JSPAN Supports Obama’s Elder Justice Initiative

(JSPAN) The Elder Justice Act, which provides federal resources to “prevent, detect, treat, understand, intervene in and, where appropriate, prosecute elder abuse, neglect and exploitation,” became law four years ago. However, Congress has yet to provide any funding.

Federal funding has never been appropriated to establish a national infrastructure for adult protective services (APS), and currently, no national database or national standards are in existence.

President Obama’s financial year 2015 budget proposes $25 million for an Elder Justice Initiative, including $13.8 million for APS. It will also provide $11.2 million for evidence-based research, including elder abuse screening, and will establish a better knowledge base about elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) has joined the Elder Justice Coalition in support of the President’s budget request.

JSPAN Supports Providing Contraceptives to Workers


A package of birth control pills.

Earlier this year, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) filed an amicus curiae brief, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that private, for-profit corporations provide employees with coverage that includes all FDA-approved contraceptive methods.

The key issue in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, now before the Court, is whether for-profit corporations have a right to deny contraceptive coverage to women workers based on religious objections of the corporation’s owners. JSPAN argues that it would not be proper to treat the religious views of the corporation’s shareholders as an exercise of religion by the corporation.

More after the jump.
In the fall of 2013, JSPAN filed an amicus brief in Town of Greece v. Galloway, which is also now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. JSPAN therein urges the Court to reverse its prior opinion and ban government sanctioned legislative prayer.

Additionally, earlier this year JSPAN has joined with the Anti-Defamation League and other groups in briefs to federal courts of appeals in challenges to state same sex marriage bans in Utah, Virginia, and most recently, Oklahoma.  

JSPAN Issues Haggadah Supplement for 2014

Though the goal of absolute equality may be impossible to realize, we learn from Yachatz that is it incumbent upon us to strive for equality.

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network has released its annual Haggadah Supplement for 2014, titled A Passage to Equality. The theme is overcoming inequality of opportunity.

Assembled and edited by three lawyers — Stephen Sussman, Jeffrey Pasek and Ken Myers — the Supplement addresses the Passover as a passage from slavery to equality, and seeks to provide additional relevance to the story with modern prayers and readings. The readings take up the meaning of Zdakah, how we address poverty and economic inequality as a society, women’s rights issues, and other modern conditions that impact lives. The Haggadah Supplement provides fresh ideas and opportunities for discussion during the Seder.

The Supplement is a 12-page booklet, including photos. Download it as a pdf file for viewing or printing.
[Read more…]

JSPAN Holds Two Programs Dissecting Economic Inequality

— by Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

For the last 70 years our economy has grown almost steadily. Until 1970, this increase in productivity was shared between growth in wages for labor and profit growth for business. Since then, virtually all the growth in productivity has gone to increase corporate profits, while wages have not even fully kept pace with inflation.

Beginning with the film “Inequality for All” starring Professor Robert Reich, and continuing with a panel discussion a week later, JSPAN has initiated its year of focus on the problems of economic inequality. The programs, held on March 9 and 16 (after a one-week snow delay), drew substantial audiences at the host site, Germantown Jewish Centre.

More after the jump.
Inequality for All is Prof. Reich’s grand statement on film of the sources, attributes and problems of economic inequality in our society. With pictures and charts, and in his own personal electric presentation, he documents an immense change in American society, particularly since 1970.

The issue, according to Reich, is not just the discouragement of workers or the toll on people and families of declining expectations and a static or sliding quality of life. The sustainability of democracy, here and in other countries, depends heavily on the existence and growth of a middle-class.

Economic inequality in this nation, while accumulating immense wealth in the hands of a few, has expanded poverty and shrunk the middle class. The expectation that life will be better in each generation has been reversed.

The second program was a panel discussion featuring Rabbi Mordechai Liebling and Benjamin Peck. Liebling heads the Social Justice Organizing program of instruction for rabbis at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote. Peck is the Federal Affairs Manager for Demos, lobbying for progressive policies in Washington DC. Ilene Wasserman, Board member of JSPAN, moderated the discussion.  

The program began with Torah study of selected texts, directed by Rabbi Liebling. He urged that we must recognize that all wealth comes from the Lord.

Biblical justice for the Jewish community included Shmita, the forgiveness of debt every seven years, as well as the limit of seven years on slavery, and the restoration of land ownership every fifty years (“the Jubilee”). These institutions tended to level wealth within the community and to prevent the accumulation of immense wealth in a few people.

