memorial

A Call to Action: Restore Equal Employment Opportunities in America

Saturday was the 70th anniversary of President Roosevelt’s issuance of Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial discrimination by defense contractors. Last week, Congressman Bobby Scott hosted a press conference and briefing in honor of the anniversary of this event, which marked the first time a U.S. president had acted to combat discrimination by private employers who were using federal taxpayer money. Future presidents expanded on President Roosevelt’s action and added to its protections.

However, this was more than just a celebratory event of an important civil rights milestone: it was a call to action to correct an erosion of equal employment opportunity law that has been in effect since 2002. That’s when President Bush signed an Executive Order that made discrimination on the basis of religion by faith-based organizations using federal taxpayer money legal. In so doing, he reversed our nation’s continuous expansion of the promise of equal protection and opened a gaping hole in our nation’s civil rights protections. Religious entities had always been able to discriminate based on religion using their own money, but never to use taxpayer money to do so.

All the panelists were united in asking President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise of restoring the law. On the panel were: Congressman Bobby Scott (convener of the event); Congressman Jerrold Nadler; Professor Eric Arnesen (professor of history at George Washington University and biographer of civil rights and labor leader A. Philip Randolph, whose activism prompted FDR’s executive order); Rabbi David Saperstein (Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and also a board member of our affiliated People For the American Way Foundation); Barbara Arnwine (Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law); Hilary Shelton (Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau); and Rev. Dr. Paul L. Brown, Sr. (Pastor of Miles Memorial CME Church and member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action).

Among other things, speakers discussed how employment discrimination harms the victims and society as a whole; warned that religion can easily be used as a proxy for race, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity; condemned discrimination paid for by the tax dollars of its victims; asked why the religion of someone ladling out soup for the hungry should matter; and warned of the dangerous consequences to churches that want to retain federal funding they have become dependent on. As the last speaker, Rev. Dr. Brown opened a window into his daily work helping the hungry and the homeless, the “least and the lost,” and strongly condemned federally funded discrimination.

When he was running for President, then-Senator Obama promised to reverse President Bush’s policy, but he has yet to do so. What better time than the anniversary of the issuance of Executive Order 8802 for President Obama to put our nation back on the right road and restore through executive order the prohibition against federally funded discrimination? Yesterday, People For the American Way and African American Ministers In Action joined more than 50 other civil rights and religious organizations asking him to do just that.

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Japanese American Groups Supporting American Muslims in Fight Against Discrimination

The Washington Post today reports on the work some Japanese American groups are doing to support American Muslims, who are increasingly the objects of widespread fear and suspicion because of their faith. These groups see echoes of the persecution Japanese Americans faced during World War II in the scapegoating and vilification of American Muslims, exemplified by the congressional hearings Rep. Peter King is beginning this week:

Spurred by memories of the World War II-era roundup and internment of 110,000 of their own people, Japanese Americans - especially those on the West Coast - have been among the most vocal and passionate supporters of embattled Muslims. They've rallied public support against hate crimes at mosques, signed on to legal briefs opposing the government's indefinite detention of Muslims, organized cross-cultural trips to the Manzanar internment camp memorial near the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, and held "Bridging Communities" workshops in Islamic schools and on college campuses.

Last week, Rep. Michael M. Honda (D-Calif.), who as a child spent several wartime years living behind barbed wire at Camp Amache in southeastern Colorado, denounced King's hearings as "something similarly sinister."

"Rep. King's intent seems clear: To cast suspicion upon all Muslim Americans and to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia," Honda wrote in an op-ed published by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Last November, in the heat of the debate over the Park51 Islamic community center in lower Manhattan (aka the “Ground Zero Mosque”), former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens spoke [pdf] about the parallel between the prejudice Japanese Americans faced during World War II the demonization that American Muslims are facing today. Stevens, a WWII veteran, recalled a visit to Pearl Harbor in 1994, when he spotted a group of Japanese tourists and had to fight his first reaction, which was that “those people really don’t belong here”:

