August 2014


JSPAN Newsletter - August 1, 2014

Jewish Social Policy Action Network
In This Issue:
Newsletter: August 1, 2014
JSPAN Becomes an Independent Affiliate of Bend the Arc
JSPAN is affiliating with Bend the Arc, a Jewish social action group with staff and operations located primarily in California, New York and Washington D.C. The affiliation is based solely on joint social action and does not alter JSPAN's staff or financial structure or responsibilities. Bend the Arc is actively engaged in federal matters and the agreement calls on JSPAN to join in and to enlarge its government relations activities. - Ed.

By Rabbi George Stern, JSPAN Executive Director

On July 14, JSPAN's board voted to become the Philadelphia affiliate of Bend the Arc, a national Jewish social justice group. A week later, in a talk announcing his Executive Order protecting LGBTQ employees of federal contractors and the federal government from employment discrimination, President Obama said, "Today we will bend the arc of justice just a little further in the right direction."

The president was paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who, when delivering a talk on what he was sure would be the inexorable march towards a more just society, would often end by asking rhetorically, "How long?"-and then answer by saying, "Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

A student of religious leaders as well as American history, King himself was paraphrasing Theodore Parker, an abolitionist, Unitarian minister, and Transcendentalist thinker, who said in 1853, "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one... But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice."

Founded in 2005, Bend the Arc is dedicated to "mobilizing the full array of Jewish resources - human, financial and moral - in partnership with other communities to create impact in our country." Its mission is "to deeply engage Jews in sustained action that manifests our tradition of working to heal and repair the world, and to create a powerful, widely recognized Jewish voice championing equality and justice for disenfranchised residents of our nation." All of Bend the Arc's work (current campaigns include voting rights and immigration reform, healthy food and neighborhoods, LGBTQ rights, and fair wages) focus on domestic social justice challenges. So closely does Bend the Arc's mission mirror JSPAN's that we responded positively to their overtures to partner formally. As an affiliate, we will get full access to Bend the Arc's growing array of educational materials and their soon-to-be-launched online advocacy tool, which we will be able to use for local purposes and in national campaigns that we can bring to our supporters' attention. The broader the base, the more effective our advocacy efforts will be.

Bend the Arc is especially excited at the prospect of signing on to amicus briefs that JSPAN writes-an activity that makes us unique among sister groups throughout the U.S. We are excited at the new opportunities this affiliation brings us to fulfill our own mission: "to advance equality and opportunity for all women and men in our pluralistic democracy; protect the civil rights of Jews, other minorities and the vulnerable in our society; ...[and] support the biblical goal of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world."


Maureen Pelta, Ph.D., and Alan M. Feldman, Esq., to Receive JSPAN's 2014 Social Justice Award
JSPAN is pleased to announce that Maureen Pelta, Ph.D., and Alan M. Feldman, Esquire will be honored with the 10th Annual Social Justice Award of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network. The award will be presented on Monday, October 27 at the Independence Visitors Center in Philadelphia.

Both Maureen and Alan have long devoted themselves to tikkun olam-making a better world. Dr. Pelta, Chair of Liberal Arts, and esteemed Professor of Art History and Curatorial Studies at Moore College of Art and Design, has generously contributed her expertise for many decades as volunteer Chair of the annual Mordechai Anielewicz Creative Arts Competition. Sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the competition encourages middle and high school students to study the Holocaust and respond through creative expression. Attorney Feldman is Co-Managing Partner of Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock and Dodig and a former Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association. During his tenure as Chancellor in 2006, he introduced the "Raising the Bar" campaign which continues to raise substantial funds to help provide access to justice through free legal services to the needy in our community.

Please mark your personal calendars and those of your organizations and stay tuned for more information about Maureen and Alan and the guest speaker for the event.



What the Hobby Lobby Ruling Means for America
New York Times
Binyamin Appelbaum
July 22, 2014

Last month, as you've probably heard, a closely divided Supreme Court ruled that corporations with religious owners cannot be required to pay for insurance coverage of contraception. The so-called Hobby Lobby decision, named for the chain of craft stores that brought the case, has been both praised and condemned for expanding religious rights and constraining Obamacare. But beneath the political implications, the ruling has significant economic undertones. It expands the right of corporations to be treated like people, part of a trend that may be contributing to the rise of economic inequality. ...

