Yesterday, President Barack Obama joined with the sweeping majority of American Jews in supporting marriage equality for all Americans. Leading Jewish organizations including the NJDC lauded the President's show of support.
"To put it plainly, the vast majority of American Jews are behind the President in support of marriage equality," commented NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris. "In recent decades, many of our community's mainstream institutions have worked to welcome and include gays and lesbians-to the point where it is now a widely accepted norm, with certain Jewish clergy routinely performing same-sex marriages. But perhaps most notably, the recent poll released by the Public Religion Research institute found that at least 81% of American Jews support marriage equality — showing that grassroots American Jewry, our communal institutions, and now the President are united on this important civil rights issue."
A roundup of their statements appears below.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
We enthusiastically welcome President Obama's endorsement today of marriage equality for all couples. History will regard his affirmation of this core right for the LGBT community as a key moment in the advance of civil rights in America. ... Civil marriage has historically connoted social acceptance and the recognition of not just a legal relationship between two individuals, but as the Supreme Court has recognized, is 'the most important relation in life' (Maynard v. Hill); it is 'a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred' (Griswold v. Connecticut). These rights are due no less to same sex couples than heterosexual ones, as the President's comments today acknowledge....
The support of the President on this issue is particularly meaningful to us as Jews. Our holy texts teach us that all people are created b'tselem Elohim (in the Divine image) (Gen. 1:27), and as such are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. We are inspired by our faith and history to stand up for the rights of LGBT Americans, including civil marriage, for we have known the experience of being victims of group hatred, persecution, and discrimination. We feel a keen empathy for those who are still be victimized, deprived of opportunities, and discriminated against because of who they are.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
We are gratified to know that President Obama has said publicly what so many of us have known for some time — that civil marriage is a basic civil right. It should not be denied to anyone. We stand firm in our belief that civil marriage, which is not bound by halacha [Jewish law] but conveys many civil rights and privileges, should be open to all. That comes from our belief that human beings are created b'tzelem Elohim — in God's image — and therefore have an inherent dignity.
Keshet, which works to "ensure that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews are fully included in all parts of the Jewish community" sent the tweet on the right.
Women are losing ground in many states on the reproductive rights front. Indeed, women are at risk of losing the choice of whether or not to become mothers by banning common forms of birth control, fertility treatment like in-vitro fertilization, and all abortions (even in case of rape).
Last month, the Senate voted down a bill that would have allowed employers to deny women coverage for birth control and any "objectionable" medical service, possibly even flu shots. Senators Roy Blunt and Marco Rubio's amendment would have allowed any employer — not religious institutions, because they are already exempt — to make this call on behalf of their female employees. That means a woman's boss at a restaurant, retail store, law firm or anywhere would have control over what health care she could receive. After an hour during which he was on the record opposed to it, Mitt Romney said, in typical flip flop fashion, "Of course I support that amendment." Of course he does. And we can thank him for paving the way — he also said he would have supported a "personhood" amendment in Massachusetts, which could have banned abortion in any circumstance, some contraception, and even fertility treatments like IVF.
In the video on the right, Dr. Mildred Hanson explains how she and other U.S. doctors worked around the law to provide abortions before the procedure was legalized in 1973 through Roe v. Wade. We don't want to have to go back to this.
From the very beginning of his administration, President Obama has worked to ensure that women are paid fairly for their work. The President is committed to securing equal pay for equal work because it's a matter of fair play, and because American families and the health of our nation's economy depends on it. April 17 was Equal Pay Day, which marks the fact that, nearly 50 years since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the average woman still has to work well into the calendar year to earn what the average man earned last year.
In conjunction with Equal Pay Day:
The White House released the Equal Pay Task Force Accomplishments Report: Fighting for Fair Pay in the Workplace. The Equal Pay Task Force brings together the best expertise of professionals at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor and the Office of Personnel Management, who work daily to combat pay discrimination in the workplace. The report details the significant progress that the Task Force has made to fight pay discrimination - including improving inter-agency coordination and collaboration to ensure that the full weight of the federal government is focused on closing the gender pay gap once and for all.
Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis announced the winners of the Equal Pay App Challenge. In January of this year, the Department of Labor, in conjunction with the Equal Pay Task Force, launched this challenge, inviting software developers to use publicly available data and resources to create applications that accomplish at least one of the following goals: provide greater access to pay data organized by gender, race, and ethnicity; provide interactive tools for early career coaching or online mentoring or to help inform negotiations. A solution to the pay gap has been elusive, in part because access to basic information — e.g., typical salary ranges and skill level requirements for particular positions, advice on how to negotiate appropriate pay — is limited. Because of the enthusiastic response to the Equal Pay App Challenge and the creative apps that were developed, anyone with a smartphone, tablet or computer can access answers to these basic, but important, questions. This challenge represents just one more way that women can empower themselves with the tools they need to make sure they get equal pay for equal work.
