March 7, 2014

JSPAN Newsletter - March 7, 2014
Jewish Social Policy Action Network

In This Issue:
Newsletter: March 7, 2014
You Can Still See the Film that Exposes How Shocking, Immoral, and Unsustainable America's Wealth Gap Is
Old Man Winter may have postponed the March 2 screening of "Inequality for All," the film that reveals how shocking, immoral and unsustainable the size and scope of the wealth gap in America is. But Mr. Winter didn't stop it. Join us on Sunday, March 9 to see just what we're up against-- a big first step towards leveling the playing field for working families!

The screening of this acclaimed documentary by former U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Robert Reich is the first of a two-part series on "Jewish Perspective on Economic Inequality" sponsored by the Jewish Social Policy Action Network and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) in cooperation with Congregation Adath Jeshurun, Congregation Beth Israel of Media, Congregation Temple Beth El, Germantown Jewish Centre, Kol Ami, Leyv Ha-Ir, Main Line Reform Temple-Beth Elohim, Mishkan Shalom, Or Hadash, Society Hill Synagogue and Tikkun Olam Chavurah.

The second part of the series, "From Understanding to Action" has been postponed until Sunday, March 16. This panel discussion will feature Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the RRC, Benjamin Peck, Federal Affairs Manager for Demos, with JSPAN Board Member Ilene Wasserman, ICW Consulting Group, moderating.

Both programs are hosted by Germantown Jewish Centre, 400 W. Ellet St. (at Lincoln Drive) Philadelphia and will begin at 7:30 PM. For additional information, contact Shelley Rappaport, JSPAN Administrator, 215-292-9575.


JSPAN Joins ADL in Amicus Brief Supporting Redefinition of Marriage in Utah
JSPAN has joined the Anti-Defamation League and a diverse group of religious and cultural organizations in an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in a case challenging Utah's ban on marriage for same sex couples, Kitchen v. Herbert. The organizations supporting the brief-the "amici"-share a commitment to religious liberty, civil rights, and equal protection of the law.

In this "friend of the court" brief, the amici contend that the marriage ban is unconstitutional because it violates both the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Utah's marriage ban is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause, the brief argues, because it was "enacted with the purpose of imposing a particular religious understanding of marriage as law at the expense of all others." As stated in the Summary of Argument:

"A decision overturning the Marriage Ban would assure full state recognition of civil marriages, while allowing religious groups the freedom to choose how to define marriage for themselves. Many religious traditions, including those practiced by many of the undersigned amici, attribute religious significance to the institution of marriage. . . But religious views differ regarding what marriages qualify to be solemnized. Pursuant to the First Amendment, in order to guard religious liberty for all, selective religious understandings cannot define marriage recognition under civil law."

Noting that religious definitions of marriage vary, the amici urge the Court to abide by the country's constitutional tradition of maintaining strict separation between religious policy and state law. The brief also takes the position that the marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution because it is not "rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest in protecting religious liberty."


From The Jewish Exponent: JSPAN's New Executive Director on Jewish Response to Income Inequality
The Jewish Exponent
Rabbi George Stern
March 5, 2014

Almost daily there is a news or magazine article or opinion piece about how public spending policies, whether by design or not, result in a further fraying of the social safety net and an increase in the gap - now truly a chasm - between the rich and poor in the United States. Economists and sociologists across the political spectrum express concern that this gap is harmful not just to individuals but also to the United States as a whole.

Jewish sources are replete with teachings that point to the obligation of society to care for the most vulnerable. For centuries, autonomous Jewish communities have taxed and encouraged voluntary giving to assist those in need.

In a recent blog post about the Shmita year, which will begin on Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, wrote:

[read more]


Legislation to Restore Voting Rights Act
By Todd Ruger
The National Law Journal
January 16, 2014

A bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed legislation on Thursday to repair and expand the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that gutted one of the nation's most powerful tools to fight voter discrimination.

The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 would address the Supreme Court's reasons for striking down how the law determined which jurisdictions were required to win preclearance for changes in voting practices from a federal court or the U.S. Department of Justice. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing the 5-4 ruling in Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder in June, said that the old formula under Section 4 of the law was unconstitutional because it was based on outdated information and repudiated practices.

The bill would create a new formula to re-establish preclearance for four jurisdictions-Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas-and any other state shown to have committed five or more voting rights violations during the past 15 years, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said during a press conference.

[read more]


Bend the Arc Launches "Let My People Vote": A New Jewish Movement for Voting Rights
In the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to dismantle key sections of the Voting Rights Act, Bend the Arc is launching a voting rights campaign and will be working with other organizations to pass new legislation to protect the right to vote for all. Bend the Arc, the Jewish Partnership for Justice, is a national organization that pursues justice as a core expression of Jewish tradition.

To learn more about the Let My People Vote initiative, the proposed Voting Rights Amendment Act it promotes, the organization's Resolution on Voting Rights and how you can participate, click here.


Students Protest Napolitano, Occupy Michigan and Strike with Faculty
Last spring, The Nation launched a new biweekly column on youth organizing in the form of first person updates emanating from "established student unions, to emerging national networks, to ad hoc campaigns that don't yet have names." According to the latest post from Student Nation below, the last few weeks have seen major student protests against racism and austerity. In addition to such protests in Berkeley, Michigan, students have been protesting in Harrisburg, Greensboro and Chicago. -Ed.

