We’ve said repeatedly that Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, which start in two weeks, open up the perfect opportunity to the country to have a real discussion of the meaning of the Constitution and the role of the Supreme Court in all of our lives.
Today, we’ve tried to start the conversation by coming up with 20 questions that we would love to see senators on the Judiciary committee ask Kagan.
We want to know Kagan’s answers to questions including:
Should Justices respect the original intent of the Constitution’s framers, even when that intent is antithetical to our current values and the Constitution as amended?
Does the Constitution give corporations the same First Amendment rights as ordinary citizens?
Has the Supreme Court, in cases like Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. FEC, practiced proper judicial restraint?
What theory would govern your evaluation of civil rights laws passed by Congress?
You can read all 20 questions—including a lot more detail—here.
Matt Coles at the ACLU has written an interesting blog post outlining some major reasons why the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is so important. One of his points especially resonated after last week’s firestorm around Republican Senatorial Candidate Rand Paul:
Second, we need to get rid of DADT because it is a blot on the Constitution. DADT enshrines in federal law a principle which had been rejected in most other contexts: that discrimination could be justified by the prejudice of others. In the 60s, businesses in the South said that the prejudice their customers had against black people ought to give them an exemption from discrimination laws. Congress and the courts disagreed. In the 80s, government agencies actually defended discrimination on the basis that neighbors (or others) had strong negative feelings about disabled people, "hippies" and even older people (in Miami of all places). Again, the courts disagreed. But in the Congress that passed it, the single justification for Don't Ask, Don't Tell was not that gay members of the Armed Forces couldn't do their jobs. It was rather that heterosexual service members would be so unnerved by the mere presence of gay people that they would be unable to perform theirs. As long as DADT endures, the idea that your rights can't be taken away just because someone else doesn't like you is hardly secure.
Last week, Rand Paul struggled to defend his view that the government should allow private enterprises to discriminate against people based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. He was forced to backtrack on his position after his statements were shot down by civil rights groups, the media, and members of his own party. His reasoning essentially amounted to the idea that the government has more of a duty to protect the right to discriminate than to protect those who are discriminated against. Sound familiar?
That’s a false and outdated interpretation of the Constitution—one that didn’t hold water in 1964, and doesn’t today.
(And, as a sidenote, check out the American Prospect’s takedown of another one of Paul’s perversions of the Constitution).
People For the American Way and African American Ministers in Action wrote to Congress today urging repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Votes are imminent in both the House and Senate.
According to PFAW’s Michael B. Keegan and Marge Baker:
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell runs counter to the honesty and integrity we associate with the armed forces, not to mention the values of equality and freedom of expression espoused by our Constitution. Repeal is necessary to restore these values. Until then, LGBT soldiers will have to lie and hide their true identity on a daily basis. Those who live openly and share information about their spouses, significant others, or dating life risk investigation and involuntary expulsion. Any statement that one is gay – to anyone, at any time, before or after enlistment – can be reason for discharge. Your life is a constant liability to your career when you are gay in the military.
AAMIA’s Reverend Timothy McDonald, III and Reverend Dr. Robert P. Shine further explored the ideas of equality and open service.
The faith community will continue in faithful dialogue to address the questions of LGBT equality and recognition of same-sex relationships. However, one thing people of faith should and do recognize is the need to protect constitutional and civil rights of all Americans, especially those who are discriminated against because of who they are. LGBT individuals are ready and willing to step up, and have stood up to the challenge of military service. They share in the sacrifices made by their family, friends, and neighbors. They deserve to serve honestly and openly with dignity.
But, as the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus points out, there was a time not long ago when Republican Senators were faced with someone with views very similar to Paul’s–and, instead of distancing themselves from him, tried to put him on the Supreme Court.
Rand Paul and Robert Bork, Marcus writes, “are ideological soul mates.” For those whose perspective on the rejected Bork nomination is that it was such a skewed pummeling that it led to the creation of a new verb -- Borking -- here’s a reminder. Writing in The New Republic in 1963 about the proposed civil rights act, Bork inveighed against a principle of "unsurpassed ugliness” -- not of racism, mind you, but of the notion of compelling private property owners to stop discriminating. Sound familiar? The next year, Bork lit into the proposed bans on discrimination in both employment and public accommodations, saying they would “compel association where it is not desired,” and citing “serious constitutional problems” with the measure.
Bork renounced those views publicly in 1973, during his nomination for solicitor general. Paul’s about-face took less than 24 hours.
