News/Policy

Prof. Edelman Addresses JSPAN Award Ceremony for Dan and Sheila

Ken Myers, Sue Myers and Jeff Pasek contributed to this article. The fourth annual Social Justice Award was presented to Sheila and Dan Segal at a reception at the Independence Visitor Center on December 9. Keynote speaker was Georgetown Law Professor Peter Edelman, a long-time friend of the Segals, who spoke on "Life after Bush: Social Justice in the New Administration." The award program welcome was provided by co-chairs Ruth Laibson and Adena Potok who introduced Professor Edelman. Well known as a national expert in the fields of poverty, welfare, and juvenile justice, Professor Edelman was a Legislative Assistant to Senator Robert F. Kennedy and served as Issues Director for Senator Edward Kennedy's Presidential campaign. During President Clinton's first term, he served as Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He is also the past President of the New Israel Fund, the leading organization committed to democratic change within the State of Israel. Professor Edelman described the coming transition to the new Obama Administration as "a transformational moment" an exercise in democracy that we have seldom seen." But for those who would advance the progressive agenda, it is "only the beginning of our work. Democracy is not a spectator sport. It will take the same outpouring of support [received by Obama in the election] to carry out his program," according to Edelman. The work to be done includes steps "to revitalize defunct agencies" to protect working people." Moreover, "when it comes to poverty and near poverty, we need to press the Obama Administration to do more."

Same Sex Marriage

JSPAN Adopts Policy on Same-Sex Marriage On December 1, 2008, the JSPAN Board overwhelmingly adopted the policy statement below concerning the issue of same-sex marriage. The Board also decided to file a brief in Strauss v.

Supreme Court Hears Argument in Religious Monument Case

The Supreme Court heard oral argument on Wednesday, November 12 in an important and highly unusual case raising the issue whether a town can be compelled to display a religious monument in one of its parks. Because JSPAN filed a friend of the court brief in the case, JSPAN board members Ted Mann and Jeff Pasek traveled to Washington to take in the argument first-hand. Summum is a recently created religion. It sued Pleasant Grove City, Utah when the town refused its request to display a permanent monument in the town's Pioneer Park to the "Seven Aphorisms" on which the Summum faith is based. Since 1971, the park has included a massive Ten Commandments monument donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles more than 35 years ago. Although Summum lost in the federal district court, it prevailed before a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit. Because the Circuit court had previously ruled in another case that a Ten Commandments monument was not religious speech, Summum brought its claim as a First Amendment, free speech challenge, claiming that the town had created a public forum for the display of monuments and that it could not discriminate against Summum's monument just because it disagreed with the content of its message. To avoid Summum's public forum claim, the town had to argue that the content of the speech on the Ten Commandments monument was no longer private speech, but that it had become government speech the very moment the government assumed control of it. In the JSPAN brief to the court, we argued that no court should ever order government to display a religious monument without analyzing the case under the Establishment Clause, something that the lower courts had never done here. The importance of this issue was brought home less than three minutes into the argument from the first comment made by Chief Justice John Roberts to Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, a religious right organization that represented the town. Chief Justice Roberts observed: "You're really just picking your poison. The more you say that the monument is 'government speech' to get out of the Free Speech Clause, the more you're walking into a trap under the Establishment Clause. What is the government doing supporting the Ten Commandments?"

The Election: We Have Questions, You Have Answers

By Ken Myers, JSPAN Vice President At the end of the longest presidential election campaign in memory, JSPAN wants to evaluate the quality of the experience … were the right issues debated? Was the process effective at producing an informed electorate? Were you pleased with the very substantial time and attention given to our Jewish community? We want to hear your views. Please take a few minutes to answer the questions below.

A Philadelphian's Perspective on the Election

by Burt Siegel, former Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and JSPAN Board member It is one week after election day as I write this, and the very term President (elect) Obama sounds like music to many of our ears. Someone once pointed out that almost none of the US presidents had names ending in a vowel - (Coolidge, McKinley and Kennedy are it, if you count y as a vowel) - and they maintained that "ethnic" names are more likely to have vowel endings than those of WASPS. One way or another, Obama sounds wonderful. The outcome of the recent election, no doubt, pleased nearly all JSPAN members. Those of us who have dedicated so much of our time and energy to help create, if not a racially blind society, at least a near-sighted one, had to be especially thrilled. On election day, my wife Barbara and I worked in Obama headquarters on Frankford Avenue in Philadelphia. It is not a section of the city I know very well, if at all. The demographics are of a largely Roman Catholic population, the skins are mostly white, the collars blue. The neighborhood men and women who came in and out of the office that day were named Joe, Patrick, Peter, Mary and Kate.

