rick Foltin from the American Jewish Committee and Mark Pelavin from the Religious Action Center.

Panelists briefly discussed how their organizations reach various faith communities, and reiterated the importance of having strong judicial candidates for these lifetime position. Joi summarized the work that the African American Religious Affairs department is accomplishing with regards to judicial nominations.

The ministers programs were founded to act out of the prophetic vein of the Black Church. So I will say, that we do not claim to speak on behalf of the entire black church, because it is not a homogeneous group. We particularly advocate and represent the marginalized, disenfranchised, and outcast. So like the prophet Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we advocate with a liberal reading of the Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other. That’s what the prophetic black church has done throughout history. We rejected the “slaves obey your masters” rhetoric of the New Testament, while embracing the nation’s sacred documents that purport to stand for liberty and justice for all. And I want to underscore the word all. Because the truly prophetic black church is inclusive in its advocacy. That’s why MLK was an integrationist. That’s why as an organization we work on fair public education for all of our children, fair comprehensive immigration reform, and LGBT rights, because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

PFAW

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.

PFAW

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.

 


 

PFAW

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.
 

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

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.

PFAW

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.

PFAW

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.
 

PFAW

Have they no decency?

McCarthyism is back. Let's call it what it is.
 
We are seeing one witch hunt after another led by right-wing opinion leaders, media outlets, organizations and even members of Congress. They pursue personal smear campaigns, grasping at straws to create "guilt by association" and challenge the legitimacy, allegiances and patriotism of their opponents.
 
Remember the Bush-era attacks on the patriotism of anyone who questioned the administration's policies? Those look tame in comparison. Now, with Democrats in power, the insinuation is that the president, his advisers and his political allies are actively trying to destroy America from within and, despite being elected by the people, are inherently unfit to lead.
 
We stand up to right-wing bullies every day, and we want to help all courageous Americans do the same. People For the American Way is ready to confront this new McCarthyism head-on. In the coming days and weeks we will be exposing the Right's tactics and rhetoric and creating tools to help activists combat them. We will educate Americans about the insidious nature of what we see happening in this country and impress upon Americans the urgency of stopping it.
 
In a 1954 Senate hearing, Army head counsel Joseph Welch famously put Senator Joseph McCarthy in his place, saying, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
 
In that great moment in American history, Welch called McCarthy out for his "cruelty" and "recklessness." The crowd at the hearing erupted in applause and, in that instant, McCarthy's power started its decline.
 
It's time for all of us to ask that same question -- Have you no sense of decency? -- of those on the Right who have resurrected McCarthy's tactics.
 
Radical Right activists ("Birthers," "Tea Baggers"), paranoid anti-government extremists and irresponsible media personalities like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh (and media outlets like FOX News) -- in many cases with the backing of entrenched right-wing and corporate interest groups -- have simultaneously raised the ominous, not to mention incompatible, specters of socialism, communism, fascism, Nazism and infiltration by foreign elements. This has created a backdrop of suspicion in which McCarthy-like intimidation, guilt by association and character assassination thrive.
 
In the last two weeks alone, we've seen:

  • 53 right-wing members of Congress sign a letter to the President requesting that he fire Kevin Jennings who heads the office at the Department of Education tasked with keeping schools safe, for "promoting homosexuality and pushing a pro-homosexual agenda in America's schools." Jennings, a gay man and founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), has been the target of right-wing groups like Family Research Council for months. He was also the victim of false accusations that he broke the law in counseling an underage student when he was a teacher - and the congressional letter included that allegation even though the office of the letter's primary signer, Rep. Steve King, had been made aware that the story was wrong.
  • Glenn Beck, whose "6 degrees of Obama" guilt-by-association attacks have generally lacked any shred of coherence, has been going after White House Communications Director Anita Dunn for once offhandedly referring to Mao Tse-tung (along with Mother Teresa) as one of her favorite political philosophers. He has repeatedly implied that this means she must endorse his heinous deeds and personal ideology while remaining conspicuously silent about the fact that many icons of the conservative movement have approvingly cited the political writings and tactics of communists like Mao, Lenin and the Viet Cong.
  • Just this past Sunday, the notoriously right-wing editorial page of the Washington Times savaged Judge Edward Chen, who is nominated to the Northern District Court of California, opening the piece with the sentence, "Another day, another Obama nominee who doesn't appear to love America." For its 'evidence,' the editorial cites: Chen's acknowledgement of what we all know -- that a judge's life experiences affect how he or she views a case (shades of the attacks against Sonia Sotomayor); the fact that he expressed concern -- as many thinking Americans did -- about potential recriminations for Muslim Americans following the tragedy of September 11; and his former work with the ACLU.