It might seem unfair to bring up a 23-year-old nomination battle in the debate over today’s policies, but some in the Republican Party have done just that, using Bork’s Senate defeat as a recurring Supreme Court talking point.
The New York Times ran a powerful editorial today on the stark contrast between the courage of activists fighting for fair and comprehensive immigration reform and the somewhat less courageous behavior of those in power in Washington.
They highlight the story of four students—three of them undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children— who were arrested Monday for staging a sit-in in Sen. John McCain’s Tucson office to advocate for the DREAM Act.
Who else has shown such courage in the long struggle for immigration reform? Not Mr. McCain, who ditched his principled support of rational immigration legislation to better his odds in a close re-election campaign against a far-right-wing opponent. Not President Obama, who has retreated to lip service and vagueness in his calls for reform. Not his administration. The Justice Department has stood by as a civil-rights coalition — the American Civil Liberties Union, Maldef, the N.A.A.C.P., the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and others — has swiftly sued to block the Arizona law.
Other supposed defenders of immigrants, Democrats in Congress, have lost their voices. Senators Charles Schumer, Robert Menendez and Harry Reid, mindful of November elections and frustrated Latino voters, have unveiled a blueprint for immigration reform that parrots Republican talking points about clamping down the southern border and treating the undocumented as a swelling tide of criminals.
Good immigration reform needs a good bill, and the administration and the president and Democratic leaders haven’t yet offered or convincingly fought for one. The fight for reform is stalled. It could be simple acts of protest that ignite a fire. Half a century ago it was young people, at lunch counters and aboard buses across the South, who help galvanize the movement for civil rights, and to waken more powerful elders to injustice.
People For has now joined a number of other national groups in signing on to a travel boycott of Arizona until the law is reversed. The groups—including the National Council of La Raza, the American Civil Liberties Union, SEIU, the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, and the Center for Community Change—have agreed to:
Not hold any conventions, conferences, special events, or major meetings involving significant travel to Arizona from out of state, while this law is in force.
Strongly discourage their affiliates, chapters, or members from holding any conventions, conferences, special events, or major meetings involving significant travel to Arizona from out of state, while this law is in force.
Widely disseminate the adverse consequences of this legislation to their key stakeholders, for the purpose of encouraging informed judgments regarding whether stakeholders should hold, convene, sponsor, or otherwise support any conventions, conferences, special events, or major meetings involving significant travel to Arizona from out of state, while this law is in force.
Call on all other major American institutions to consider choosing alternative locations for conventions, conferences, special events, or major meetings already scheduled involving significant travel to Arizona from out of state, while this law is in force.
Call on their affiliates, chapters, members, stakeholders, all major American institutions, and people of conscience everywhere to carefully consider whether the dollars they spend as consumers of goods and services could end up, directly or indirectly, supporting the perpetuation of this unjust law.
Arizona is already hurting from this and other boycotts. Less than three weeks after the new law was passed, Arizona’s hotel and lodging association had already counted a loss of 23 meetings, at an estimated loss to the state of $6 to $10 million. And a city official in Phoenix has predicted that boycotts could cost his area $90 million over the next five years.
In his column yesterday, E.J. Dionne laid out exactly the right prescription for liberals and Democrats in the upcoming confirmation battle over the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice John Paul Stevens.
We don't know who the nominee is yet, but we know the dangers posed by the Roberts Court and what the right-wing ideologues are doing to our country via their agenda-driven interpretations and reinterpretations of the law and the Constitution.
Citizens United is an extreme case of a general tendency: Conservative judges are regularly invoking their alleged fealty to the "original" intentions of the Founders as a battering ram against attempts to limit the power of large corporations. Such entities were not even in the imaginations of those who wrote the Constitution. To claim to know what the Founders would have made of Exxon Mobil or Goldman Sachs or PepsiCo is an exercise in arrogance.
What liberals forgot during the years when their side dominated the judiciary is that for much of our history, the courts have played a conservative role. But today's conservatives have not forgotten this legacy. Their goal is to overturn the last 70 years of judicial understandings and bring us back to a time when courts voided minimum-wage laws and all manner of other economic regulations.
Several days earlier, Joe Conason wrote a great piece discussing the politics of Supreme Court confirmation battles and why Democrats and progressives should be eager to have a constitutional debate about the role of the Court and how the Right's definition of "constitutional" really means the dangerous upending of the traditional understanding of the Constitution which has served America well.