Finally, in an ongoing effort to educate employees and employers about their rights and responsibilities under our nation's equal pay laws, the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau today published two brochures that will help educate employees regarding their rights under the existing equal pay laws and enable employers to understand their obligations.
From signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to creating the National Equal Pay Task Force, to proposing minimum wage and overtime protections for home-care workers - 90% of whom are women - President Obama has made clear his belief that there should be no second class citizens in our workplaces and that making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone.
If only women had a coupon like this, they wouldn't suffer from the wage gap!
On April 26, the United States Senate passed S. 1925, a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), by a vote of 68 to 31. S. 1925, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011, introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), ensures a continued federal government response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking while making significant improvements to the law. To celebrate the passage of this critical legislation, Jewish Women International (JWI) Executive Director Lori Weinstein released the following statement:
The Violence Against Women Act is a historic law that has benefited millions of women across the country. Today, the Senate passed a strong, bipartisan reauthorization bill and sent a strong message to victims of violence throughout the country: You are not forgotten. This bill not only continues VAWA's successful programs and services for another five years but also improves access to services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and immigrant victims, and gives American Indian women equal access to justice.
For the last two years, JWI has worked closely with our colleagues on the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women and our allies on Capitol Hill to pass a reauthorization bill that strengthens and improves VAWA. After today's victory, we turn our attention to the House of Representatives and call on them to renew and strengthen this lifesaving legislation in a bipartisan manner.
Barbara Weinstein, Legislative Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
Since its enactment in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has been an invaluable tool for preventing, investigating, and prosecuting violent crimes targeting women. Studies have shown that incidents of domestic violence have decreased as more women report attacks and law enforcement has improved its investigation and prosecution of the crimes.
The bipartisan Senate vote reauthorizing VAWA will help continue this trend, providing better tools to train law enforcement and victim service providers, focus attention on addressing the high rate of violence in the tribal and LGBT communities, and redirect funds to the most effective programs.
Even as Maimonides reminded men of the imperative to treat women with honor and respect (Sefer Nashim 15:19), our Jewish sages recognized that violence comes in forms that are both physical and emotional. The Violence Against Women Act helps prevent and respond to such tragedies when they occur and is worthy of reauthorization. We call on the House to follow the Senate's lead and swiftly pass the Violence Against Women Act.
Viral Music Video That Every Women (and Man) Should Watch
The video Bad Romance: Women's Suffrage is Soomo Publishing's moving music video parody of Lady Gaga. The video pays homage to Alice Paul and the generations of brave women who joined together in the fight to pass the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote in 1920. (See Lyrics)
This Sunday is Mother's Day when we honor the women in our lives.
However, in politics, the place of women can not be taken for granted. Just as our matriarchs fought for Women's suffrage a hundred years ago, we must continue to fight to ensure the women in our lives the same rights that men enjoy.
Today, the gender war is being fought at a fevered pitch. As I see it there is action on at least three fronts:
Women made gains on the front for pay equality.
Women held off an assault on the Violence Against Women Act.
Women are losing ground in many states on the reproductive rights front.
Indeed, women are at risk of losing the choice of whether or not to become mothers by banning common forms of birth control, fertility treatment like in-vitro fertilization, and all abortions (even in case of rape).
Over the days leading up to Mother's Day, we will publish a series of report showing the progress women are achieving and the setbacks women are contending with on each front.
JCC Rockland's petition on change.org is over 23,000 signatures strong and is far from over. The petition, started on April 13, 2012, asks for a Minute of Silence at the London Olympic Games and at every game thereafter for the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches killed by terrorists at the Olympic Village in Munich in 1972. The Munich 11 families have been asking for this honor in memory of their loved ones for 40 years. For 40 years the IOC has denied their request.
Yesterday, Emmanuelle Moreau, IOC head of media relations, told the Post, "The IOC has paid tribute to the memory of the athletes who tragically died in Munich in 1972 on several occasions and will continue to do so. However, we do not foresee any commemoration during the opening ceremony of the London Games."
Ankie Spitzer (wife of fencing Coach Andrei Spitzer, one of the Munich 11) who started the petition with JCC Rockland had this to say, "I have not received any official response from the IOC. This is far from over. I continue to move forward in my pursuit for the honor my husband and the other men deserve. These men were Olympians and should be given this honor IN the Olympic Stadium not just outside of it."