Of course, the use of race-baiting, red-baiting, gay-baiting and lies to characterize people as enemies of America doesn't stop with attacks on administration officials and nominees. There have been many more examples, and sadly, there will undoubtedly be many more to come.
 
That's why we must all be vigilant. We must call out fear-mongering and intimidation in government, in the media and in our own communities. And when we confront it, we must ask the vital question, "Have you no sense of decency?"
 
People For the American Way is getting out in front of this troubling and pervasive new trend. Through research, educational materials and activism tools, we'll give you what you need to stand up to the Right and McCarthyism.

PFAW

PFAW Opposes Unconstitutional Vitter-Bennett Amendment

Today, People For the American Way was represented by our General Counsel Debbie Liu at a press conference to oppose the Vitter-Bennett amendment, which would require Census workers to ask all Americans their citizenship and immigration status in the 2010 census. Doing so could discourage minority communities’ participation in the 2010 census, and would result in an inaccurate census. Not only is the amendment unconstitutional, it is a thinly-veiled effort by the radical Religious Right and their counterparts in Congress to target undocumented immigrants. 

Above, attendees at the press conference to oppose the Vitter-Bennett amendment.

The New York Times featured an editorial citing how changing the census would waste time and valuable resources. Should the Vitter-Bennett amendment pass, the Census Bureau would have to reprint forms, promotional materials and training software:

As required by law, the Census Bureau gave Congress the exact wording of the survey’s 10 questions in early April 2008 — more than 18 months ago. Changing it now to meet Mr. Vitter’s demand would delay the count, could skew the results and would certainly make it even harder to persuade minorities to participate.

It would also be hugely expensive. The Commerce Department says that redoing the survey would cost hundreds of millions of dollars: to rewrite and reprint hundreds of millions of census forms, to revise instructional and promotional material and to reprogram software and scanners.

Other civil rights groups including the Center for American Progress (CAP), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Demos, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) attended the press conference.

PFAW

Hate Crimes Legislation Passes the House

Last night, the House passed the Department of Defense Authorization bill in a 281 to 146 vote. Attached to the legislation was the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which will expand current hate crimes law to cover acts of violence motivated by a victim's sexual orientation, gender, disability or gender identity.

The bill passed despite Republican opposition to the hate crimes provision and accusations that it would prosecute "thought crimes." People For the American Way President Michael B. Keegan said in a statement:

Last night's vote was an important step towards finally enacting these hate crimes protections into law. This bill will help ensure that fewer Americans will become victims of violence simply because of who they are, while at the same time providing strong First Amendment protections. Limited hate crimes protections have existed for years on the basis of race and religion. It's long past time to expand this to include other targeted groups. I'm especially proud that this bill includes protections based on gender identity-the first time gender identity will receive positive protection in federal law.

The Byrd/Shepard Act is expected to pass in the Senate next week, the same week as the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student murdered in 1998 because he was gay.

PFAW

Scalia, Empathy, and Crayons

This week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Salazar v. Buono, a case involving the display of a cross on top of Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve, which is federal property. (People For the American Way Foundation joined an amicus brief in this case filed by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and other religious and secular non-profits).