Drawing on statistics compiled by the Economic Policy Institute, Mr. Peck documented the extent to which wealth has become concentrated in a few hands in America.

With the accumulation of this great wealth has come political influence and control of the political system. The government has favored wealthy corporations and individuals by such steps as the bailouts in the 2008 crisis, the provision that Medicare cannot negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices, tax policies, and other examples.

Peck urges the wisdom of Warren Buffett, that his income tax rate should not be lower than that of his secretary.

Pennyslvania DOMA Hero Honored: Mark Aronchick’s Journey


Mark Aronchick and Congressman Chaka Fattah.

— by Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

The local attorney and advocate for equality, Mark A. Aronchick, received the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) Social Justice Award, at a reception last month.

Aronchick is the lead counsel, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in the challenge to the Pennsylvania version of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), being brought by a number of same sex couples seeking the right to marry in Pennsylvania.

This challenge is the most important civil rights case in Pennsylvania in years. As the case progresses through the lower courts and perhaps up to the Supreme Court, it could be a very suitable capstone to Aronchick’s long and illustrious public career.

More after the jump.
Through its Church-State Committee, JSPAN takes an active, lively interest in freedom of religion, and other First Amendment cases. This non-profit agency intervenes in key cases, petitions the federal and state executive branches, and educates its members and the public regarding religious and civil rights issues.

DOMA is a statute that the federal government, Pennsylvania and a handful of other states adopted, defining marriage as exclusively a union between a man and a woman.

The United States Supreme Court ruled a key provision of the federal statute unconstitutional earlier this year, reasoning that the law addresses no apparent federal interest, except to express animus against the gay community.


Mark Aronchick and Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach.

The LGBT movement exulted: The federal ruling points the way to attack the Pennsylvania DOMA, but getting a state law overturned is never an easy case.

The DOMA case will turn on constitutional issues, with which Aronchick has extensive experience: Prior important constitutional level cases he handled include litigation concerning voting rights, electronic voting machines, and policies and practices of the Philadelphia Police Department.

As the new DOMA case develops, a growing public recognition of its importance and of Aronchick’s key role is expected.

After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School in 1974 with high honors, Aronchick became active in local democratic politics. After Bill Green was elected mayor of Philadelphia, Aronchick became the youngest person to serve as Philadelphia city solicitor.

He has also filled key positions in the organized bar, including president of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation and treasurer and chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

Aronchick served as a member of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and Chair of the City of Philadelphia Board of Ethics. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board, a key advisory board to the state supreme court, for four years.

Regarding this virtually continuous stream of often difficult, very public volunteer positions, Aronchick states that he is not special, and that a number of other lawyers could have filled his roles, but his argument in this instance is not convincing.


Dan and Sheila Segal, and Mark and Judith Aronchick.

Aronchick views the fight to allow same-sex marriage in the DOMA case as incredibly important, and a natural next battle following in the larger Jewish tradition, of supporting greater equality for all people.

He is optimistic about the future of the Jewish community, observing that young people today approach public service differently than earlier generations, but continue to offer strong leadership skills.

Aronchick is married to Dr. Judith Aronchick, a professor of radiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Their daughter, Sara Aronchick Solow, graduated from Yale Law School, and currently is clerking for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

Mark and Judith’s son Jonathan is a student at Georgetown Law School, having previously served on the staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The Aronchicks’s five month old grandson, Ethan Solow, is reported to constitute a serious distraction from law, but one that Mark is up to handling.  

Attorney Bonin Briefs JSPAN Board on Redistricting, Voter ID

(JSPAN) Attorney Adam C. Bonin presented an update on Pennsylvania election law to the Jewish Social Policy Action Network‘s Board of Directors at its regular meeting last month. Bonin focused on pending redistricting and voter identification litigation. Both issues are currently before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Bonin, a member of the JSPAN Board of Directors, provided an overview of the process by which redistricting is accomplished for state and federal elections in Pennsylvania, what role is played by the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission and which Constitutional provisions come into play. He also traced the history of litigation with respect to interpretations of key provisions of the state Constitution and explained how these likely may impact redistricting decisions currently before the Court.

More after the jump.
As Bonin explained, both cases involve sensitive legal as well as political questions, complicated by a current vacancy on the Supreme Court and the upcoming November 2014 general election. The lively discussion, aided by the participation of former State Representative (and JSPAN Board Member) Babette Josephs, went into great detail as to the ways in which maps can be tailored towards partisan ends.  