As Congress debates the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act — which has been passed and reauthorized with bipartisan support several times since it's inception in 1994 — prominent Democrats marked April 17 as "Equal Pay Day," recognizing the importance of continuing to fight for gender equality in the workplace. Several leading Democrats issued statements and penned op-eds in order to raise awareness of the issue, as well as the larger fight for women's rights.
Democratic National Committee Chair Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said:
President Obama and Democrats understand that equal pay is so important for women and their families that one of the first pieces of legislation Democrats passed in 2009 and the first bill the President signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act ensures that women can fight for equal pay for equal work, and on National Equal Pay Day we celebrate our continued fight for economic equality, regardless of gender.
The President's commitment to women is in stark contrast to Mitt Romney and the GOP's attitude toward equal pay for women. While Democrats and the President were making equal pay for equal work a priority, nearly every Republican in the House and Senate voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who Mitt Romney has called a 'hero,' recently repealed that state's fair pay law; and Mitt Romney refuses to say if he would have signed Lilly Ledbetter had he been president at the time. His campaign on a conference call last week couldn't even articulate a response when asked his position on the law....
On Equal Pay Day women can rest assured that Democrats and President Obama will continue the fight for equal pay for equal work and will fight for their right to make health care choices for themselves and their families. It's a shame that Mitt Romney and Republicans can't say the same thing.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — the first female speaker in American history — also said:
I'm proud of the accomplishments of the Democratic-led Congress on behalf of equal pay and fairness. The Lilly Ledbetter Act-the first bill President Obama signed into law-restored the right of women and other workers to challenge unfair pay in court. Further, under the Affordable Care Act, soon women will no longer be charged higher premiums than men for the same coverage and no longer will being a woman be treated as a pre-existing condition.
On Equal Pay Day, we honor all of our nation's women, who through their labor - at home and in the workplace - have made our country strong. And we recommit to opening the doors of opportunity for the next generation of women.
Graph of pay gap by profession, a map of pay gap by state, and op/eds by Senators Gillibrand and Boxer follow the jump.
Today, House Republicans unveiled their new budget that — like their budget from last year — fails to address America's budget needs responsibly or preserve vital social safety net programs.
Last year, several Jewish community organizations and leaders expressed deep concern about the Republicans' budget proposals. The GOP's budget this year contains similar policies that only amplify the Republican Party's message that it does not support the programs supported by the mainstream of the American Jewish community.
Indeed, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's Associate Director Mark Pelavin said:
As an affirmation of our national priorities, the budget is inherently and inescapably a moral document. We support, and have long supported, a federal budget that reflects our solemn moral obligation to guard the most vulnerable in our society. House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), however, has chosen a different path. By ending the entitlement status of Medicaid and Medicare, fundamentally altering the tax system, and slashing spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and education programs, the Ryan plan would turn our backs on our obligation to care for all Americans.
The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) recently denied the Robert M. Beren Academy of Houston's request to reschedule semi-final basketball playoff game start times, which conflict with the Jewish Sabbath. In response, the URJ's Rabbi Rick Jacobs sent TAPPS the following letter:
On behalf of the more than 900 congregations of the Union for Reform Judaism and 1.5 million Reform Jews across North America, I write to strongly encourage the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) to allow the Robert M. Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish school located in Houston, to compete in the semi-finals of the statewide boys' basketball tournament for private and parochial schools.
As you are well aware, the accomplishment of winning their regional game gives the Beren Academy basketball team the right to compete in the semi-finals, which are currently scheduled for Friday, March 2 and Saturday, March 3. These games are to be played during the Jewish Sabbath, one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar.
The TAPPS Athletic Regulations concerning playoffs states that the date and time of regional, semi-final and final games can be changed only by the action of the TAPPS Executive Board. Asking the Beren Academy team to choose between observing their faith and participating in a game which they have rightfully qualified for sends the message that TAPPS values the religious convictions of Beren Academy less than other member schools.
Mr. Burleson, I hope you understand the principle at stake here. What message would be sent to these scholar/athletes if they were forced to choose between their faith and their athletic goals? And what a powerful message TAPPS could send by finding an accommodation which would allow Beren to compete. Only the later choice would be true to our shared American heritage of religious freedom.
Rabbi David Saperstein: "The government has a compelling interest of the first order in ensuring that all individuals are able to access necessary services."
— Sean Thibault or Katharine Nasielski
Bishop William Lori, representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, testified at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Relations Hearing entitled, "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" In it, he analogized the government mandate that most employers must cover birth control, without co-pay, to a hypothetical situation in which a kosher restaurant would be mandated to include pork on the menu because of its health benefits. Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement in response:
Today, an all male 'witness' panel was allowed to speak at the GOP's hearing examining the Obama administration's new regulation requiring employers and insurers to provide contraception coverage to employees. When Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke was presented to testify on behalf of the Minority, she was shown the door. She would have been the only female voice speaking on behalf of the millions of women who support access to birth control. Here is the basis of her testimony, had she been allowed to speak.
