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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

civil rights

From the White House: Honoring The Women of the Civil Rights Movement

The subject of the President’s Weekly Address was covered earlier in the week. Please enjoy this post of First Lady Michelle Obama celebrating Black History Month. Feel free to share other news stories in the comments.


From the White HouseHonoring the Women of the Civil Rights Movement, Both Past and Present

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks at “Celebrating Women of the Movement,” an event honoring Black History Month, in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 20, 2015. The First Lady introduces moderator Vanessa De Luca, Editor-in-Chief of Essence magazine and the panel of intergenerational women who have played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement – both past and present.

DR Congo’s Road to 2016

All photos in this post are by Prince Balume and Achilles Balume, and are posted here with permission.

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In 2006, DR Congo passed a new constitution, which is similar to our (US) constitution in many ways. The right to vote, to assemble, and to free speech are guaranteed. Beyond our constitution, it guarantees strong parity between men and women. The issue today, though, is that it imposes tenure limits on the President.  

By law, President Joseph Kabila must step down and allow an open election in 2016. He began as a military dictator who led the country through a transitional government, and was then democratically elected President. His re-election met with some criticism, and he’s since been maneuvering to extend his tenure — recently by trying to amend the tenure law outright, and then by introducing requirements that would delay the election.

People in DR Congo are still learning about the law and starting to believe in their rights. If Kabila stays in power, it will set back the progress the people have made toward a Democratic DR Congo. John Kerry and the US State Department have been trying to get him to step down at the end of his term.

Last month, Kabila’s supporters in Parliament passed a census requirement for the next election. That law would delay the 2016 election indefinitely. The people of DR Congo organized a coordinated demonstration to protest the census requirement. The government cracked down on the protesters. Some were killed and others are not yet accounted for.

The great success was that Parliament eventually relented and removed the census requirement. It was a real step toward implementing democracy. It dearly cost people who demonstrated, though — some who paid with their lives.  

150 Years in Yosemite: Those Who Kill

As we celebrate 150 years of protecting Yosemite National Park, we have to look closer at how it became ours in the first place.

The name itself — Yosemite — is a slur. It is a Miwok word that means “Those Who Kill.” Sometimes it’s translated as “Some of Them Are Killers,” and it refers to the Ahwanhee people who’d lived in the valley for centuries before the US government ordered its evacuation and later created a national recreation area under the Yosemite Grant Act. But the people who lived there weren’t killers. They just lived in a valley that our government wanted to use for entertaining dignitaries.

That is the untold story of Yosemite National Park.  

Ronald Reagan on the Separation of Religion and State. I Agree. Conservatives Might Not.

Those conservatives might try and seize his conservative card beyond the grave because he did not advocate for the merging of religion and state.  In fact, he advocated exactly the opposite.  This statement came during the 1984 presidential campaign.  It was made in a synagogue out on Long Island.

We in the United States, above all, must remember that lesson, for we were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. And so we must remain. Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism. We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. (emphasis my own) All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief.

Note that not only does he emphasize that “Church and state are, and must remain, separate,” but he also specifically mentions that persons are free to engage in belief or disbelief.  This stands in stark contrast with today’s Republican Party.

In today’s Republican Party, Christian fundamentalists and their social conservatism reign supreme.  All serious Republican candidates must align themselves with social conservatism.  No serious Republican leader can support a woman’s right to control her own body or support marriage equality or support equal pay for equal work.  All serious Republican leaders must emphasize their religion and their support for taking those religious beliefs and making them the law of the land.

To borrow from Reagan, today’s Republican Party seeks to mandate belief through their actions.  That is the exact opposite of the religious liberty they claim they seek to preserve.

Our Founding Fathers saw the danger of mandating religion.  They saw all the blood that was shed in Europe because of that mandate.  That is why we require no religious test for office.  That is why we have an establishment clause.  That is why we have free exercise.  They are there to protect the majority from imposing upon the conscience of the minority.

In the past, I have quoted Thomas Jefferson and his Letter to the Danbury Baptists and James Madison and his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments.  Now, however, I thought it was time that I quoted Reagan to demonstrate to conservatives that even their beloved Ronald Reagan support the very separation that they oppose.

What’s to Prevent Segregation in the Post-Hobby Lobby World?

I am not talking just racial segregation here, but all forms of segregation.  So long as it is a sincerely-held religious belief and separate but equal facilities are provided, what is there to stop a closely-held corporation from imposing segregation post-Hobby Lobby?

Imagine there is an owner who believes, as a matter of sincerely-held religious beliefs, that the sexes should not mix, what is there to prevent that owner from establishing separate aisles in his or her store and separate checkout lines so long as the aisles are identical, there are an equal number of checkout lines and those checkout lines are always equally staffed.  What exists to prevent that owner from establishing that system?

What if the owner of such a closely-held corporation has such beliefs except that instead of the sexes mixing, he or she believes that it is whites and non-whites that should not mix?

What if the owner believes that members of his or her religion should not mix with members of another religion?

Where, exactly, will this all end?

There is a reason for generally-applicable laws.  There are reasons that in certain instances persons can receive religious exemptions.  Persons, however, are not for-profit corporations that are created with the primary purpose of making money.  If we were discussing religious employers here, then, yes, I could see why there can and should be a carve out.  However, we are discussing for-profit corporations.

