All People Deserve Respect


— by David Street

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.

More reactions after the jump.
Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization of America, said:

Hadassah commends President Obama for taking an important step today in showing his commitment to and respect for the LGBT community. Hadassah has long supported LGBT rights, and we firmly believe that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that all Americans are treated equally and have equal access to the same rights. Hadassah is committed to the preservation of rights for all people and vigorously condemns discrimination of any kind. As Zionists, Hadassah members understand the dangers of bigotry.

National Council of Jewish Women CEO Nancy K. Kaufman said:

NCJW hails President Obama’s decision to express his personal support for same-sex marriage. NCJW has been a staunch supporter of marriage equality and we happily welcome the president to this fight for fundamental human rights at this important time. While setbacks such as the lamentable vote yesterday in North   Carolina are unfortunate, we firmly believe that supporters of marriage equality are on the right side of history. NCJW is proud to work with the President of the United States to ensure that gays and lesbians are protected equally under the law and are treated with the dignity they deserve.

The National Jewish Democratic Council‘s Chair Marc R. Stanley said:

On behalf of NJDC’s board, staff, and membership, I am pleased that the President has made a decisive statement in support of marriage equality. From working to end the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy to ending the Federal Government’s defense of the unjust Defense of Marriage Act, this President has demonstrated an unmatched record of progress in favor of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans. President Obama has admirably continued to demonstrate the values of tikkun olam in his work to make America a better place for all Americans. I am truly proud of President Obama and know that so many others in the Jewish community share my feelings.

Bend the Arc

: A Partnership for Justice’s Alan van Capelle said:

Tonight when I go home and look at my six month old son it will be the first time I will be able to tell him that our president believes we are a family. For many Americans, this is a political issue. For millions more, it’s deeply personal.

I applaud President Obama for coming out in support of marriage equality. Today, he showed himself as a leader who is in step with a majority of Americans, and millions of people of faith all over this country who support the right of gay and lesbian people to marry, including 76 percent of American Jews.

Haaretz reported that Israeli LGBT leaders lauded the President’s statement of support:

Irit Rosenblum, founder and CEO of the organization New Family, called the move extremely important. ‘It is a huge step for the enlightened world that the strongest leader publicly recognizes the new family. In doing so, he is obviously posing a challenge to the world’s religious public. I think that this is certainly a very brave act. He is creating the necessary world balance. At a time when it seems the world is becoming increasingly fundamentalist and conservative, this is a liberal point of light.’

According to New Family, there are currently some 18,000 same-sex families living in Israel. Some 4,500 children are being raising in same-sex families, and that number has risen significantly in recent years….

Itay Pinkas, chairman of Tel Aviv’s gay community center, also joined in praising Obama, Pinkas further criticized the situation of the LGBT community in Israel. ‘The only two leaders to bring up the rights of the community in a congressional speech were Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama spoke of the importance of equality during his inauguration speech…he is one of the heads of state most supportive of equality for all citizens.’

Jay Michaelson explained Three Reasons Obama’s Right on Gay Marriage in The Forward:

First is the ‘who.’ Obama’s support of same-sex marriage signals that he’s not going to let a noisy religious minority dictate public policy. This is important for all religious minorities, including the Jewish one, because that same group of angry fundamentalists wants to Christianize America, support the radical settler-fringe in Israel against Israel’s own best interests (as reflected by the mainstream of Israeli public opinion), and erode the separation of church and state. … If American Jews care about maintaining our religious freedom, we must not allow sectarian religious values to dictate public policy. Period.

Second is the ‘what.’ Obama’s statement brings him in line not just with 55% of the American public, as revealed in a recent Gallup poll, but with the overwhelming majority of non-fundamentalist religious people as well….

Most American Jews …  know that the two obscure and unclear verses in Leviticus may be interpreted in any number of ways. And we know that the core values of our religious and social traditions are upheld, not undermined, by interpreting them narrowly, such that they apply to virtually no LGBT people today.

Which brings me to my third point, which is the religious nature of Obama’s statement itself. What the President said today means little as a statement of public policy since it has little impact ‘on the ground.’ It means more as an expression of personal conviction and conscience. What he said was that, over time, he has seen the truth of same-sex couples: that they are as capable of commitment, love, and sanctity of opposite-sex ones; and that it is an injustice to deny the benefits of marriage to gay people. Those are religious values, expressed in a personal way. It demonstrates the growth of individual conscience: he used to feel one way, but over time, in a careful and long process of discernment, he has now come to feel a different way….