What exactly do they mean by "constitutional"? On the increasingly powerful fringes of the Republican right, a category that includes some Tea Party activists, the Constitution is interpreted as prohibiting every social and political advance since before the Civil War. They would outlaw the Federal Reserve System, the progressive income tax, Social Security, Medicare, environmental protection, consumer regulation and every other important federal initiative of the past century.
Targets of the "constitutional conservatives" would certainly include civil rights legislation that guarantees equal protection under law to minorities and women...
DC has waited over 200 years to have a voting voice in Congress. Today the nation’s capital may be as close as it’s ever come to making that dream a reality.
On Wednesday afternoon came the breaking news that an agreement had been reached to move forward on the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act, which would give DC a full Representative with the same voting power as other House members. Just this morning, I joined a room full of concerned citizens and activists for a briefing lead by DC Vote and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. We then took to the halls of Congress in support of the Delegate’s tireless efforts on this issue.
Nobody is happy that this agreement comes at the price of right-wing interference in local affairs. But to go any longer without voting rights is an even higher price to pay. DC can’t keep fighting these intrusions without a meaningful way to say “aye” or “no” when those infamous bells ring calling members to the House floor. As Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights put it:
The civil rights community recognizes that it must be prepared to accept some setbacks in the name of long-term progress. Virtually every major piece of civil rights legislation, from 1957 onwards, has involved difficult and often painful tradeoffs. In this case, given the fundamental importance of gaining a vote in Congress, we are prepared to move forward with the voting rights bill.
People For the American Way believes that the right-wing should stay away from this bill. But we also believe it’s a tragedy that our Democracy has allowed DC residents to live without voting representation for over 200 years. Any citizen who pays taxes, and is otherwise legally eligible to vote, should be able to vote. And certainly no member of the armed services should be robbed of the right to vote simply because of where they live.
The fight will not be over even when DC can cast a House vote. It is high time the nation’s capital be given both House and Senate representation, with voting power in both chambers.
In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson launched Negro History Week as an initiative to bring national attention to the contributions of Black people throughout American history. Today the celebration in the arts and science, public and private business industries, sports, domestic and foreign policy, and political, social and economic justice arenas continues throughout February and is now known as African American History Awareness Month.
Like others during these 28 days, I find myself hungry to learn of yet another person who, because of their thoughts, actions, motivation, "made a way out of no way". One Saturday evening I watched a PBS documentary titled "For Love of Liberty" and the sacrifices of African American soldiers who fought for a "cause greater than me".
Dating as far back as the Revolutionary War, it is the story of "America's Black Patriots." I watched images and heard narratives of those who faced ultimate racism and bigotry, but continued to sign up to for a chance to prove African Americans were worthy of dignity, humanity and full rights of citizenship. I also watched images of soldiers lynched in their uniforms as a message from extremist that no matter what their sacrifice, they would never be equal, honored or worthy.
This month I was afforded the opportunity to participate in a Congressional Black Caucus staff briefing on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. In preparing for this presentation I realized here was yet another group of military personnel, soldiers waiting for a "chance to prove" they were worthy. I found what may seem like an unlikely connection with those of the past who fought for love of liberty for others with no gains or recognition of who they were with those who fight today and serve this county honorably for the same reason.
The contributions of African American's to this country are substantial, but as important they are inspiring. Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback was the first non-white and first person of African American descent to become governor of a U.S. state, serving as the 24th Governor of Louisiana for an entire 35 days. Anna Julia Haywood Cooper was an educator, writer, and human rights leader. Vernon Johns was an African American minister and leader who was active in the struggle for civil rights for African Americans from the 1920s and is considered the father of the American Civil Rights Movement, having laid the foundation on which Martin Luther King, Jr. and others would build.
There are no ordinary sacrifices a person can make when their motivations and actions are for a cause greater than self. Religious and racial extremists haven't deterred those who seek that chance to prove their worthiness. As an African American, I am aware of what the insults of oppression, injustice and inequality can have on the mind and spirit of a persons and a people. I also know that separate is not necessarily equal. But I also have read and witnessed that "suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."
I believe in revelation, the connection to historical moments, the legacy of persons and people in pursuit of "a chance to prove." This African American History Awareness Month I recognized the contributions of all men and women who served and are serving in our armed forces with profound appreciation for their sacrifices in pursuit of a chance to prove. In the words of what is known as the African American National Anthem by James Weldon Johnson, we must continue to celebrate, educate, and be inspired to "Lift every voice ... until victory is won."
Pat Robertson's man in the Virginia State House, Governor Bob McDonnell, has been in office less than a month and is already delivering on the Religious Right's agenda ... at the expense of Virginians' civil rights.