But then, after a period of reflection, some of those New Yorkers may have had second thoughts, just as I did at the Arizona. The Japanese tourists were not responsible for what some of their countrymen did decades ago; the Muslims planning to build the mosque are not responsible for what an entirely different group of Muslims did on 9/11. Indeed, terrorists like those who killed over 3, 000 Americans -including Catholics , Jews , Protestants, atheists and some of the 600 ,000 Muslims who live in New York -have also killed many more Muslims who disagree with their radical views in other parts of the world. Many of the Muslims who pray in New York mosques may well have come to America to escape the intolerance of radicals like those who dominate the Taliban. Descendants of pilgrims who came to America in the 17th century to escape religious persecutions -as well as those who thereafter joined the American political experiment that those people of faith helped launch -should understand why American Muslims should enjoy the freedom to build their places of worship wherever permitted by local zoning laws.

Our Constitution protects everyone of us from being found guilty of wrongdoing based on the conduct of our associates. Guilt by association is unfair. The monument teaches us that it is also profoundly unwise to draw inferences based on a person's membership in any association or group without first learning something about the group. Its message is a powerful reminder of the fact that ignorance -that is to say, fear of the unknown -is the source of most invidious prejudice.


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This is what a "non-political" event looks like?

Glenn Beck has said repeatedly that his "Restoring Honor" rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial today would be "non-political." To people who showed up in the crowd or listened to any of the speeches… well, let's just say that claim didn't exactly hold up.

Sarah Palin used her speaking slot to criticize President Obama and Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King who has become a spokesperson for right-wing causes, made her opinions quite clear on issues from same-sex marriage to prayer in public schools.

See more coverage of the "Restore Honor" event at RightWingWatch.org.

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Claiming the Dream: Notes from Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" Event

I wasn't able to stay for all of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally today (I missed Sarah Palin) but I was able to stop by for a significant chunk of the event.  And what an event it was.

There were a lot of people there.  Walking down from the mall, people were streaming in steadily for some time.  Once I got to the base of the Washington monument and looked down to the Lincoln Memorial, it really hit home.  There were thousands of people, filling up the area surrounding the Reflecting Pool up to the World War II Memorial, with more people camped out on the slope running up to where I was.



From my view, it was a slightly sickening distortion of the 1963 March on Washington: thousands of people praising diversity and freedom, unconcerned about their vitriol against our first African American president or about the vanishingly small number of people of color in the crowd.

But if I thought the rally was an affront to Dr. King's vision, the crowd was convinced that they represented its fulfillment.  King's name was invoked over and over again, and Beck and the other speakers repeatedly portrayed themselves as following in his footsteps.  I'm firmly convinced that few, if any, members of the crowd saw anything questionable about claiming King's legacy.

Beck's request that no one bring signs to the event was mostly followed, but I did find one gentleman walking towards the event with a Christian Flag.



Another couple had a sign calling for "One Nation Back to God."



And this person was displaying a flag of his own design, available for sale at FreedomFlag2012.com.



One of the most interesting things I saw were stickers that read "I Can See November From My House, Too!" sponsored by GOPride.org.  After seeing several people wearing the stickers, I asked where they came from.  They were being handed out at the Metro, and no one seemed to be aware they were sponsored by a conservative gay group.

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At a Crossroads

This past Sunday as I was waiting to go on Fox News to talk about the importance of the upcoming debate about the kind of Supreme Court Americans wanted, I had an extra few minutes to walk around the Capitol Hill area near the studio. As I was thinking about one of my key points – that we need a Justice who will keep faith with a Constitution that has been amended by generations of Americans to make sure that “We the people” means “all the people” -  across my blackberry, came word that Attorney General Holder had just said on one of the morning news shows that he wanted Congress to consider modifying the Miranda rule to permit the government to interrogate citizens and legal aliens suspected of being involved in terrorism without advising them of their constitutional right to a lawyer and of their constitutional right not to incriminate themselves. 