Obama’s statement is thus a model for how all of us ought to evolve on issues of values and society. We grow as human beings by a combination of humility and courage: humility in the face of what we do not know, and courage to take a stand and change our minds. If that’s not a Jewish value, I don’t know what is.

Mother’s Day Report from the War on Women: Reproductive Rights

This is Chapter 3 of a 3-part series on the War on Women.

Chapter 3: Reproductive Rights

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.

More after the jump.

Romney and Corbett are too extreme for women
Less than a day after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett endorsed Romney, the Democratic National Committee is up with a 1-minute video highlighting his comment at a press conference that women who don’t like forced ultrasounds before receiving abortions could always “close their eyes” during it. “But women aren’t closing their eyes to Romney and the GOP’s extreme positions on women’s health,” a DNC official emails.  

Special Mother’s Day Report from the War on Women: Equal Pay

This is Chapter One of a three-part series on the War on Women.

Lilly Ledbetter explains why equal pay for equal work is a civil right, and Mitt Romney should listen.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill President Obama signed into law. When asked whether Mitt Romney supports the Act, Romney’s campaign replied, “We’ll get back to you on that.”

US Gender Pay Gap By State

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Vote Tally

Chapter 1: Fighting for Equal Pay

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!

Presidential Proclamation follows the jump.
Presidential Proclamation of National Equal Pay Day

Working women power America’s economy and sustain our middle class. For millions of families across our country, women’s wages mean food on the table, decent medical care, and timely mortgage payments. Yet, in 2010 — 47 years after
President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 — women who worked full-time earned only 77 percent of what their male counterparts did. The pay gap was even greater for African
American and Latina women, with African American women earning 64 cents and Latina women earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by a Caucasian man. National Equal Pay Day represents
the date in the current year through which women must work to match what men earned in the previous year, reminding us that we must keep striving for an America where everyone gets an equal day’s pay for an equal day’s work.

At a time when families across our country are struggling to make ends meet, ensuring a fair wage for all parents is more important than ever. Women are breadwinners in a growing number of families, and women’s earnings play an increasingly important role in families’ incomes. For them, fair pay is even more than a basic right — it is an economic necessity.

That is why my Administration is committed to securing equal pay for equal work. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill I signed as President, empowers women to recover wages lost to discrimination by extending the time period in which an employee can file a claim. In 2010, I was proud to create the National Equal Pay Task Force to identify and combat equal pay violations. The Task Force has helped women recover millions in lost wages, built collaborative training programs that educate employees about their rights and inform employers of their obligations, and facilitated an unprecedented level of inter-agency coordination to improve enforcement of equal pay laws.

Working women are at the heart of an America built to last. Equal pay will strengthen our families, grow our economy, and enable the best ideas and boldest innovations to flourish — regardless of the innovator’s gender. On National Equal Pay Day, let us resolve to become a Nation that values the contributions of our daughters as much as those of our sons, denies them no opportunity, and sets no limits on their dreams.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 17, 2012, as National Equal Pay Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize the full value of women’s skills and their significant contributions to the labor force, acknowledge the injustice of wage discrimination, and join efforts to achieve equal pay.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this seventeenth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

— BARACK OBAMA

Special Mother’s Day Report from the War on Women: VAWA

What do the 31 Republican Senators who voted against the Violence Against Women Act all have in common?

This is Chapter Three of a three-part series on the War on Women.

Chapter 3: The Violence Against Women Act

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.

 

Special Mother’s Day Report from the War on Women: Introduction

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.

Olympic Insensitivity: IOC Refused London Games Minute Of Silence

— by Donna Schmidt

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.”

More after the jump.
Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Congressman Elliot Engel yesterday announced a Congressional Resolution and released a letter to the IOC. “The murder of 11 Israeli athletes by terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics was a tragedy that reverberated far beyond the Games,” said Congresswoman Lowey, Ranking Democrat on the Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee. “It is necessary, important, and right to hold a minute of silence in recognition of the victims. The continued refusal of the International Olympic Committee to honor the memories of these victims is unfathomable, and I urge the IOC to reconsider its decision.”

“The murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches can no longer be ignored by the International Olympic Committee. It’s time that the IOC set aside a moment of silence to remember all of the victims,” said Rep. Engel, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I urge the IOC to reconsider its appalling decision and stop standing in the way of an appropriate, solemn recognition of the horror which befell the Games 40 years ago.”