If the court follows the logic of its Hobby Lobby decision in the decades to come, it's not so hard to imagine a job market where people must interview employers about their religious and political views. Or where people who need to make a living may just feel compelled to accept a work environment increasingly shaped by their employers' beliefs.


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July has been a period of mourning, a shloshim for the loss of principles of separation of church and state that we believed would apply always. First we pondered the Supreme Court ruling in Hobby Lobby that a closely held family corporation could refuse, on religious grounds, to provide its employees insurance with FDA approved forms of contraceptive care coverage specified under the Affordable Care Act. The Court noted that the Obama Administration came up with a way that non-profit religious entities could secure an exemption from the contraceptive insurance obligation while preserving coverage for employees. The Court decided that it is unnecessary and unlawful for the government to require "religious" corporations to provide the insurance if it violates their beliefs.

Then just a few days later the Court ruled preliminarily, in the Wheaton College challenge to the Affordable Care Act contraceptive care provision, that just requiring an enterprise to file a request for exemption unlawfully burdened its religious rights. If that preliminary ruling prevails, as a purely logical matter, closely held enterprises of all kinds can bypass all laws that offend their private individual religious principles.

The United States is not a theocracy, in which there is one officially sanctioned religion. But under a series of decisions broadening corporate powers that traditionally were held in check, the Court is advancing the First Amendment rights of the few while effectively suppressing the individual rights of the many to freedom of religion and speech.

Long ago in the 1992 Smith v. Oregon decision, Justice Scalia held that anarchy would follow if individuals could avoid complying with any law that offends their religious beliefs. As enterprising businesses conceive ways to turn Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College to their advantage, our task at JSPAN is to show the Court that Justice Scalia had it right the first time around: some claims of remote burdens on religion need to be weighed against the broader impacts on the many of granting relief for the few. - Ed.


JSPAN Board Withdraws Support of ENDA
By Lynn Zeitlin, Esq., JSPAN Board member

At its July Board meeting, JSPAN adopted a resolution to withdraw its support of the current form of the federal bill known as ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The withdrawal is due largely to the inclusion in ENDA of a religious exemption that is similar to the one in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("ACA"). That provision was used by the owners of Hobby Lobby as their rationale for denying its employees insurance coverage for some forms of contraception.


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Justice for Blacks and Whites - As the Civil Rights Act Turns 50, Creating Cross-Racial Alliances
New York Times
By Sheryll Cashin
July 1, 2014

WASHINGTON - The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination in public accommodations, employment and federally funded activities like education, would not have passed without the support of House and Senate Republicans who were competing for black votes. And Presidents Kennedy and Johnson would not have advocated for the bill without being pressured to do so by a multiracial grass-roots movement. ...

Only 42 percent of Americans live in a middle-class neighborhood, down from 65 percent in 1970, a trend that limits access to quality schools and jobs for struggling people of all races. As awful and racially disparate as mass incarceration is, incarceration rates for black men have decreased since 2000 while they have risen for white men. A focus solely on black-white disparities masks the overrepresentation of high school dropouts of all colors in our prisons.

Instead, a civil-rights discourse that focuses on common challenges and values is needed to bridge the gaps between whites and nonwhites that contribute to toxic, partisan gridlock.


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They Want a Baby. The Economy Won't Play Along
Washington Post
By Todd C. Frankel
July 21, 2014

America's birth rates are still near a historic low. One couple's lesson in the new economics of having a child.

FENTON, Mo. - Her husband gets home close to 4 p.m., first day in 20 he's been back on the job as an electrician. He walks through the house, past the outlets with safety covers, the gated basement stairs, a bookcase bracketed to the wall - babyproofing measures they took a few years ago in still-simmering anticipation. The house is quiet. Just Rick Myrick and his wife. He kisses her hello. Then he checks to see how many hours he's worked this year: 130 in four months. Not nearly enough. Not if they ever hope to start a family.

Melissa Myrick is 33, blonde and quick to smile. She thought for sure she'd be a mother by now. She could picture it: One boy, one girl, both with her bright blue eyes. That was the plan when she and Rick married in 2008. Get pregnant right away. But first he lost his job, then she lost hers. They decided to wait. A year later, barely back on their feet, a doctor's visit revealed they'd struggle to conceive. The best shot for Melissa and Rick to have a baby would cost at least $15,000 - money they didn't have, a financial risk they still feel unable to take.