Bishop Lori chose to use a vivid and unusual analogy between religious employers providing comprehensive health care coverage to their employees and kosher delis being forced by government to sell pork on the grounds that pork is good for you. While I appreciate the humor and creativity of this analogy that sought to raise important issues of balancing free exercise of religion against other compelling government interests, picturesque analogies are not always the most effective or accurate. Unfortunately, this analogy is flawed in ways that obscure rather than illuminate the important moral, religious and legal issues involved.
First, the government's interests in the functioning of the health care system are manifestly far greater than mandating stores sell a particular healthy food, pork or otherwise, and the analogy unintentionally trivializes the need to ensure all Americans have access to quality healthcare in a manner that does not discriminate against women. Indeed, every individual partakes of the health care system at some point in his or her life - whether it is in the process of birth, death or points in-between. That care is paid for by the individual or the public; either directly or through some form of private or public insurance. As such, the government has a compelling interest of the first order in ensuring that all individuals are able to access necessary services. In contrast, no one needs to eat in a particular restaurant and no one needs to eat one particular form of (assumed) healthy food, pork or otherwise.
— Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Jonathan Stein, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis
We commend the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals striking down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. While the decision is narrow, it is nonetheless an important step forward in the achievement of marriage equality. As the purveyor of civil marriage, government should embrace an inclusive definition of marriage that establishes equality for all couples, regardless of the sex of the people involved.
Our holy texts teach us that all people are created b'tselem Elohim (in the Divine image) (Gen. 1:27), and as such are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. We are inspired by our faith and history to stand up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans, for we have known the experience of being victims of group hatred, persecution, and discrimination. We feel a keen empathy for those who can still be victimized, deprived of opportunities, including the opportunity to marry, because of their identity.
We welcome today's ruling and move forward with renewed resolve as we work toward the day when all Americans will be able to marry the person that they love.
Though the Komen Foundation announced that it would award no new contracts to Planned Parenthood clinics, Brinker denied that Komen was actually "defunding" Planned Parenthood, a technical point based on the fact that a few grants have yet to expire.
This afternoon, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Marla Feldman, Executive Director of the Women of Reform Judaism, sent a letter to Ambassador Nancy Brinker, the founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
We urge you to use your leadership in Komen for the Cure to reinstate funding to PPFA for breast cancer screening, to reconsider the standard by which the organization makes funding decisions, and to continue to fight for the health and lives of women everywhere.
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, with membership of more than 1800 Reform rabbis, I commend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres for speaking out against gender segregation in Israel. We oppose discrimination against any all individual, for the stamp of the Divine is imprinted on the souls of each and every one of us. For anyone to be discriminated against on the basis of one's gender, or to justify discrimination in the civil sphere based on one's interpretation of a religion's law is unacceptable.
Cartoon reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen www.DryBonesBlog.blogspot.com.
Proud of "hardest-hitting" sanctions on Iran expected to be signed into law soon
Obama says his administration has led fight against delegitimization
Before the speech, Obama met on the sidelines of the conference with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who had already spoke at the convention, for about a half hour.
Transcript of Remarks by President Barack Obama
I am honored to be here because of the proud history and tradition of the Union for Reform Judaism, representing more than 900 congregations, around 1.5 million American Jews.
I want to congratulate all of you on the golden anniversary of the Religious Action Center. As Eric mentioned, When President Kennedy spoke to leaders from the RAC in 1961, I was three months old, so my memory is a bit hazy. But I am very familiar with the work that you've done ever since, and so is the rest of America.
And that's because you helped draft the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. You helped to liberate Soviet Jews. You have made a difference on so many of the defining issues of the last half-century. And without these efforts, I probably wouldn't be standing here today. So thank you. Thank you. You have brought to life your faith and your values, and the world is a better place for it.
Now, since my daughter Malia has reached the age where it seems like there's always a Bar or Bat Mitzvah every weekend, and there is quite a bit of negotiations around the skirts that she wears at these Bat Mitzvahs — (laughter) — do you guys have these conversations as well? (Laughter.) All right. I just wanted to be clear it wasn't just me. (Laughter.) What time you get home.
As a consequence, she's become the family expert on Jewish tradition. And if there's one thing I've learned from her, it's that it never hurts to begin a speech by discussing the Torah portion. It doesn't hurt.
So this week congregations around the world will retell the story of Joseph. As any fan of Broadway musicals will tell you, there is a lot going on in this reading. But many scholars have focused on a single word that Joseph uses when he replies to his father Jacob.