For more information about the Munich 11 and “The Minute of Silence” campaign, go to the Munich 11 website.  

Jewish Organizations Push To Protect Women

— by Max Samis

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.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote an op-ed in The Huffington Post, discussing the importance of pay equity not just to women, but to the national economy as a whole. Gillibrand wrote:

…[T]he issue of pay equity is not merely one of fairness. Equal pay for equal work is vital for our economic growth and middle class financial security. With more and more women contributing to household incomes, the lack of equal pay for women hurts all middle class working families-men and children included. In New York alone, women head more than 1,000,000 households. It’s estimated that because of the wage gap, New York families are deprived of $8600 a year. Nationwide, it’s been estimated that if women were paid a dollar on the dollar for equal work, the U.S. GDP could grow up to 9 percent.

Gillibrand also discussed pay equity in regards to women’s health. She wrote:

In addition to being an economic security issue, the failure to pay women a salary that’s equal to men for equal work is also a women’s health issue. The fact is that the salary women are paid directly impacts the type of health care services they are able to access for both themselves and their families. For example, if we closed the wage gap, a working woman in New York would be able to afford more than 2 years worth of additional family health insurance premiums. At a time when women’s health services are increasingly vulnerable to budget cuts, it’s more important than ever that women have financial security to maintain access to basic care for them and their families.

In Politico, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wrote an op-ed asserting that contrary to what Republicans may have you believe, the “war on women” is very real:

Suppose it’s the championship basketball game and one player is committing foul after foul. Each time, he denies he’s committed any offense.

Eventually, he fouls out. But even as he heads to the bench, he’s protesting that he did nothing wrong.

That’s what we’re seeing today from Republicans who claim there is no ‘war on women.’ The Republican National Committee chairman likened it to a ‘war on caterpillars.’ The Senate Republican leader claims it’s all manufactured – even as female members of his caucus warn about the growing backlash against the GOP from women.

House Republicans have introduced more than 30 bills that would restrict a woman’s reproductive health care. Those same Republicans, who decry an all-too-powerful government, have no problem deciding what health care is right for our daughters, or sisters or mothers….

Here in Congress, 116 Republicans in the House and 19 Republicans in the Senate are co-sponsors of ‘personhood’ legislation, which would criminalize abortion with no exceptions for the mother’s life or health. … It could even bar doctors from providing life-saving care to women with dangerous ectopic pregnancies.

It doesn’t end there. Republicans in Congress blocked an international treaty – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – even though the only other nations refusing to ratify it are Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Palau and Tonga.

They also oppose increasing the minimum wage – when women make up about two-thirds of all workers now earning minimum wage or less. Not one Republican is a cosponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Republicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act, which helps protect women from domestic violence, when the bill was in the Senate Judiciary Committee. They voted to repeal the health care law – including the part that says no more gender discrimination in the pricing of health insurance policies and the part that offers free preventive services like mammograms, STD screening, well-woman visits and birth control.

The facts are the facts. The Republicans have launched a war on women. Despite all the denials, women get it – and so do the men who care about them.

In addition to the fight for pay equality, Democrats have pushed for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Led by Vice President Joe Biden – who originally wrote and sponsored the bill as a Senator from Delaware in 1994 – a group of lawmakers and private citizens spoke today about the importance of passing the bill with bipartisan support. Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown wrote:

‘The idea we’re still fighting about this in Congress, that this is even a debatable issue, is truly sad,’ Biden said during remarks at the Eisenhower Office Building. ‘It’s not a reflection on the law. It is a reflection on our inability in this town to deal with something that by now should just be over in terms of debate about it.’

‘No one should question whether this is needed,’ Biden said at the end of his remarks. ‘It would have been bad if the law had never been passed. But imagine now, the message it sends if it is not reauthorized. Just ask what message it would send to every one of our daughters, every woman imprisoned in their home.’

Several prominent Jewish organizations have also spoken out in favor of VAWA’s reauthorization. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National Council of Jewish Women, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Hadassah have all urged their supporters to contact their local Congressional delegations and urge that they vote to pass the reauthorization of VAWA immediately. This is too important to wait.

  • Click here to read Senator Gillibrand’s entire op-ed.
  • Click here to read Senator Boxer’s entire op-ed.
  • Click here to read about how President Barack Obama’s actions have reflected Jewish values, including his accomplishments on women’s rights.

US Gender Pay Gap By State

New Republican Budget Guts Medicare, Social Safety Net

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.