By now, you've probably read about Justice Scalia's angry response when a Jewish lawyer had the audacity to point out that Jews don't use Christian crosses to honor their dead.

Mr. Eliasberg [the ACLU Foundation attorney] said many Jewish war veterans would not wish to be honored by "the predominant symbol of Christianity," one that "signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins."

Justice Scalia disagreed, saying, "The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead."

"What would you have them erect?" Justice Scalia asked. "Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David and, you know, a Muslim half moon and star?"

Mr. Eliasberg said he had visited Jewish cemeteries. "There is never a cross on the tombstone of a Jew," he said, to laughter in the courtroom.

Justice Scalia grew visibly angry. "I don't think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead," he said. "I think that's an outrageous conclusion."

When I read this, my mind immediately went to … crayons. Yes, crayons.

When I was five, I had a somewhat peach-colored crayon that Crayola called "flesh." I'm white, and the crayon was close to my own skin color. It didn't occur to me that Crayola was assuming that all people are white. I didn’t need to think about it – After all, I was part of the majority. Later on, of course, I realized how this nomenclature marked African Americans as other, as outsiders in our society.

But not everyone who is a member of the in group has the capacity to understand what it is to be on the other side. Justice Scalia certainly doesn't.

For Justice Scalia, the cross has never had anything but positive connotations. From the perspective of his life experience, how could a cross grave marker be anything but an honor?

But in the history of America, Jews and other non-Christians have experienced the cross at times as neutral, and at times as a symbol of exclusion and persecution. Yet when someone points out that Jews do not see the cross as a symbol of honor, Justice Scalia gets angry.

In analyzing how the law impacts people, a wise judge considers people who are different from himself. A wise judge has empathy. Justice Scalia has none.

PFAW

Hate Crimes Legislation One Step Closer to Becoming Law

Last night, in a 178-234 vote, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act moved one step closer to becoming law. This legislation protects victims of hate crimes based on disability, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity. 

The vote was taken on what's called a motion to instruct conferees - this one would have instructed those negotiating a final Defense Authorization bill to remove the hate crimes language included by the Senate. In a series of speeches (item 35) fit only for Right Wing Watch, the motion's supporters tried to take down this critical update to "equal protection under the law." Thankfully, their efforts were to no avail, and the Shepard/Byrd bill may soon reach President Obama's desk. A few minor hurdles remain, but we hope to see it signed within the next week.

With the stroke of a pen, the President will have an opportunity to send loud and clear the message that freedom from discrimination is a right all Americans should enjoy. And we cannot forget that this action would affirm - for the first time in federal law - a positive protection for gender identity.

Click here for more information from People For the American Way and African American Ministers in Action.

PFAW

Church, State, Land Swaps, and the Supreme Court

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing oral argument in the case of Salazar v. Buono, a case involving the display of a cross on top of Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve, which is federal property. A former employee of the Preserve sued in federal court challenging the legality of the display, arguing that the religious symbol violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  The district court agreed and ordered that the display be taken down.  So far, so good.

But in order to sidestep the ruling, Congress swapped Sunrise Rock—but none of the land around it—with a private party who agreed to maintain the cross.  Buono asked the Court to enforce its order prohibiting the display of the cross and also asked the court to prohibit the land swap.  The court agreed as to both and on appeal to the 9th Circuit, the district court’s order was upheld.

People For the American Way Foundation joined a brief filed by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and other religious and secular non-profits on behalf of Buono to point out that objections to such religious displays on public land are more than the just general grievances.  Rather, the effects of an unconstitutional government display of religion inflict real and significant harm that cannot be easily ignored. 

Government-sponsored religious symbols are potent forms of speech that can have real, palpable effects on people who are subjected to them. The harm from them is not that they evoke mere distaste, displeasure, or even disgust. It is that they deprive citizens of the use and enjoyment of public lands, because using a public facility where the government has chosen to erect a monument to one faith stigmatizes nonadherents as second-class citizens, while demeaning the faith of adherents by coopting what is sacred.