A new century with new guns, needs new gun laws.

(JSPAN) The Jewish Social Policy Action Network strongly supports federal and Pennsylvania state
legislation as well as municipal ordinances designed to reduce the incidence of gun violence in our state and nation.

Each year more than 30,000 Americans die from senseless gun violence. Each day men, women and
children – mothers, brothers, sisters, children, family, neighbors, and friends – are taken from us as a
result of our inability to advance common-sense firearms regulations.

More after the jump including video of the 20/20 Special “If I Only Had A Gun”
JSPAN has a long-standing concern with the easy access to non-hunting firearms in the United States. The recent mass shootings of students and teachers in Connecticut, movie goers in Colorado, members of the Sikh community at their house of worship in Wisconsin, and other armed attacks on both civilians and law enforcement officials throughout our nation, dramatically underscore the urgent need for more effective measures.

We are reminded that Jewish tradition emphasizes the sanctity and primary value of all human life. The Bible commands us, “Thou shalt not murder” (Exodus 20:13). The Talmud furthermore teaches us

“he who takes one life it is as though he has destroyed the universe and he who saves one life it is as though he has saved the universe.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

As the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism tells us, “The number and severity of violent shootings in recent years can only be described as an epidemic.” As in any other epidemic, it is society’s collective responsibility to take measures to alleviate the pain, suffering and loss of life it causes.

We recognize an individual’s right to obtain and possess firearms, but that right is not without reasonable limitations. In the opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States in District of Columbia v. Heller, Justice Antonin Scalia states:

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose … Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms … We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller (an earlier case) said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those ‘in common use at the time.’ We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.'”

The Court recognizes long-standing judicial precedent “… to consider… prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons.”

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network joins with numerous other faith- based and social policy bodies in calling for Congress and state legislative bodies to take prompt and decisive action to advance sensible gun control laws, including, but not limited to, taking assault weapons off our streets and out of the hands of those who have no legitimate purpose in owning such firearms, and by greatly improving our system of background checks for gun purchasers.

We also call attention to numerous remedies on the state legislative level, including the requirement that the loss or theft of a firearm be reported to law enforcement agencies, and limits on the purchase of specified firearms to one per month.

We welcome the call for a renewal of the ban on nineteen assault weapons passed in 1994, but allowed to expire when it came up for reauthorization in 2004.

Furthermore, we applaud efforts to limit the sales of high-capacity ammunition magazines, which can enable a shooter to fire off dozens of rounds of ammunition without having to reload. Weapons such as these have been used in several mass shootings.

JSPAN decries the opposition by the gun lobby to improved background checks for those who wish to purchase firearms. Both advocates and independent researchers say that such a measure would have a greater impact on gun violence than any other step under consideration. Approximately 90 percent of those polled in several public surveys support background checks. Currently, criminal background checks are required only for guns sold through licensed firearm dealers, which account for only 60 percent of all gun sales in the United States. The current system also allows those not “engaged in the business” of gun selling to sell firearms without a license or without filing any paperwork whatsoever.

We applaud those measures taken by Pennsylvania to end the so-called Florida loophole, in which residents of our state who are not eligible to purchase guns in Pennsylvania are able to buy guns in Florida and then legally possess them here in their home state.

We hope that the courageous examples of support for strong gun controls set by some of our federal and state legislators will serve as an example for other elected officials. We call upon all of our legislators to pay attention to their consciences and to pass legislation to make all people residing in our nation safer from gun violence.

20/20 Special: “If I Only Had A Gun”

Welcoming The Stranger

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) has issued its 4th Haggadah Supplement entitled Welcoming the Stranger to the Land. According to JSPAN Vice-President and Philadelphia Jewish Voice board member Kenneth Meyers:

We were immigrants in Egypt.  And we have been immigrants many times since then, until we achieved citizenship on American soil. The Seder is a time to reflect on our experience and the plight of others who have not yet achieved their freedoms here.  Millions of undocumented immigrants have no path to citizenship or the full freedoms we take for granted.  Consider what their status forever does to their lives, and how we can help them and America fulfill our common aspirations.

Links to JSPAN’s previous issue oriented Haggadah supplements follow the jump.
Each year, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network develops issue oriented material each year you can use to enrich your seder. Supplements to the traditional Haggadah relate the biblical story of the Exodus to current events and issues.