The logic put forward today by the Supreme Court has no end.  Just as it easily justified the idea that men and women should be treated differently when it comes to the provision of their health care, it can be used to justify differential and/or separate treatment for all different groups.

A Humble Petition for Public Prayer in Light of Today’s Supreme Court Ruling

I humbly propose that the following invocation be given whenever a public meeting in the City of New York (and anywhere else that seeks to adopt it) is convened:

May Hashem’s wisdom guide us and may His laws guide us.  May we take on more mitzvot [commandments] and may we therefore merit the coming of Moshiach, bim’hera v’yameinu.  Amen.

After all, if this prayer:

Lord, God of all creation, we give you thanks and praise for your presence and action in the world. We look with anticipation to the celebration of Holy Week and Easter. It is in the solemn events of next week that we find the very heart and center of our Chris­ tian faith. We acknowledge the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. We draw strength, vitality, and confidence from his resurrection at Easter. . . . We pray for peace in the world, an end to terrorism, violence, conflict, and war. We pray for stability, de­ mocracy, and good government in those countries in which our armed forces are now serving, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. . . . Praise and glory be yours, O Lord, now and forever more. Amen.

meets constitutional scrutiny for public governmental meetings, then the prayer I so humbly propose should meet that scrutiny as well.

Of course, I somehow doubt that the five justices that effectively declared today it was okay to effectively establish Christianity as the religion of state simply because the majority of Americans practice it would find a prayer so overtly Jewish acceptable.  Similarly, a prayer overtly Muslim or of any other religion would also not meet their scrutiny.  And those that scream loudest in favor of the prayer offered by clerics at the public meetings of the Town of Greece, New York, would scream for the separation of religion and state the moment a sectarian non-Christian prayer was offered.

Oh, and one more thing.  Justice Thomas reiterated his belief today that the Establishment Clause protects state establishments of religion and merely prohibits the federal government from establishing a national religion.  I would love to see a state establish a non-Christian religion as its state religion and then see if Justice Thomas possesses the courage of his convictions or if those beliefs only apply when a state adopts some form of Christianity as its state religion.

Living Through the Little Rock Integration Crisis–1957

People of a certain age may remember September 1957, when nine black students were escorted to the “whites only” Little Rock Central High School in compliance with the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education. The ensuing crisis filled the national and international news for weeks. Who can forget the iconic photograph of 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, delicate as a summer blossom in her freshly ironed dress, clutching her schoolbooks as she walked past a crowd of bigots screaming at her?

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But there’s another Little Rock story, one that was never told. To read it, please follow me below the fold.

Chief Justice Roberts Intervenes to Influence FISA Reform and Seeks to Preserve His Power

The New York Times reports that the liaison of Chief Justice John Roberts, Judge John Bates, penned a letter to Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein:

In a letter made public on Tuesday, Judge John D. Bates urged Congress and President Obama to not alter Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s unilateral power to select which judges will sit on the court, or to create a public advocate with “independent authority to intervene at will” in the court’s cases to provide adversarial views to the Justice Department’s briefs.

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of the letter, beyond the clear desire to keep power in the hands of the chief justice, is the argument that the primary concern should be the ability of the court to function with ease rather than preserve rights and raise constitutional issues.  On the idea of a public advocate The Times notes:

Giving such an official freestanding ability to intervene at will, [Bates] wrote, even when the judges are not interested in hearing from him, could be disruptive to their work.

GOP Rep Cotton: Women’s ‘Greatest Fear’ is Husbands Leaving Them

Back when he was a student at Harvard, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) wrote a piece detailing what he described as women’s greatest fear and the solution to help ease that fear (h/t The Huffington Post).  This conclusion and its basis?

Cotton, who is unmarried, wrote that he surveyed several women — whom he referred to as “Cliffies,” or female students at Radcliffe — and they all told him the same thing: that their “greatest fear” in life was to be left by their husbands, and their “deepest hope” was to be “a good wife and mother.”

And Cotton’s proposed solution?

Make divorce harder through the elimination of no-fault divorce and the promotion of covenant marriage.

His reasoning?

This will help ease women’s greatest fears, stop the ‘problems’ caused by no-fault divorce and keep men in line.

I Don’t Completely Get It

And I will never completely get it because I am a white, Conservative Jew.  Yes, I am a minority, but I am lucky enough that I can pretty much blend in whenever I want to.  Unless someone is particularly fanatical, lucky and has phenomenal Jewdar, they are not generally going to detect that I am Jewish.  I generally do not cover my head with a kippah in public except when I am going to, and coming home from, synagogue.  I eat vegetarian in non-kosher restaurants.  I am out and about on Saturdays.  I am proud of my Jewishness – it is part of the very core of my personal identity – but it is not something that is always readily discernible from purely visual observation.

Yes, I can see what happens and I can know what happens; I can learn about it, both from the history of our country and from the many different years and places of discrimination that Jews have been subjected to throughout our history.  Still, because I can easily blend in – because I possess white privilege – I will not really know it firsthand.  Because of this I will never have to worry about what President Obama spoke about this afternoon and what every African American goes through merely from living their everyday lives.