In Hebrew, that word is hineni. It translates to "Here I am." Hineni. It's the same word Abraham uses to reply to God before the binding of Isaac. It's the same word Moses uses when God summons him from the burning bush. Hineni. The text is telling us that while Joseph does not know what lies ahead, he is ready to answer the call.
In this case, "hineni" leads Joseph to Egypt. It sets in motion a story of enslavement and exodus that would come to inspire leaders like Martin Luther King as they sought freedom. It's a story of persecution and perseverance that has repeated itself from Inquisition-era Spain to Tsarist Russia to Hitler's Germany.
And in that often-tragic history, this place, America, stands out. Now, we can't whitewash the past. Like so many ethnic groups, Jews faced prejudice, and sometimes violence, as they sought their piece of the American Dream. But here, Jews finally found a place where their faith was protected; where hard work and responsibility paid off; where no matter who you were or where you came from, you could make it if you tried. Here in America, you really could build a better life for your children.
I know how much that story means to many of you, because I know how much that story means to me. My father was from Kenya; my mother was from Kansas — not places with a large Jewish community. But when my Jewish friends tell me about their ancestors, I feel a connection. I know what it's like to think, "Only in America is my story even possible."
This week Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and other members of the RAC staff, is taking the Food Stamp Challenge. Part of "Fighting Poverty with Faith's" initiative to focus people of faith on issues of economic justice and the need to sustain vital social safety net programs, Food Stamp Challenge participants live for seven days on the standard weekly food stamp allotment of $31.50. Rabbi Saperstein will participate in the Challenge from October 27th through November 2nd, joining a half dozen prominent Jewish leaders and ten Members of Congress in this effort to call attention to anti-hunger programs and educate the faith community on the plight of hunger.
We are honored to be able to participate in the Food Stamp Challenge, and experience even for a brief time the ongoing struggle of the millions of Americans nationwide who are confronting hunger on a daily basis. We have long advocated for anti-hunger programs, like SNAP and WIC that meet the needs of the 49 million food-insecure Americans but the Challenge places in stark relief how difficult it is to obtain enough food and nutritious food on a food stamp budget - and why we must do better as a nation.
Jewish tradition teaches that feeding the hungry is a vital responsibility. The Midrash says:
When you are asked in the world to come, 'What was your work?' and you answer: 'I fed the hungry,' you will be told: 'This is the gate of God, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry.'
Participating in the Food Stamp Challenge will not, by itself, end hunger in America; that will take a sustained commitment by our nation and its leaders. To that end, we are hopeful that our participation in the Food Stamp Challenge this week will inspire others to advocate for policies addressing families and individuals who confront hunger nationwide. During these difficult economic times, easing the burden on those who are most vulnerable must be our number one priority.
All members of our congregations are being called to register online, and join us in the Food Stamp Challenge and use it as an opportunity to educate your synagogue and community.
Other food stamp challenge participants are listed after the jump.
by Mark Pelavin, Associate Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
We are disappointed by today's Supreme Court decision depriving more than one million current and former female Wal-Mart employees of their right to sue the company in a class action lawsuit. Although all nine justices agreed on a technicality about the way the class was certified, a narrow majority of five justices was willing to go even further and assert that the female employees do not have enough in common to sue as a class. We find this analysis troubling because it suggests that a large employer such as Wal-Mart can escape accountability simply because the sheer size of its workforce makes it difficult to ascertain commonality. We believe the plaintiffs presented clear evidence of a disturbing pattern of gender-based pay and promotion discrimination at Wal-Mart that should have qualified them to sue as a class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
-- Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
We commend the Senate for standing up for women's health and rejecting a bill that would have denied all federal funds to Planned Parenthood, a vital health care service provider. Each year, Planned Parenthood's network of more than 800 clinics nationwide provides nearly one million cervical cancer screenings, 830,000 breast exams, affordable birth control for nearly 2.5 million patients, and nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV testing. Revoking Planned Parenthood's federal funding would have disastrous consequences for all of these services and would not change a fact that has endured for decades: that no federal funds, received by Planned Parenthood or any other organization, can be used for abortion services.
The Senate's action was especially heartening given that the same bill passed the House of Representatives earlier in the day. We have repeatedly condemned such attempts in the House to undermine women's access to critical health care services, including abortion. These attempts violate the U.S. Constitution and core principles of Jewish tradition, which affirms society's obligations to ensure access to health care and the rights of women to make moral decisions about their own bodies and their own reproductive health. Women are commanded to care for their health and well-being above all else, and society is commanded to provide health care for its most vulnerable residents. These dual obligations compel us to advocate for broad access to affordable reproductive health care and support Planned Parenthood in its efforts to reach millions of under-served men and women.