A February 5 executive order from the 'Gov stripped gay and lesbian state workers of protections against job discrimination. It was that simple: signing an order that prohibits discrimination based on nearly every category except sexual orientation (which had been included under McDonnell's predecessor, Gov. Tim Kaine). The move has already been praised by Radical Right groups like Tony Perkins' Family Research Council.
This is a painful, cringe-inducing "I told you so" moment that brings no satisfaction to anyone and certainly no desire to gloat. It's a sad reminder that when we snooze, we lose -- in this case, progressive voters snoozing has led to LGBT Virginians losing, but rest assured, there will be more to come and enough misery to go around.
Bob McDonnell's opponent in the gubernatorial race was Creigh Deeds, who failed to inspire his progressive base. Deeds campaign ran away from progressive values instead of embracing and fighting for them, and the Democratic ticket paid the price on Election Day. Deeds got the Democratic nomination in the first place because of dreadful turnout, particularly among progressives, in that party's primary election.
The other lesson we must take away is that we must EXPOSE right-wing candidates for what they are. This need makes organizations like PFAW and blogs like RightWingWatch very important. McDonnell is an undoubtedly intelligent and charismatic politician. He seems like a very nice guy, a good family man and emanates a sincerity that might be genuine. But this persona belies his radical beliefs.
McDonnell could rightly be called a "wolf in sheep's clothing" for running a campaign that avoided the polarizing issues on which his Religious Right agenda is focused. But the evidence was there all along. He was elected, in part, due to progressives' and Democrats' failure to expose his true radical right-wing inclinations despite a wealth of evidence.
His master's thesis (at Pat Robertson's Regent University, which itself should have been portrayed as a bigger red flag to VA voters) espoused extremely radical views. It became a major campaign issue for his opponent Deeds but somehow McDonnell was able to diffuse it by saying those were the views of a younger, less lived and learned version of himself. He was 34 YEARS OLD when he wrote the thesis, though, and hardly some naïve kid. McDonnell's record as Attorney General and statements he had made in the past, as well as his close connection to Pat Robertson, should have been additional red flags.
But here we find ourselves, with LGBT Virginians taking the first of what will likely be many blows to their basic rights throughout Gov. McDonnell's tenure. And it's not only Virginians who are going to suffer.
McDonnell has been unleashed onto the national political scene too. Americans already have enough fear from hatemongers like Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and others who threaten America with their potential candidacy for president. Now, we have Bob McDonnell (Pat Robertson's protégé!!!) who is clearly being groomed to be a national leader of the Republican Party after he gave the GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union Address -- a response that was very well executed and positioned the articulate family man McDonnell as what one would imagine to be a Tea Party activist's ideal alternative to our current president. (The fact that McDonnell is white is sadly of central importance in the GOP's ploy, but that's a topic that deserves further dissection in another post).
It's been said that we get the government we deserve, based on who we vote for or whether or not we choose to vote at all. But no one deserves a governor like Bob McDonnell. And the likes of Pat Robertson and Tony Perkins certainly do not deserve to have their errand boy serving them up one wish list item at a time wrapped all pretty with a bow on it.
Progressives stay at home on Election Day at all of our peril. And that goes for the primaries especially. The progressive "base" can't just be the voters whose turnout makes the difference for Democrats in general elections (young voters, low-income voters, etc.). People who truly embrace what it means to be progressive need get out there and stand up for our values within the political party structure. If there's one thing this current crop of Democratic members of Congress has made all too clear, it's that no one else is going to assert those values (the same ones that made and continue to make America great, I might add) if we don't do it in the voting booth.
We must do better.
In the meantime, we need to keep an eye on Governor Bob McDonnell, lest he follow the path of another perceived "every man" who was strong on "family values" and played the part of a "uniter, not a divider." That "every man," George W. Bush, served up the most radical right-wing policies of any modern president and was quick to empty the nation's treasury into the pockets of war profiteers and his other corporate sponsors. Let's learn from the past.
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.
Think Progress points out that the Department of Justice is intervening in an LGBT rights case for the first time in a decade.
The case centers on an openly gay 14-year old student named Jacob in Mowhawk, New York* who sued his school district for failing to appropriately respond to the repeated harassment he suffered at school. Now the DOJ, citing Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is intervening in the suit, arguing that “the law also covers discrimination based on gender stereotypes.”
According to the Utica Observer-Dispatch, the school district claims that it’s close to a settlement. It also contains an apt summation of the case from Jacob’s father: “He has the right to go to school and feel safe.”