More after the jump.
And JTA reported on the Jewish reaction to this year’s budget:

Jewish groups are among dozens of religious denominations and organizations endorsing a ‘Faithful Budget’ in opposition to the Republican budget proposal, which would cut Medicaid spending and disproportionately shift Medicare costs to fixed-income seniors….

‘During this time of great need in this country, it is essential that we lift our collective voices to speak to the social and ecological challenges our nation faces,’ Rabbi David Saperstein, executive director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement. ‘The Faithful Budget begins that effort.’…

‘The proposal before the House Budget Committee would cut spending for and reduce access to SNAP and other critical human needs programs,’ Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said in a statement. ‘We should not balance the federal budget on the backs of the most vulnerable. Instead, we should be offering them support to help them get back on their feet and get our economy back on track.’

In addition, B’nai B’rith International President Allan Jacobs noted in a statement that ‘the proposals would shift costs to Medicare beneficiaries while cutting programs that make critical investments for the poorest Americans who are least able to absorb these cuts.’

‘We shouldn’t be asking those with the fewest resources to give first,’ said Jacobs.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said about the GOP’s budget plan:

The House budget once again fails the test of balance, fairness, and shared responsibility.  It would shower the wealthiest few Americans with an average tax cut of at least $150,000, while preserving taxpayer giveaways to oil companies and breaks for Wall Street hedge fund managers. What’s worse is that all of these tax breaks would be paid for by undermining Medicare and the very things we need to grow our economy and the middle class – things like education, basic research, and new sources of energy. And instead of strengthening Medicare, the House budget would end Medicare as we know it, turning the guarantee of retirement security into a voucher that will shift higher and higher costs to seniors over time.

Reuters contrasted the Republicans’ approach with the plans supported by President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats:

Where Obama wants to raise taxes on the wealthy and boost near-term spending on infrastructure and education, the Republicans want to cut taxes and spending on healthcare and social safety net programs – benefits used more by the poor and middle classes….

The Republican budget achieves much of its deficit-reduction goals through savings gained by dismantling Obama’s 2010 healthcare reform law and by turning social safety net programs like food stamps and the Medicaid program for the poor into block grants for states.

The Republicans’ latest budget ends Medicare as we know it by replacing long-standing guaranteed retirement program with a voucher system that will leave future seniors to cover extra costs. Reuters noted the key difference between the Republicans’ plan and the plan supported by the President:

Future retirees would get an allowance to help them buy healthcare insurance. They would be able to choose private insurance plans or traditional Medicare, both of which would be offered on a special exchange. This is a slight change from Ryan’s proposal last year, which was met with loud criticism from Democrats and retiree groups. Outside experts estimated out-of-pocket expenses for the elderly would have risen by about $6,000 a year under Ryan’s Medicare reforms unveiled a year ago.

Obama’s budget calls for Medicare savings, but mostly by cutting payments to medical providers, not beneficiaries.

Think Progress noted that the Republicans’ budget also calls for the repeal of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. In particular, the Republicans aim to:

  • Repeal the ban on discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions
  • Repeal tax credits that prevent health care costs from ravaging an individual’s income
  • Roll back the expansion of Medicaid to those living poverty

Click here to read Think Progress’ analysis. And click here to read their list of the “Top Five Worst Things About the House GOP’s Budget.”

The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer analyzed the Republican budget’s impact on the social safety net:

Over the next decade, Ryan would spend 30 percent less than the White House on ‘income security’ programs for the poor – that’s everything from food stamps to housing assistance to the earned-income tax credit. (Ryan’s budget would spend $4.8 trillion over this timeframe; the White House’s would spend $6.8 trillion.) Compared with Obama, Ryan would spend 38 percent less on transportation and 24 percent less on veterans. He’d spend 20 percent less on ‘General science, space, and basic technology.’ And, compared with the White House, he’d cut ‘Education, training, employment, and social services’ by a full 44 percent.

Click here to read Plumer’s analysis of the Republican budget. Click here to learn why Plumer’s colleague Ezra Klein considers the GOP budget to be unrealistic.  

In addition, Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin discovered that the budget contains cuts to the foreign aid budget-cuts that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the pro-Israel community have long opposed:

[A]pparently Ryan does not believe diplomacy and development are part of that tool kit, because his proposal would see the international affairs account slashed from $47.8 billion in fiscal 2012 to $43.1 billion in fiscal 2013, $40.1 billion in fiscal 2014, $38.3 billion in fiscal 2015, and $38.1 billion in fiscal 2016. The State Department and USAID wouldn’t see their budget get back to current levels until after 2022 if Ryan were to have his way….