February 26, 2014
The Nation [Student Nation]

As Napolitano Hits Berkeley, Hundreds Mass, Eleven Occupy

On Thursday, February 13, hundreds of students came out to protest University of California President Janet Napolitano at Berkeley during her "listening and learning" tour. The action, organized by the Students of Color Solidarity Coalition, started with a rally at Sproul Plaza, followed by a campus march to receive students who walked out of a meeting with Napolitano in Sutardja Dai Hall. Meanwhile, a group of eleven students occupied the Blum Center to bring visibility to regent Richard Blum, a central figure in selecting Napolitano and pushing for the privatization of the UC system. The SCSC opposes Napolitano's appointment as president on the grounds that she oversaw human rights violations as secretary of homeland security-she created the Secure Communities program, which has terrorized, incarcerated and deported almost 2 million migrants-and because of the undemocratic process through which the regents selected her, not to mention her lack of experience in education policy and administration.

As Michigan Sits on Racial Justice, 1,000 Take the Library

On February 18, more than 1,000 students, faculty, staff and community members gathered in the University of Michigan's undergraduate library for an all-night speakout to protest low under-represented minority enrollment and the poor racial climate on campus.

[read more]


Holder v. Roberts: The Attorney General Makes Voting Rights the Test Case of His Tenure
By Jeffrey Toobin
The New Yorker
February 17, 2014

Eric Holder's office is a civil-rights shrine. At the Department of Justice building, in Washington, he conducts meetings in a vast conference room, where he sits beneath a portrait of Robert F. Kennedy, one of his predecessors as Attorney General, who used the sprawling space as his office. According to Justice Department lore, Kennedy placed his desk in this room because J. Edgar Hoover presided in a similarly sized chamber on the other side of the fifth floor. Holder put his desk in a modest room in the corner of the building, where the place of honor belongs to a portrait of Nicholas Katzenbach, Attorney General during the Johnson Administration. Katzenbach played a leading role in the integration of the University of Alabama, where one of the first African-American students was a woman named Vivian Malone. Holder later married Sharon Malone, Vivian's younger sister.

In five years as the nation's top law-enforcement officer, Holder has engaged in few of the morally clear-cut struggles that helped define the Kennedy and Katzenbach eras.

Then, last June, in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court declared a central part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. Several states under Republican control immediately passed laws tightening the eligibility to vote, most notably by requiring voters to produce photo identification at the polls. Holder called these laws contemporary versions of poll taxes, designed, after Reconstruction, to disenfranchise African-Americans and immigrants. In August and September, the Justice Department sued Texas and North Carolina, alleging that their new limitations on the franchise violate one of the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

[read more]


End of the Road for Hazleton's Immigration Law
By Saranac Hale Spencer
The Legal Intelligencer
March 05, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court isn't going to hear an appeal from the city of Hazleton, Pa., in its bid to save its laws restricting rental housing for illegal immigrants that were struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The high court denied the city's petition for certiorari this morning along with a similar petition for cert from the city of Farmers Branch in Texas, which was seeking to restore a similar local ordinance that had been struck down by the Fifth Circuit.

A petition for cert on another similar law in Fremont, Neb., which was largely upheld by the Eighth Circuit, was recently filed with the court and has yet to be granted or denied.

This is the "end of a long line for the Hazleton anti-immigrant ordinance," said Omar C. Jadwat, of the American Civil Liberties Union who represented the challengers to the 2006 ordinance that aimed at prohibiting the employment of illegal immigrants and restricting them from renting housing in the central Pennsylvania city

[read more]


Philadelphia Enacts Pregnancy Discrimination Law
By Amal Bass,
Women's Law Project Blog
February 1, 2014

In Philadelphia, it is now unlawful for an employer to deny a pregnant employee access to water, bathroom breaks, or any other reasonable accommodation that does not present an undue hardship to the employer.

On January 20, 2014, Mayor Nutter signed into law an amendment to the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance that makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail to provide reasonable accommodations to employees for needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. It is enforced by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.

This amendment to the Fair Practices Ordinance fills gaps in the protection provided by the current federal and state laws, such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA).

[read more]


Coming Soon to a Movie Theater Near You: Noah, Moses and More
By David Kipen for NPR
March 2, 2014

Hollywood is taking on the Bible and Greek Mythology this year. It turns out, believe it or not, that between now and the Christmas holidays there will be seven big budget Hollywood films kind of taking you back to kind of Greco-Roman, biblical sort of topics. So you've got one on Pompeii, you've got a big one starring Russell Crowe, called Noah. You've got a big one coming this summer called Hercules starring the guy formerly known as The Rock, now referred to as Dwayne Johnson. ... Hollywood is beating a theme in 2014.

And why all this gladiatorial combat at the multiplex? Take your pick:

  1. We're all deeply uneasy about the modern world - and therefore escaping into reassuring stories of morality and heroism.
  2. We're all deeply uneasy about the modern world - and therefore receptive to stories of wrath and vengeance.
  3. The major studios are financially illiquid and creatively bankrupt - and therefore green-lighting only stories we already know.
  4. Computer-generated images can part the Red Sea, float Noah's ark, incinerate Pompeii and field a cast of thousands, all on the cheap.
  5. Jesus, Themistokles, Noah, Moses and Hercules are all in the public domain.

[read more]


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