Point - Counterpoint: "Obama's Jews" by Bernard Avishai

In the October, 2008 issue of Harper's Magazine, Bernard Avishai, contributing editor of the Harvard Business Review, discusses the evolving "liberal impulses" of the American Jewish community over the last 40 years. In the 1968 election, Jews voted almost 5 to 1 for Hubert Humphrey over Richard Nixon, but by last May, Barack Obama was ahead among Jewish voters by only 2 to 1. Avishai reports that at the same time, "polls show that 50 percent of Jews call themselves liberal or 'progressive,' and only 21 percent, 'conservative.'" His article may be accessed at /http://harpers.org/archive/200810/0082187. Avishai contends that "what has been so deceptive about American Jewish attitudes is how out of synch majority opinion is with the very public views of many Jewish organizational leaders. .... Obama's campaign is exposing the fault lines among Jews, which are serious, while implicitly challenging the great silent majority to repudiate Jewish organizational leaders .... whose militant simplicities purport to represent them - and don't." We invited community activist David Broida and Jewish Exponent editor Jonathan Tobin to share their reactions to Avishai's thesis. We encourage our readers to voice their own opinions as well.

Faith-Based Postal Services? No Way, JSPAN Tells Federal Appellate Court

Citizens should not have to endure religious proselytizing to buy stamps, mail a letter or transact other business with the Post Office. That is the gist of the argument JSPAN presented to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Cooper v. U.S. Postal Service. The Cooper case began in Manchester, CT, where the Postal Service was not able to provide all of the postal services needed in the community. Rather than open a branch Post Office, it contracted with the Full Gospel Interdenominational Church, Inc. to operate a contract postal unit (CPU). The Post Office utilizes hundreds of CPUs around the country to provide services at a lower cost. The church began to proselytize and distribute religious messages as an inseparable part of its postal operations. Patrons were forced to watch religious videos as they stood in line, and various types of religious literature were displayed. To read the JSPAN brief, click here.

"Is There A Right to Remain Silent?", by Alan M. Dershowitz

reviewed by Judah Labovitz, attorney and JSPAN Board member I am not a fan of Alan Dershowitz, and therefore approached reviewing his latest book, “IS THERE A RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT? Coercive Interrogation and the Fifth Amendment After 9/11” with some skepticism, particularly since it is his third book in a year. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to find myself reading, for most of the book, what is essentially an extended (176 pages) law review article, followed by copious endnotes. And as is often true of Supreme Court opinions (one of which is the subject of the book) and law review articles, some of those endnotes are as intriguing as the text itself. However for those very reasons, those not steeped in constitutional law and particularly civil liberties law under the Bill of Rights may find this book a hard read, although admittedly a worthwhile one. The book deals with two intertwined topics, whether in light of the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Chavez v. Martinez, there is a protectable right under the Fifth Amendment’s self incrimination clause to be free of abusive, even if not tortuous, interrogation, and how Supreme Court Justices do, and how Professor Dershowitz believes they should, decide constitutional questions. For these purposes, abusive is best defined by the description of the Court of Appeals of what occurred to Mr. Martinez. “Martinez alleges that Chavez brutally and incessantly questioned him, after he had been shot in the face, back and leg and would go on to suffer blindness and partial paralysis, and interfered with his medical treatment while he was ‘screaming in pain … and going in and out of consciousness.’ Chavez allegedly continued this ‘interrogation’ over Martinez’s pleas for him to stop so that he could receive treatment.”

A Call to Action in the Face of Evil

by Burt Siegel, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Darfur Alert Coalition Communication Director and JSPAN Board member. The following analysis was written for the Philadelphia-area media on behalf of the Darfur Alert Coalition As I read about the dithering of many of the world's leaders regarding the International Criminal Court's (ICC) indictment of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes, I am reminded of Edmund Burke's warning that evil will succeed when good people do nothing to stop it. Since 2003, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in the Darfur region of Sudan have been killed, injured or seen their villages destroyed by the Sudanese government and their allies. Over 2 1/2 million refugees have fled their homes and live in refugee camps in neighboring countries or as Internally Displaced Persons. Even these places of refuge are far from safe. Government supported raiders have stormed across the border into Chad, attacking non-Arab peoples living in camps -- and just last week, close to 2,000 gunmen, including members of the Sudanese army and Janjaweed "volunteers," staged a pre-dawn raid on the Kalma refugee camp in South Darfur, killing, raping and looting. According to UN sources, over 60 people were killed and 117 were wounded. Government officials had initially refused entry to the camp to medical or relief workers, and there have been reports of dead and wounded lying in the harsh African sun while the militia ran rampant. Sadly, little media attention has been paid to this latest atrocity. Perhaps Darfur has become old news or we are numbed to the slaughter of Africans. Even among those who care deeply about this ongoing genocide, there has been growing frustration and a sense of helplessness. Some might have started to feel that there was little the US and the European nations could do.

Peace Demands An End to the Tragedy of the Settlements

by Steve Masters, Philadelphia attorney and president, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace I support Israel. I always have, and I daresay I always will. I believe in the right of the Jewish people to a national home, and I love the home we’ve built. I’ve lived there, worked there, found friends and loved ones there. But I long ago learned that supporting Israel can’t mean unconditional acceptance of official policy. One can love a place and still question its leaders. Indeed, sometimes that is exactly what love demands. When it comes to Israel’s settlement policies, that’s the kind of love I hold in my heart – the kind that questions, and demands change. Simply put, the settlements represent one of the greatest threats to security of the Jewish State.
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