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Congress May Be Headed For Another Government Funding Fight
By Sahl Kapur
July 25, 2014

Could the federal government shut down again this fall?

The idea sounds absurd on its face, especially one month before an election, and one year after Republicans took a drubbing in the polls for forcing a shutdown over Obamacare.

But it could happen. Congress is currently on course for a battle to keep the federal government funded when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. Even though the two parties agreed to a discretionary spending level of $1.014 trillion for fiscal year 2015, the appropriations process has screeched to a halt over extraneous policy issues and procedural disputes. And so a stopgap measure appears inevitable.


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Corbett Signs $29 Billion Budget, Slams Lawmakers over Pension Inaction
Allentown Morning Call
By Gideon Bradshaw
July 10, 2014

HARRISBURG - Gov. Tom Corbett this morning said he has signed the state's 2014-15 budget, but also accused lawmakers of doing too little to repair the state's finances . ...

Corbett cited lawmakers' inaction on pension reform as the reason for delaying his signature. The state faces a roughly $50 billion funding deficit in the retirement systems for public school and state workers. Corbett said 63 cents out of every new dollar in state revenue is going toward paying down this liability. ...

In his original budget proposal, Corbett asked for a roughly $300 million reduction in the scheduled payment into the state pension funds, saying it would free up money for additional education. He also asked lawmakers in the House to approve an overhaul of retirement plans for new employees ease the burden state pensions put on taxpayers and school districts.

The proposed plan, sponsored by Rep. Mike Tobash, R-Schuylkill, would guarantee new employees a pension on salary up to $50,000. Earnings above that cutoff would switch over to a 401(k)-style plan. Actuaries estimated the plan would save the state $11 billion to $15 billion over the next 30 years


[read more]


Fires of Hatred in France
New York Times
July 22, 2014

Thousands of demonstrators marched peacefully in France on Saturday in support of Palestinians in Gaza. In Strasbourg, in Lyon, in Avignon and in Marseille, there was no violence. Not so in Paris. After a demonstration on July 13 led to a confrontation between pro-Palestinian protesters and members of the Jewish Defense League near a synagogue, France's interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, banned demonstrations in Paris over the weekend that had already been approved.

While many protesters stayed home, some defied the ban to assert what they said was their right to demonstrate peacefully. Others came bent on violence, including some spewing virulent anti-Semitic views. In the largely immigrant neighborhood of Barbes on Saturday and on Sunday in the northern suburb of Sarcelles, demonstrations degenerated into street battles between protesters hurling stones and police firing tear gas. In Barbes, an Israeli flag was burned. In Sarcelles, a kosher market was looted, cars set on fire, shop windows smashed, a funeral home attacked.


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European Anti-Semitism is Focus as Jewish Leaders, Democratic Senators Meet
Jewish Telegraph Association
By Ron Kampeas
July 25, 2014

WASHINGTON (JTA) - Talk at the annual meeting between Democratic senators and Jewish groups kept coming back to anti-Semitism in Europe.

The recurring theme, brought up both by the 24 senators who attended and the Jewish leaders, was a measure of the anxiety aroused by recent reports of attacks on European Jews, according to participants at the meeting, which took place on Wednesday.

"There was almost more energy around anti-Semitism than around Gaza," said a participant who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting in the Capitol's stately Mansfield Room was off the record.


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Congress on Working in August: It's Against the Law!
Washington Post
By Al Kamen
July 22, 2014

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) cast doubt Monday on whether Congress would have time to pass an overhaul of the Veterans Affairs Department and deal with the border crisis before the August 1 congressional summer recess, our colleague Ed O'Keefe reported.

Wait a minute! Is there some provision in the Constitution - a secret Amendment XXVII.5? - that forbids these hardworking lawmakers to exert themselves into August?

Well, no. But, as it turns out, there is indeed a law, the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, which says the House and Senate shall call it quits "not later than July 31 of each year or, in the case of an odd-numbered year," take off "from that Friday in August which occurs at least thirty days before the first Monday in September (Labor Day) of such year to the second day after Labor Day."


[read more]



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