We call on the House to stop its relentless attacks on reproductive choice and women's health, beginning with an end to the campaign to de-fund Planned Parenthood.
Statement from Planned Parenthood follows the jump.
This week, GOP House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) proposed 2012 budget will become the basis for negotiations between Congressional Republicans and President Barack Obama. Ryan's budget effectively cuts off bubbie, zadie, and the neediest among us from the social safety net that enables America's seniors - along with women, children, and working families - to live dignified and secure lives.
Ryan's GOP budget contains deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and other vital social safety net programs including food stamps, Pell grants, and housing aid. It even contains a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act - Obama's health care reform package - which is on track to help millions of Americans receive better health care while cutting the deficit.
A budget is more than just a fiscal spreadsheet - it's a statement of our values. And we need your help to defend our Jewish values! Take a look at what leaders from the American Jewish community have said about this GOP budget and then take action! (You can click each name to read more about Ryan's GOP budget and its negative consequences.)
"Anyone can cut the budget by arbitrarily capping programs. The real challenge we face is to reduce the deficit without decimating help for the neediest among us, or making retirement impossible for the next generation." - B'nai B'rith interim President Alan J. Jacobs
JTA also reported Representative Howard Berman's (D-CA) reaction to the impact that Ryan's proposed budget cuts would have on foreign aid — which could pose significant risks for Israel. Berman "said the proposal, which would slash the international affairs budget by 40 percent, sets 'a new standard for recklessness and irresponsibility.'" Berman also dubbed the plan "a slap in the face" to military leaders, who have "long argued time and again that diplomacy and development are key pillars of U.S. national security."
-- Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Wednesday's votes on Capitol Hill show us that it is possible to win the battle for clean air, but also how hard that battle will be.
We commend the Senate for voting against measures to prevent the EPA from doing its job of protecting the public from air pollution. At the same time, we are greatly disappointed by the House vote to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.
Over the 41 years since it was first enacted, the Clean Air Act has contributed to improving our air quality, saving and enhancing untold lives that would otherwise have suffered with respiratory and other pollution-related ailments such as asthma, heart and lung disease.
Despite these successes, some in Congress are determined to strip the EPA of its ability to regulate greenhouses gases under the Clean Air Act; putting polluters ahead of people. The Senate's vote should be the start of an effort to ensure stronger energy and environmental policies - not a weakening of the laws that have been a keystone of American environmental and human health.
These attempts to undermine the Clean Air Act are an affront to the values and teachings that inspire us as Jews, chief among them the knowledge that it is our responsibility to till and tend the earth and not to exploit it. Now is the time to come together and urge, in the strongest possible terms, that Congress and the President enact and enforce effective energy and environmental policies, for ourselves and our children's future.
-- Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
We welcome yesterday's vote by the House of Representatives against reauthorizing provisions within the Patriot Act that weaken Americans' civil liberties. As the 2003 resolution titled Civil Liberties and National Security: Striking the Proper Balance, passed by the Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees pointed out, the Patriot Act included provisions that did not serve our national security interests and were intrusions in our civil liberties. Among these are the provisions voted on yesterday that allow roving wiretaps on surveillance targets, give access to library records and other information, and permit wiretaps of targets not connected to a terrorist organization. Yesterday's bipartisan vote of opposition is hopefully the start of an essential conversation about how to best ensure the safety of our nation while preserving the core values that make America great.
This vote was held under a rules suspension that required a 2/3 vote for passage. While we recognize that the bill will likely be voted on again without a rules suspension, allowing for a simple majority to pass it, we urge the members of the 112th Congress to continue to oppose the reauthorization of these Patriot Act provisions and uphold the liberties that are the pride of our nation.
We commend the Supreme Court for unanimously reversing the Sixth Court of Appeals and upholding the intent of Title VII's anti-retaliation provisions. In Thompson v. North American Stainless, the Court found that Eric Thompson, who was fired in 2002 soon after his fiancée-who worked at the same company-filed a sex discrimination complaint, had the right to sue his employer for retaliation under Title VII. Writing for the Court, Justice Scalia made clear that a worker could reasonably be silenced by fear of retaliation in the form of firing against a fiancé and that such a situation violates essential civil rights protections.
Building on our strong legacy of civil rights advocacy, the Reform Movement was pleased to join an amicus brief coordinated by the National Women's Law Center, urging the Justices to decide the case in Mr. Thompson's favor and ensure the continued vitality of civil rights protections. We welcome the Supreme Court's decision to uphold Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was largely drafted in the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's conference room.
The decision in Thompson v. North American Stainless is particularly heartening given its deviation from the recent trend of Supreme Court decisions prioritizing corporations over individuals.
