Supreme Court Sides with Hobby Lobby on Contraception|
Striking major blows to women's access to health care, the U.S. Supreme Court has held unconstitutional Massachusetts' buffer zone law designed to shield clinic patients from abortion protestors and, in the Hobby Lobby case, ruled that closely-held corporations cannot be required to provide employees with contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The Court also ruled that closely-held corporations are "persons" that can have "religious beliefs" under the Religious Freedom Reformation Act (RFRA).
In its amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court earlier this year, JSPAN urged the Court to uphold the contraceptive mandate and rule that for-profit corporations fall outside RFRA's definition of "persons." In so doing, the brief build upon JSPAN's position that ensuring the public health, including the reproductive health of women, is a core value of the American Jewish community.
Many thanks to pro bono attorneys, Hope S. Friewald and Mayer Grashin of Dechert LLP for representing JSPAN before the Court.-Ed.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
June 30, 2014
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a privately held business may refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives to employees.
Jewish groups had closely watched the case that Hobby Lobby, a crafts chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinet maker, had brought against requirements in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, because it is the president's signature first-term legislation.
The act mandated extending contraceptives coverage to employees of private firms, although it had a range of exceptions for nonprofits and religious institutions. The owners of the two businesses, devout Christians, said mandating the provision of contraceptive coverage violated their religious freedoms.
Jewish groups lined up on both sides of the issue, with Orthodox groups likening the law to mandates overseas banning ritual slaughter and liberal Jewish groups saying its reversal would impinge on the rights of women and could set a precedent allowing employers to deny a range of services for religious beliefs, for instance blood transfusions and other medical interventions.
10th Circuit Opinion Striking Same-Sex Marriage Ban Aligns with JSPAN, ADL and Other Amici |
Earlier this year, JSPAN joined with the Anti-Defamation League and a diverse group of organizations in a "friend of the court" brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit supporting a challenge to Utah's ban on same-sex marriage in the case Kitchen v. Herbert. The brief argued that Utah's marriage ban was unconstitutional because it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and was "enacted with the purpose of imposing a particular religious understanding of marriage as law at the expense of all others."
On June 25, 2014, the 10th Circuit struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage holding that a state may not constitutionally deny a citizen the benefits or protections of state laws based solely upon the sex of the person that citizen chooses to marry. In its opinion in Kitchen v. Herbert, the Court held that pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment same-sex couples "possess a fundamental right to marry and to have their marriages recognized" by Utah law. In so doing, the Court rejected the state of Utah's argument that recognizing same-sex marriage would "create the potential for religion-related strife" emphasizing that its decision relates solely to civil marriage and "does not mandate any change for religious institutions, which may continue to express their own moral viewpoints and define their own traditions about marriage."
The 10th Circuit's opinion is particularly significant because it marks the first time that a federal appellate court has ruled on a state same-sex marriage ban following the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor.
JSPAN Speaks Out in Amicus Brief in Colorado School Voucher Case|
JSPAN joined with a group of faith-related organizations, under the leadership of the Anti-Defamation League, as amici in a brief recently filed with the Colorado Supreme Court in Larue v. Taxpayers for Public Education. The amici urge the court to declare a pilot program using tax dollars for private school education unconstitutional. The case concerns Colorado's "No-Aid Clause" and a provision to use school vouchers predominantly for parochial school education.
The amici with whom JSPAN joined represent a wide array of faith traditions and beliefs that are united in "their firm commitment to the principle that religious education of children is a matter best left to families and their houses of worship." The brief argues that "use of tax dollars to fund religious institutions and religious education impedes rather than advances the cause of religious freedom" and that the program at issue should be struck down because it encroaches on religious freedom by "making religion dependent on government, by encouraging sectarian division and strife, and by interfering with free, individual choice in matters of conscience."
To review the brief submitted by ADL, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Central Conference of Rabbis, Disciples Justice Action Network, Equal Partners in Faith, Hindu American Foundation, JSPAN, Union for Reform Judaism and Women of Reform Judaism, click here.
Redistricting: A Whole New Pennsylvania Legislature|
The following article by Penn Professor Emeritus Jack Nagel and commentary by Ken Myers, JSPAN Board member and an editor of this newsletter, address the need to reform voting districts in Pennsylvania. JSPAN supports changes in redistricting, which is carried out by political party leaders in the Legislature under present law. The process creates some strange and unwieldy districts and can undermine the right to vote. In effect, instead of voters choosing state and federal representatives, the representatives choose their voters.-Ed.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
By Jack Nagel
June 25, 2014
Pennsylvania's state legislators are moving toward a major reform that defies cynical expectations. On June 3, a Senate committee unanimously recommended amendments to the state constitution that would reduce the House from 203 to 153 members and the Senate from 50 to 45. Last December, also with bipartisan support, the House passed a bill that would slash the number of senators to 38.
Most people don't expect politicians to vote against their own interests. Yet if either proposal is ratified, up to 62 legislators would lose their jobs.
There is still a long way to go. The House and Senate versions must be reconciled. Then, after an election, the two chambers must pass the amendments again. After that, voters must approve the amendments in a referendum.
Let's assume lawmakers are serious. If so, I urge them to take two additional steps that would yield even more savings while greatly improving state politics.