Now, I understand that these are troubled and scary times and that Americans understandably fear for their own safety as well as that of their loved ones. The attempted bombing in Times Square certainly was a wake up call.  But, my gut told me that this was a bridge too far – that if we surrender the core constitutional values that make us and our democracy unique in the world, we are left with very little. As hard as it is sometimes, we really do need to make sure that “all the people” and not just some are protected by the Constitution.  

And, as I was pondering this critical crossroads that we find ourselves at as a nation – I came upon the most eloquent reminder of how crucial it is to keep faith with these core constitutional values. It was the small park, near the corner of North Capitol Street and Louisiana Ave that houses the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism during World War II. The memorial was created as a tribute to brave Japanese Americans who fought for this country – and for our democracy – during World War II, despite that fact that their families and loved ones had been stripped of their homes and their belongings and were being kept in internment camps because of (what legislation passed by Congress and signed by Ronald Reagan in 1988 called) “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”  The shame of that moment in our history – capped by the Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Korematsu v. United States – should serve as a potent reminder to us of how important it is to keep faith with our core values and who we are as Americans. 

My humble advice – let’s step back, take a deep breath, and think long and hard before we take steps that we will regret in the future.

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Republican Silence in the Face of More Rush Outrage

Rush Limbaugh is at it again, this time with his glaringly offensive - and tasteless - reference to Senator Kennedy's health. I'm sure you've seen the comment:  "Before it's all over, it'll be called the Ted Kennedy memorial health care bill."  Well, Politico's just up with this post about the deafening silence so far from the GOP's top leaders:  House Minority Leader John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and RNC Chair Michael Steele: http://www.politico.com/blogs/glennthrush/0309/GOP_silent_on_Rushs_Kennedy_slap.html?showall  Wonder when -- or, more likely,  if -- we'll ever hear anything from these folks?

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“Angry” Al Franken

In his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Al Franken recalls an episode in Paul Wellstone’s 2002 run for re-election when, prior to his untimely death, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) ran an ad called “Pork” that savaged Wellstone for voting “to spend thousands of dollars to control seaweed in Maui.”

The implication, as Franken pointed out, was that Wellstone had “prioritized seaweed control over national defense.” The only problem was that while Wellstone had in fact voted for the legislation, so did “Strom Thurmond, Trent Lott and 84 other senators. That bill did appropriate the seaweed control spending—but it also provided $21 billion for veterans' health care, $27 billion for veterans' compensation and pensions, and block grants to assist New York City's recovery from 9/11.”

When Wellstone’s son David confronted then NRSC-chair Bill Frist about the ad at his father’s memorial service, Frist declared that “it wasn't personal,” to which David responded "'My dad took it personal.” 

And so it is only fitting that this time around, with Franken running against Norm Coleman, the man on whose behalf the NRSC ran that original ad, they would again stoop to such tricks.  

Take a look at this ad the NRSC is running against Franken – especially the clip playing in the background of a screaming Franken while the narrator declares him prone to “violent outbursts” around the fifteen second mark:

Now take a look at this video from the Franken campaign explaining the history of that clip:

That’s right, the NRSC took clip of Franken telling this anecdote about Paul Wellstone and his son, stripped it of its context and then used it to try and portray Franken as dangerously unhinged.  

I was reminded of this today when I stumbled upon this “breaking news” piece from Minnesota Democrats Exposed that recounts how, after a recent debate, Franken supposedly attacked Norm Coleman and to be all but dragged away from him:

According to dedicated readers of Minnesota Democrats Exposed who were at tonight’s U.S. Senate debate in Duluth, Al Franken got in U.S. Senator Norm Coleman face as soon as the microphones were off at the end of the debate.

My sources said that Franken was very upset and was speaking with a raised voice.  Mrs. Franken reportedly ran on stage to get Franken away from Coleman … Franken, visibly upset, continues to get in Senator Coleman’s face.  Franken is seen on film staring Coleman down as he finally recognizes that Mrs. Franken is trying to get his attention.

Wow.  That sounds pretty heated.  I can only imagine what that scene must have been like. Oh wait:

Apparently, talking to your opponent after a debate is the equivalent of being on the verge of a complete meltdown. Maybe next time, Franken should just snub his opponent all together.

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