We praise the justices for discontinuing this disturbing trend and hope to see more decisions recognizing individual rights in the future.
Mark Pelavin, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:
Healthcare supporters are sending this form to Republican Congressmen (all of whom voted to repeal Health Reform) with the message: "Dear Represenative, After your vote to repeal affordable healthcare for 32 million Americans, you should practice what you preach, and cancel your own heavily subsidized federal healthcare, too. For your convenience, the form to do this is below. Thank you."
We are deeply disappointed, though not surprised, by the outcome of yesterday's House vote to repeal last year's landmark health reform law. It is simply incomprehensible that a majority of House members would advocate a complete repeal of the law that saves the government money while extending health insurance to 32 million previously uninsured Americans, prevents insurers from kicking individuals off their coverage when they fall ill, closes the Medicare donut hole, and allows young adults to remain on their parents' insurance plan until age 26.
Maimonides' admonition that every community's most important responsibility is to provide health care to its citizens continues to inspire us today. While we are pleased that the Senate is unlikely to consider this legislation, we nonetheless call on all Members of Congress to focus on legislative priorities that reflect our nation's commitment to life, liberty and happiness - none of which are possible without ensuring the health and well being of every citizen.
David Harris, President of the National Jewish Democratic Council:
The Affordable Care Act made dramatic improvements to our health insurance system — from expanding access to coverage, to lowering costs and preventing discrimination based on pre-existing conditions — which will benefit millions of Americans across the country. Today, the Republican-led House of Representatives took a politically-fueled step in the wrong direction by voting to repeal the legislation for which we all fought so hard. But we can't stop the forward march of progress now.
NJDC believes that every American deserves the right to have access to quality, affordable health care. The Republicans' repeal efforts would greatly limit that access. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pointed out, 'Almost half of all Americans under 65 have pre-existing conditions insurance companies could use as excuses to deny coverage under Republican' plan to repeal health care reform.' This is an unacceptable outcome and one of the many reasons why such a large majority of American Jews refuse to stand with the Republican Party.
"There was a time when filibusters were symbolic of a principled stand...a David standing up to the Goliath. I think Strom Thurmond's filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957 took the sheen of nobility off the filibuster, but what constitutes a filibuster these days is not at all recognizable from the Mr. Smith or the Sen. Thurmond version. And it's clear, looking at this graph that the Republicans have upended the intent of the filibuster rule to basically break down the Senate and launch the virtual rule of the minority." -- Nicole Belle
-- Eric Harris and Jonathan Backer
"When the Senate rules create a status quo where justice is so frequently deferred or denied, the people start to lose faith in our democratic institutions, apathy is engendered, and the health of our democracy is threatened."
-- Rabbi David Saperstein
Rabbi Steven Fox, Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism today released a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to enact sensible filibuster reform when the Senate convenes for a new Session on tomorrow.
The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Senator Reid and Senator McConnell,
On behalf of the 1,800 rabbis of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the national Reform rabbinical association, we write to advocate sensible filibuster reforms.
During the 111th Congress, a challenge to the smooth functioning of democracy, which had been growing evident for some time, came into stark relief. A minority of Senators invoked cloture 63 times-the most of any other Congress, indeed, more than the sum total of instances between the creation of the modern filibuster at the beginning of the 20th century and 1982. Rather than facilitate a cautious and deliberate legislative process, the filibuster in its current incarnation has created gridlock and has weakened the government's ability to respond to the needs of its citizens. In a Dec. 18 letter, 56 Democratic Senators called on you to take steps to curb this abuse of the filibuster. We are encouraged as well that a respected returning Republican Senator, Dan Coats, has also called for reform. We ask you to heed their call, and work together. Reform cannot succeed without bipartisan support.
Let us be clear: the filibuster is a vital and necessary tool of the minority. The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) has consistently opposed attempts to eliminate the right of a minority of Senators to block extreme legislation and nominees. The CCAR has also supported efforts to reduce misuse of the procedural tactic when it occurs. During the 1950s and 1960s, a minority of legislators used the filibuster to prevent civil rights legislation from receiving a vote before the U.S. Senate. For this reason, the CCAR supported successful reform of Senate rules in 1975 to lower the threshold for cloture from a two-thirds to a three-fifths majority.
During the 111th Congress, the filibuster denied the DREAM Act an up or down vote in the Senate. The chamber never even debated legislation addressing climate change because of the mere threat of the filibuster. While many factors were at play, the filibuster or threat thereof diminished the Senate's ability to respond to the needs of unemployed Americans struggling amid a prolonged jobs crisis, led to a health care reform law with fewer cost control mechanisms, and produced Wall Street reform with less ability to address the root causes of the financial meltdown. Dozens of other important issues never came before Congress over the past two years because filibusters consumed so much of the Senate calendar. When the Senate rules create a status quo where justice is so frequently deferred or denied, the people start to lose faith in our democratic institutions, apathy is engendered, and the health of our democracy is threatened.