  • The 2012 Freedom Supplement, comprised of 16 pages with illustrations, is now available without charge. The Freedom Seder Supplement celebrates emerging freedom movements around the world with poems, texts and prayers. Editors Stephen C. Sussman Esq. and Kenneth R. Myers Esq. have drawn from far-ranging sources, from Lord Byron to Tibet. Each of the readings includes suggestions keying it into the traditional Seder service.
  • In 2010 JSPAN released its first Supplement, entitled We were strangers, on the theme of immigration in history and in the United States.
  • In 2011 the JSPAN Supplement, This is the bread of poverty, brought the focus to hunger here and around the world. The 2012 “Freedom Seder” takes up the human longing for freedom that is spreading around the globe, and concludes with four resolutions that we as American Jews can meaningfully adopt.

JCPA to Host “National Hunger Seder” at US Capitol

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger will host Members of Congress, Administration officials, school children, and other national faith, anti-hunger and anti-poverty leaders for the National Hunger Seder on March 20, 2013 at the US Capitol Visitor’s Center.

The National Hunger Seder is an adaptation of the traditional Passover Seder, telling the story of the Exodus with emphasis on the moral imperative to end hunger in America. The National Hunger Seder is the kick off to the 5th Annual MAZON/JCPA Hunger Seder Mobilization taking place in 27 communities around the country, which are designed to encourage participants to advocate to restore the 5.1% cut to the WIC program mandated by the sequester.

After the jump: JSPAN issues a Haggadah Supplement on immigration.
Participants in the National Hunger Seder Include:

  • Rep. David Cicilline (RI-1)
  • Rep. Ted Deutch (FL-21)
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-2)
  • Officials from the White House, the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Health and Human Services
  • Representatives from National WIC Association, Food Research and Action Center, Congressional Hunger Center, Alliance to End Hunger, Center for American Progress, Bread for the World, National Council of Churches, US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Islamic Relief, American Jewish World Service, Bend the Arc, National Council of Jewish Women, The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, JCPA, MAZON, Jewish Primary Day School and more.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) issued a Haggadah Supplement titled Welcoming the Stranger to the Land. “We were immigrants in Egypt.  And we have been immigrants many times since then, until we achieved citizenship on American soil”, said Kenneth Myers, JSPAN’s Vice President.

The Seder is a time to reflect on our experience and the plight of others who have not yet achieved their freedoms here.  Millions of undocumented immigrants have no path to citizenship or the full freedoms we take for granted.  Consider what their status forever does to their lives, and how we can help them and America fulfill our common aspirations.

The Supplement can be viewed and downloaded here.

JSPAN Joins Briefs In U.S. Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Cases

— by Lynn Zeitlin, JSPAN Past President

There are two cases before the United States Supreme Court involving same-sex marriage. We are pleased to announce that JSPAN has joined the two amici briefs for which the ADL was the lead amicus.

One brief was filed in support of Edith Windsor, who challenged the constitutionality of Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), after being denied treatment as a surviving spouse under federal estate tax and other laws despite having been legally married in Canada. Section 3 of DOMA amends the United States Code to define “marriage’ and “spouse” for federal laws, rules and regulations as follows: “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.”

More after the jump.
The brief JSPAN signed makes the argument that Section 3 of DOMA violates not only the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of Equal Protection but also the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The brief points out that numerous religious denominations recognize marriages between two men and two women and points out that the Establishment Clause prohibits laws that favor a particular religious view over others and does not have a secular purpose as its primary purpose or effect. The brief argues that DOMA had only a religious purpose that flies in the face of longstanding Establishment Clause principles and is therefore unconstitutional. The Fifth Amendment argument is grounded in the absence of any legitimate governmental purpose in enacting DOMA so that the only motivation for its passage was moral disapproval of gay and lesbian people, which has never been a sufficient rationale for justifying a law that discriminates, citing Justice O’Connor’s concurrence in the Lawrence v. Texas case that overturned a Texas law criminalizing gay sex practices.

The second brief joined by JSPAN is in the case out of California popularly known as the Prop 8 case. In May 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that the California law barring same-sex couples from marrying violated the state’s constitution. In November that same year, Proposition 8 was passed by voters; it defined marriage as between one man and one woman. The brief makes the same point as the Windsor brief, pointing out that the Court no longer relies on religious or moral disapproval as a legitimate basis for any law. Thus, the brief argues, laws that discriminate against historically disadvantaged minorities have been rejected by the courts as societal support for discrimination.