How Lines Are Drawn|
By Kenneth R. Myers|
The Philadelphia Inquirer: Issue/Response
June 25, 2014
Pennsylvania has one of the largest state legislatures in the country, and also one of the most expensive. The state Senate is working on a constitutional amendment to shrink the number of districts and legislators. That is a reasonable proposal to put before the voters, but if it's successful, it will give politicians yet another chance to redesign and gerrymander voting districts. And reducing the number of districts is likely to increase the potential for creating more safe seats, assuring lifetime appointments for legislators.
So it is vital that redistricting reform be added to the proposal to shrink the number of districts. Happily, Sen. Lisa M. Boscola (D., Northampton) and a few other legislators see the need. All of us who care about the right to vote should be pushing for the Boscola amendment.
A Tikkun Olam Opportunity: Participate in "Act Against Hunger" Forum, July 24 at KI|
"Act Against Hunger" will be hosting a community forum featuring Beverly Mackereth, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, to address food insecurity and how to improve access to critical anti-hunger programs such as SNAP in Pennsylvania. This important forum will provide an opportunity to raise issues related to several factors that impede individuals, including working families and seniors, from accessing SNAP benefits for which they are eligible.
Learn to realize the power of our collective potential to alleviate hunger. Come add your voice to this vital discussion. Act Against Hunger is an initiative of the Mazon Advocacy Project PA, Kehillah of Old York Road and area relief agencies. The forum will be held on June 24 from 6-8 p.m. at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel.
Action Alert from HIAS PA: Unaccompanied Minors and Refugees--Humanitarian Crises in Need of Protection and Support
HIAS Pennsylvania has issued an action alert concerning the humanitarian crisis created by the recent surge of unaccompanied children, mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, crossing the border into the United States. According to HIAS, it is estimated that 90,000 children will arrive between October 13 and September 2014--an exodus that has been building for years against a "backdrop of the breakdown of government protection and weak political and social systems of the sending countries where violence perpetuated by gangs reaches epidemic proportion.
HIAS PA is calling upon Congress to allocate $200 million to the Office of Refugee Resettlement in FY 2014 so that services can be provided to alleviate this crisis. America's proud history is one that has protected refugees and welcomed those fleeing from oppression and seeking a new life. To learn steps you can take to urge our government leaders to maintain that tradition and ensure that international law and humanitarian protection are maintained, go to http://hiaspa.org/news/call-your-representative.
Pennsylvania Legislature Passes Holocaust Curriculum Bill|
By Allie Gross
June 17, 2014
Dive Brief: The Pennsylvania House unanimously (197-0) passed a Holocaust education bill that "strongly encourages" the state's schools to implement Holocaust and genocide curriculum. The fact that the bill does not require Holocaust education was initially a point of contention, but the bill's bipartisan support has pushed that concern to the background. The vote was also unanimously passed by the state's Senate last week, and Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to sign it into law.
Dive Insight: The bill was introduced by Rep. Paul Clymer (R-Bucks County), who proposed many layers for the Holocaust education. Among them: professional development for educators teaching the Holocaust; the creation of a statewide study to find out which schools are actually teaching the Holocaust; and a condition that the Holocaust become required curriculum if the statewide study finds in two years that less than 90% of Pennsylvania schools are teaching it.
The Department of Education and organizations like the Shoah Foundation are expected to create the curriculum for schools to use.
Death of the Jewish Left: There's Reason To Think Liberalism of American Jews Fading Fast|
By Jay Michaelson
June 23, 2014
For as long as contemporary American Jews can remember, our community has voted liberal, marched radical, and, to varying degrees, found ourselves on the left side of the political spectrum. But for those who favor this state of affairs, recent shifts in Jewish culture and identity offer reason to worry.
First, Jewish solidarity with other oppressed groups appears to be on the wane. Two generations ago, Jews, racial minorities, and other disfavored groups were all excluded from the same country clubs, professional associations, and schools. We didn't have to work very hard to see the links between racism, anti-Semitism, and classism; they were shoved in our faces.
Now, however, Jews have far less "outsider" consciousness than even two decades ago. While anti-Semitism still exists, it is largely on the fringe, even as anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, and other biases rise in the mainstream. We can still imagine what it's like to be on the wrong side of power and privilege - but for more and more of us, it is an imaginative rather than experiential reality.
U.S. Labor Secretary Announces Proposed Rule Raising Minimum Wage for Federal Contract Workers|
The Jewish Social Policy Action Network, acting on universal Jewish values, has a long tradition of supporting living wages for all workers. We therefore support the administration's initiative, in the absence of federal legislation, to increase wages for federal contract workers. -Ed.
U.S. Dept. of Labor Wage and Hour Division Press Release
June 12, 2014
Fulfilling President Obama's commitment to make 2014 a year of action to strengthen the economy and grow the middle class, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez today announced a proposed rule raising the minimum wage for workers on federal service and construction contracts to $10.10 per hour. The proposed rule implements Executive Order 13658, which was announced by the president on Feb. 12.
"A core American value is that hard work should be rewarded with fair pay. And as the president said in his State of the Union address, if you cook our troops' meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn't have to live in poverty," said Secretary Perez.
The department encourages all interested parties to view the proposed rule and submit comments at http://www.regulations.gov. More information about the proposed rule and the joint guidance to federal agencies is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/nprm-eo13658/. Follow Secretary Perez on Twitter as @LaborSec and join the conversation on this issue using #RaiseTheWage.
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