The ability of a truly dedicated minority to oppose the most extreme instances of legislative excess or of judicial or executive appointments must be preserved. But the current rules have evolved to a point where a 60-vote threshold in the Senate is the norm on important issues, not the exception. Some simple changes currently being considered have the potential to more effectively accomplish the goals the CCAR has long advocated. That is, they could promote a more restrained and responsible use of the filibuster, while preserving minority rights in the Senate:
Continuous debate-a substantial number of senators should be required to sign a petition in order to initiate a filibuster and members should be forced to speak continuously in order to sustain it. The onus should also be on the minority to maintain a filibuster rather than just on the majority to break it.
Eliminating anonymous holds-the filibuster was designed to allow a minority to slow down the legislative process in order to make its case to the public. Anonymous holds accomplish only gridlock, allowing the minority to conceal itself behind a cloak of procedure without justifying its obstruction.
Fewer opportunities to filibuster-the minority currently has the ability to filibuster the initial motion to debate legislation, amendments, and the final vote. Duplicative filibusters clog the Senate calendar and prevent the legislative branch from doing the people's work. The minority should get one opportunity to block a piece of legislation through procedural tactics.
Strengthen the right of the minority to offer amendments-supporters of the filibuster argue that it is a necessary tactic when the majority offers insufficient opportunities to offer amendments. But, currently, more amendments offer more opportunities for filibuster. Allowing each side to offer amendments with a limited amount of time for debating each would circumvent this problem and provide more opportunities for minority input.
We urge you to consider these and other ideas to limit abuse of the filibuster. The cause of social justice depends on a legislative branch that is responsive to the will of the people while mindful of minority rights. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at 202-387-2800.
Rabbi Steven Fox, Chief Executive, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
The Hunger-Free Kids Act has garnered support from the key "red furry monster demographic" but the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism had a mixed reaction.
-- Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director, Religious Action Center
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (S. 3307) addresses a key need for struggling low-income families. In reauthorizing Child Nutrition Programs with $4.5 billion in new funding over ten years, this critical, albeit flawed, legislation ensures that thousands of low-income children will not go hungry during the worst economic conditions in a generation. Moreover, Congress greatly enhanced the nutritional content of these supplemental food programs, which is an important step in the ongoing effort to confront the growing problem of child obesity. We urge the President to quickly sign this essential piece of legislation into law.
Unfortunately, despite its admirable accomplishments, the legislation contains insufficient funds to ensure access to these essential programs. Additionally, Congress chose to fund the bill through a cut to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) benefits-the second such cut this year. By imposing what amounts to a $60 per month cut in SNAP benefits for a family of four, Congress hurts the very families that this legislation is designed to help. Cutting SNAP benefits during the third consecutive year of rising poverty rates negates the positive impact of a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization.
We call on Congress to act immediately to restore SNAP benefits to the level of funding that recipients were told they could rely upon until 2018. We also call on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take any and all administrative steps to increase access to child nutrition programs. Food security is the foundation upon which our nation's future prosperity is built; in a nation of plenty, no American should ever go hungry.
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis, we write to express our support for repeal of the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy. We find disappointing the position espoused that ministering to gays and lesbians would violate religious freedom. We strongly believe that such a repeal need not compromise religious freedom within our armed services, but instead will lead to a stronger, more fair and effective military.
While respecting the complexity and seriousness of the issue, the White House and many current and retired military leaders have recognized the urgency of repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell." Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and General Colin Powell, among others, have expressed their view that the policy should be abandoned. These views reflect the fact that since its inception, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has forced gay and lesbian service members to live their lives in secret, always at risk of losing their ability to serve our country. Almost 14,000 soldiers and sailors have been expelled under the policy. It has been estimated by the GAO that the cost of replacing these service members exceeds $200 million, with a follow up study by an expert commission placing the figure even higher, at $363 million. Particularly in a time of war and recession, these are human and financial resources we cannot afford to squander.
-- Mark J. Pelavin, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
We welcome yesterday's ruling by Judge Virginia Phillips barring the U.S. military from discharging crucial and qualified personnel solely because they have been identified as gay or lesbian. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" forces our service men and women to live their lives in fear, unable to be their true selves, and its abolition is long overdue. Even as Congress and the military pursue their review of the policy, Judge Phillips's ruling makes clear that DADT is unsustainable as a policy and a detriment to our nation's and the world's security.
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