Americans for Democratic Action: Southeast Pennsylvania

ADA Founders Hubert Humphrey & Eleanor Roosevelt
Americans for Democratic Action founders Hubert Humphrey (left) and Eleanor Roosevelt (center) with Adlai Stevenson (right).

— by John Oliver Mason

The Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) held its membership meeting in First Unitarian Church.

Guenevive Norton, chapter President, greeted the members and introduced Don Kusler, National Executive Director of ADA, “a voice for our causes in Washington.” Horton listed ADA’s recent activities, such as the campaign for earned sick leave, coalition work around voter ID legislation, merit selection of judicial candidates, endorsements for candidates in general and primary elections, and school funding and closing.

Don Kusler, National Director of ADA, spoke to the group, saying, “This is a sizeable group of people, dedicated to a single mission. You can get a lot done, and it’s so important that we do this with our chapters and expand our chapter base.” Pointing out that ADA members come from several backgrounds and deal with a variety of issues, Kusler said of the themes the members stood for, “one was equality, we talked about equality of education, equality of representation, equality when it comes to (ending) bias, I think that’s the underlying theme where all interested in.”

More after the jump.
Another theme Kusler found was creating an environment where voters are voting more along the line of their interests…

Many of the other issues that we talk about are aided if you move forward on equality and fix some of the electoral issues we have…There are certain things we’re interested in at ADA nationally, but the most critical thing-the direction we’re heading in in our operations-is that Washington, unfortunately, is not currently a place where we can get much achieved.

(Our politics) are so polarized, and our own voting records show this,” added Kusler. Referring to the “Liberal Quotient” score system of Congress-members, he said, “We’ve been doing it for sixty-five years, higher scores are liberal, lower scores are conservative. Over time, the parties, up until and in through the late ‘eighties and early ‘nineties, there was a lot of diversity in the scores; the Democratic caucus average was in the seventies, the Republican caucus average was in the thirties. They were solidly where you would think they would be.

With the election of Congress in 1994, Kusler added, “The scores go wide, and we were so divided, and it just gets worse and worse with the Tea Party infiltration.” Also, said Kusler, “We’ve become so obsessed with the sound-bite world we live in, trying to get Washington to do something it’s just not going to do, and we’re forgetting our local roots.”

Kusler called for a greater emphasis by ADA on strengthening the chapters and working on more localized campaigns,

and that’s where (ADA’s) chapters come in. It’s so important that you (the members) find out what it is that grew (the chapter), what is it that’s your strength, what it is that you provide to the larger Progressive and Liberal community here is the Philadelphia area, that you can get behind, whether it’s an issue, or a couple of issues, or whether it’s a particular function of advocacy or information, I think it will strengthen both your membership, your contribution to the community, if you can do that as a group. That’s going to really provide an identity when we’re doing coalition work.

State Senator Daylin Leach spoke about state level politics, saying,

The Pennsylvania legislature is going to do what the Pennsylvania legislature likes to do most, which is tell women how to live their lives. We have Senate Bill 3 coming up, which says that women cannot, if they buy health insurance through the exchange (set up under the Obama healthcare plan), buy (insurance) policies that cover abortion, even  with their own money…I debated the chief sponsor of this on television, a guy named Don White, a pleasant enough guy, and  he kept saying, ‘We don’t want taxpayer money going to abortions.’ That’s already the law. This does not do that, this goes a step further.

Think about what the bill does. At the end of the day, it requires people who want coverage for abortions to buy a health policy through the exchange, and then go outside the exchange and buy a second health care policy that mostly covers abortion. What insurance company is going to offer a policy that totally covers abortion? Putting the issue of abortion aside,  that’s how insurance works, spreading the risk over a large group of people for a variety of things. It’s like saying, ‘I’d like to buy an insurance policy that covers kidney stones,’ who’s going to do that? …Even if there was such a policy, what woman is going to go in and say, ‘I need to buy some abortion coverage.’ Most people don’t believe they’ll need that coverage, that’s why we don’t have individual insurance policies for individual things that can’t predict they’re going to have. It’s a crazy idea, and that’s what the Pennsylvania legislature loves doing.

Another bill coming up in the legislature, said Leach, is the contraception bill,

what I call the ‘ask your boss bill.’ This bill says that bosses can opt out of providing their employees, if it violates their conscience, with contraception coverage. If you’re a woman, and you want contraception coverage, you have to ask your boss’s permission. Think about the discussions that are going to result from that.