We’re glad that the Justice Department feels the same way.
* - Side Note: Can we all agree on how awesome it is that Mowhawk, New York has an openly gay 14 year old willing to stand up for his rights? Jacob – When you get to college, give us a call. I know some people you should meet.
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.
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.
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.
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."
Changing Hearts and Minds. That was the focus this past weekend at two panel discussions I moderated at the California NAACP State Conference on the topic of Homophobia in the Black Church. From my vantage point it’s clear that these real in-person talks truly help people understand the dangers of homophobia. After the panel, a few people testified that their views about homophobia and even LGBT equality have changed completely. It’s remarkable the change that we can effect through honest, respectful conversation.
I waned to share just a few highlights from the panel:
Rev. Kenneth Samuel (Vice Chair - African American Ministers Leadership Council of PFAWF and Pastor of Victory for the World Church in Stone Mountain, GA) spoke passionately about the health risks to the Black community from Heterosexism and Homophobia. Forcing people to live closeted or secret down low lives, leads to risky behavior. This in turn can lead to grave consequences as it relates to STDs.
Dr. Sylvia Rhue (Director- Religious Affairs of the National Black Justice Coalition) reminded us that the LGBT Equality movement is comprised of fights for several basic civil rights, and that speaking out against homophobia is a continuation of the civil rights movement.
Rev. Deborah Johnson (Founder- Inner Light Ministries) spoke out about the dangers of Homophobic behavior. He explained how it has led to a history of violence against LGBT people of color throughout history, even at the hands of black brothers and sisters.
Rev. Byron Williams (Pastor- Resurrection Church in Oakland, CA and member of the AAMLC of PFAWF) dared all of us not to compare “black” oppression to “LGBT” oppression, but to recognize that oppression is just that, and it goes against the Christian ethic of Love thy Neighbor.
As moderator of the discussions the common ground was clear to me - we must LOVE one another and speak out against homophobic behavior.
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.
Tom Perez, assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, has celebrated the imminent passage of legislation that will allow the Justice Department to prosecute discrimination against the LGBT community.
Pending legislation includes hate crimes legislation that passed the House last week and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
In a speech to his colleagues, Perez said, "We must fight for fairness and basic equality for our LGBT brothers and sisters who so frequently are being left in the shadows [and to] ensure that there's a level playing field in which our LGBT brothers and sisters are judged by the content of their character."
Perez’s announcement is a welcome step forward for ending discrimination against the LGBT community in a division that has traditionally focused little attention on LGBT equality issues.
Perez began his position in the Civil Rights Division only last week after failed attempts by Senate Republicans to block his confirmation. Senate Republicans have continued to block well-qualified nominees like Perez from being confirmed to important offices, especially Dawn Johnsen’s nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel.
Sign the PFAW petition to confirm Dawn Johnson so that she too can restore justice at the Justice Department.
In a disappointing move, Attorney General Eric Holder has decided not to prosecute former head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division and interim U.S. Attorney Bradley Schlozman for lying to Congress, instead giving deference to the decision of the Bush Administration. Operatives like Schlozman led to the massive politicization of the Justice Department during the years of the Bush Administration and created an atmosphere of distrust by the very citizens the DOJ was meant to protect.
During Schlozman’s testimony to the Senate in 2007, he repeatedly evaded questions regarding his actions, including hiring practices during his tenure. Furthermore, Schlozman repeatedly refused to take responsibility for the Civil Rights Division’s failure to fully investigate thousands of claims of disenfranchisement during elections, instead choosing to pursue unmeritorious claims of voter fraud in key battleground states.
Because of such politicization by operatives like Schlozman, People For the American Way Foundation and numerous other civil rights and voting rights organizations were forced to defend the rights of voters across the country and protect them from disenfranchising tactics such as voter ID laws and overly stringent registration policies. Fortunately, massive mobilization efforts like the Election Protection program were able to help meet this challenge, but it should not have to been our responsibility to protect voters from their own Department of Justice.
While we understand the desire of Attorney General Holder to move forward and applaud his steps to reinvigorate the Civil Rights Division and eliminate the tarnish left by the previous Administration, we should not allow bad acts to go unpunished. It is clear that Schlozman perjured himself during his testimony to the Senate, as concluded by the Office of Professional Responsibility’s internal report. The American people deserve justice and we had hoped that bad actors such as Schlozman would be prosecuted as a testament to the American public that the DOJ will no longer play politics with justice.