Also, these harmful effects cannot be fixed by a contractual land transfer of a particular parcel of land, particularly when the parcel is entirely enclosed within a federal preserve and where the government has taken no steps to disassociate itself from the display[].  Nothing was done at all to make it clear that the display is no longer on government land.  As such, the transfer cannot be seen as anything other than a cheap strategy designed solely to preserve the display of the cross.  Allowing a scheme like that to cure the unconstitutionality of a government act wouldn’t correct the wrong—it would perpetuate it.

 

PFAW

Mary Travers, Defender of Democracy and Folk Music Legend, R.I.P.

Mary Travers of the folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary passed away this week. She was a longtime friend, ally, and supporter of People For the American Way and a powerful advocate for justice and equal rights throughout her life.

PFAW honored Travers and her bandmates Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey for their decades of activism at our 1999 Spirit of Liberty event. This tribute video, which was played at the event, explains why they were awarded the Defender of Democracy award: The progressive movement had a great friend in Mary Travers, and we are saddened by the loss. We send our condolences to her friends and family.

PFAW

A personal reflection on 9-11

It's hard to believe that 9-11 was eight years ago.

My partner Dan had just moved from Chicago to DC a month before. After watching the buildings fall from the PFAW conference room, and hearing rumors about a truck bomb at the State Department, where one of my best friends had just started working, I walked several blocks and grabbed a bus filled with stunned-into-silence passengers.  I traveled a few miles to Wesley Seminary, where Dan was supposed to be having a meeting. We went home and tried to imagine what it would feel like to live in D.C. under a now far more real threat of terrorist attacks.  

The next day, home from work, we painted walls, bringing a little change and beauty to our tiny corner of the planet.

The following day, back at work, my colleagues and I were stunned to hear Jerry Falwell blaming gays, liberals, feminists, church-state supporters, and People For the American Way, among others, for the attack, and to see Pat Robertson enthusiastically agreeing with him. It was breathtaking even for those of us accustomed to the televangelists' harsh rhetoric for all who disagreed with them. 

PFAW moved quickly to put video of that exchange on Robertson's TV show into the hands of national news organizations and helped the world understand more clearly the cruelty at the heart of the Religious Right political movement. 

That mean-spiritedness is again on public display, with Religious Right leaders energetically peddling false charges about supporters of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples and portraying their political opponents, including President Obama, as bent on the destruction of liberty in America. I wonder what sort of patriotic platitudes we'll hear from today from the leaders of a movement that has tried for decades to claim ownership of patriotism and the flag and smear as un-American all those who don't share their vision of an America in which some are more equal than others. 

Will they even bother to pause from their ongoing efforts to destroy the president, denigrate their opponents, and rile enough fear and hatred to push their way back into power?

PFAW

Rep. Joe Wilson’s Macaca Moment

Causing a stir on the Internet and throughout Capitol Hill, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted “you lie” during Pres. Obama’s health care speech to a joint session of Congress. Rep. Wilson, who claims that his emotions got the best of him, made the inappropriate outburst as Pres. Obama stated that people who immigrated into the country illegally would not be covered under his health care plan. From CNN:

Two words, delivered with index finger punctuating the air and directed at the president of the United States, made a little-known South Carolina congressman one of the most controversial men on the Internet -- at least Wednesday heading into Thursday.

Following the initial outburst, after Pres. Obama stated “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions,” Rep. Wilson then shouted out “not true.”

People For the American Way President Michael B. Keegan issued the following statement:

“Representative Wilson’s behavior last night was inappropriate and deeply disrespectful of the President, the Congress, and the millions of Americans who want to hear a reasoned discussion of health care reform. Mr. Wilson was right to apologize, and GOP leaders were right to distance themselves from his behavior.

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing this as a skit on Saturday Night Live.

PFAW