‘The Ryan budget fails to recognize that diplomacy and development are essential to protecting our national security, alongside defense,’ said House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Howard Berman (D-CA). ‘In his own words, Chairman Ryan sets up a choice: “decline as a world power vs. renewed American leadership.” But by viewing the choice exclusively in terms of military spending, he cuts the very resources that would make strong and effective U.S. international leadership a reality. The Republican budget would take us down the road of decline as a world power.’

After examining the budget, the editorial boards of The New York Times and The Washington Post slammed the latest GOP budget. According to The Times:

As he rolled out his 2013 budget on Tuesday, Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, correctly said that he and his fellow Republicans were offering the country a choice of two very clear futures. The one he outlined in his plan could hardly be more bleak.

It is one where the rich pay less in taxes than the unfairly low rates they pay now, while programs for the poor – including Medicaid and food stamps – are slashed and thrown to the whims of individual states. Where older Americans no longer have a guarantee that Medicare will pay for their health needs. Where lack of health insurance is rampant, preschool is unaffordable, and environmental and financial regulation are severely weakened.

Mr. Ryan became well known last year as the face of the most extreme budget plan passed by a house of Congress in modern times. His new budget is, if anything, worse, full of bigger, emptier promises. It is largely in agreement with the plans of the Republican presidential candidates….

These extreme cuts and changes would greatly impede the nation’s economic recovery, and hurt those on the middle and lower economic rungs who suffered most from the recession. The contrast with President Obama’s budget, which raises taxes on the rich to protect vital programs while reducing the deficit, could not be more clear.

Click here to read The Times’ editorial.

Noting the criticism that has come from observers and experts alike, The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent succinctly summarized the newest GOP budget by writing:

[T]he verdict is in: Paul Ryan’s budget is a blueprint for radical right-wing economic extremism and a monumental con job.


Reconsider Decision about Playoff Games on Shabbat

— Annette Powers

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.

Allowing Beren to compete would be a slam dunk.

Reform Jewish Leader Criticizes One-Sided Contraception Hearings

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.

More after the jump.


When pulling together a panel for a Congressional hearing on birth control, wouldn’t you think it would have at least one woman on it? Come on! This is what Rep. Darrell Issa, the House Oversight Committee Chairman, said when turning away the sole female voice that would have been heard:

“As the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the Administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness.”

Second, Bishop Lori’s argument also fails to distinguish for-profit consumer relationships from employer-employee relations.  The Supreme Court has long upheld a broad range of government regulation, including religious employers, health and safety requirements, requirements to pay into social security (which was upheld by the Supreme Court over employer’s religious objections in United States v. Lee), bans on a number of forms of discrimination (again with some accommodation of religious free exercise) and requirements that employers accommodate the religious practices of its employees, unless doing so would cause “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.”  This is quite different than the government trying to regulate what foods a restaurant must provide to its customers, where there is a much lower government interest and no well-settled pattern of government regulation.

Third, Bishop Lori’s analogy compares the limited religious exemption for kosher caterers allied with synagogues with the broad exemption that the Obama Administration has now established that would protect the religious conscience of employers with moral objections to contraceptive coverage. Not only will a church, synagogue or other house of worship, parochial school, or missionizing group not be required to include contraception in its health plan, but now religiously affiliated entities, such as church affiliated hospitals, social service entities and universities, will also be exempt from providing the coverage, under the compromise announced last Friday. This compromise was praised by Sister Carol Keehan, President of Catholic Health Services, who said she was “pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection” was accomplished. What Bishop Lori did not elucidate was the moral basis for the Church to oppose the government providing millions of women with basic health care services, services that ironically will cut significantly unwarranted pregnancies and attendant abortions.

Finally, the attention to Bishop Lori’s analogy should not obscure the greatest flaw of these hearings. The House Oversight Committee did not allow witnesses opposed to the church’s position to testify and, among the witnesses who testified, not a single one was a woman. Is diverse representative discourse not the point of Congressional hearings?  Does the committee so lack confidence in the free marketplace of ideas that is at the core of our democratic system of government?  I urge the committee to convene hearings that can truly debate the important issues involved. As someone who believes in ensuring both access to contraception for all women and the robust protection of religious autonomy, it seems clear that the fundamental rights of all women and the fundamental rights of religious conscience deserve no less.