One bill Leach introduced, he said,

which would provide mandatory paid family leave, for men and women. If you have a newborn, you can get twelve weeks of paid leave. This (kind of) bill is already law in almost all of the industrialized world. This is already a standard benefit of employment. This is already something that employers in Europe, Canada, and Mexico, and most of the world have figured out how to provide…It’s really good for everybody; it’s good for the kids, the rate of child mortality, (and) the rate of impoverishment all go down when you have that twelve weeks of bonding.


Southeastern Pennsylvania ADA Honors Three Progressive Women

The Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) awarded three veteran progressive women activists at a ceremony held in the home of Bruce and Carol Caswell in West Mount Airy, Philadelphia, on Saturday, October 13, 2012.

The honorees were State Representative Babette Josephs, City Council member Marion Tasco, and Shelly Yanoff, Director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

More after the jump.
Attending the event were such local political figures as State Representatives Cherelle Brown, Mark Cohen, and Vanessa Brown; City Controller Alan Butkovitz; City Commissioners Chair Stephanie Singer and Commissioner Al Schmidt; and City Council members Maria Quinones-Sanchez and Bill Greenlee.

Glenavieve Norton, Chair of Southeastern Pennsylvania ADA, opened the program, saying that the honorees “have had significant roles to play in relation to ADA over their storied careers.” ADA, said Norton, was “founded in 1947 by Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kenneth Galbraith, Walter Reuther, Arthur Schlesinger, and others. National ADA has played a prominent role in the advancement of Civil Rights, Labor Rights, education reform, anti-poverty efforts, and Wall Street deregulation, among other things.”

The Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter, added Norton, “has played an equally prominent role in the establishment of our City Charter, in the Rizzo Recall movement, the election of W. Wilson Goode as our city’s first Black mayor, the Casey Five campaign to elect reform judges to Commonwealth Court, and the successful campaign to prevent the takeover of public schools by a for-profit company, among other things.

“Today the values of ADA,” said Norton, “dedication to democratic principles and good government, and the advancement of social and economic justice, are under serious attack. We take this mater very seriously. We have participated, both as an organization and individually in the voter ID coalition and are championing ethics issues in education reform. We are continuing our work, and will continue our work, on redistricting (City Council districts). We are the only organization that specifically has as a goal addressing good government concerns; we do so as they arise, and as we observe them, in our work and in our lives.”

Six Catholics and Three Jews Uphold an Evangelical Lutheran Church

— by Jeffrey I. Pasek, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN)

Yesterday, all nine Justices on the Supreme Court agreed that a Lutheran Church did not have to answer claims of employment discrimination brought by a former teacher in its school. Applying the “ministerial exemption,” the Court ruled that the teacher could not maintain her claim that she had been fired in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

JSPAN’s Church-State Policy Center has been following this issue closely for some time because the ministerial exemption raises important issues about the ability of government to regulate religious organizations and the extent to which employment actions can be shielded from ordinary judicial review when the defendant raises a religious cloak as a shield.

More after the jump.
The case decided by the Supreme Court involved a “called” teacher who acquired a formal minister of religion commission. Her job duties were similar to lay teachers and included teaching secular and religious subjects, leading her class in daily prayer and devotional exercises and leading a chapel service for students a couple times a year. On these facts, the Court had no difficulty deciding that the plaintiff was a minister within the meaning of the ministerial exemption.

According to Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion, the employment discrimination laws do not authorize “government interference with an internal church decision that affects the faith and mission of the church itself.” The purpose of the exemption is to protect religious organizations as institutions, not to safeguard their decisions only when they prove they made those decisions for a religious reason.

The Court’s interpretation of the ADA was grounded in the First Amendment, but the ruling expressed no view on whether the ministerial exception bars other types of suits, including actions by employees alleging breach of contract or tortious conduct by their religious employers.

JSPAN had been invited to join an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in this case. For policy reasons, JSPAN declined. We rejected the approach that a religious institution must go through a trial to answer the question of motive for its personnel actions. In addition to raising entanglement issues, that would render the ministerial exemption of no value in many instances. The ministerial exemption, as a policy matter, should shield (often poor) religious organizations from the costs of expensive employment-discrimination litigation without forcing a religious organization to establish a doctrinal basis for its action or to show a legitimate non- religious motive for an employment action.

JSPAN will continue to monitor cases involving application of the ministerial exemption in other contexts as courts grapple with the scope to be accorded it. The issue is of significant importance considering the number of social service programs funded by the government that are operated by private religious groups.