Categories
LGBT News Social Justice

The Supreme Court Today Accepted the CCAR’s Position: Title VII Bans LGBTQ Workplace Discrimination

Just less than a year ago, the CCAR joined with other faith groups in submitting an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County.  At the time, I shared a message about what that brief said.

Today, the Court decided the case.  By a 6-3 vote, it held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bans workplace discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.  People who assume that the Court always votes on strict ideological lines will probably be surprised by this outcome and by the fact that Justice Neil Gorsuch, regarded by many as a safe conservative, authored the majority opinion.

One reason we keep producing amicus briefs is that neither this nor any other court can be so easily catalogued.  While judges have ideological tendencies, most of them do attempt to apply the law.  This decision used some very traditional legal reasoning to determine that the Civil Rights Act means what it says: treating a man differently from a woman, or vice versa, violates the law.  If a woman who is attracted to man cannot be fired for that reason, neither can a man who is attracted to men.  End of story.

Our brief dealt with whether there might be occasions where someone might not have to obey this law for religious reasons.  We said any such occasions were few and far between, and certainly didn’t come up here. The Court agreed with our second point.  If and when that question is legitimately presented in the future, we will again be prepared to share our views.

In the meantime, our most basic position was affirmed: federal law protects LGBTQ individuals from discrimination.  For today, that is reason enough to rejoice. 

Categories
Death News spirituality

The Supreme Court Vacancy and the Soul-Trait of Patience

When Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly and unexpectedly, a week ago Saturday, I experienced the same surge of emotion that many Americans felt. Sadness for the life lost and for a person, his family and friends, none of whom I know, was tinged with either sadness and fear about the future of our country without Justice Scalia on the Supreme Court or gratitude at the prospect of the Justice’s being replaced on the Court by a fifth liberal.

In my own Facebook feed, I noticed both responses. One friend in the latter camp, where I also reside, confessed to a guilty conscience about any happiness experienced as the result of a person’s death.

By then, though, we had seen the statement by the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, declaring in the hours after Scalia’s death was announced that the Senate wouldn’t act on any nomination by the current President. That President quickly insisted that he would certainly make a nomination and expect the Senate to act upon it.

I suspect that both Sen. McConnell and President Obama began their statements with words of sadness and sympathy. Still, none can blame the media for leading with their sensational statements about the recently-deceased’s replacement on the Court.

I was appalled. Not at the press but at our national leaders.

When a person dies, Judaism teaches that our obligation is kavod ha-met, honoring the deceased. That priority is so important that we are forbidden even turn to nichum aveilim, comforting the mourners, until after burial. Turning so quickly to discussion of a successor justice, Sen. McConnell immediately changed the national conversation away from kavod ha-met to mundane and political matters. President Obama piled on.

Surely, neither Sen. McConnell or President Obama wished to dishonor Justice Scalia, a”h. Each would argue that his position best honors the deceased Justice — McConnell, by striving for a replacement who would fit Scalia’s own mold; and Obama, by arguing for a process that would adhere to the Constitution that Scalia defended.

Both men failed in a way that’s increasingly common in our modern world, giving in to an urge to act instantly.

I am often guilty: jumping to the phone when I hear that “ding” or feel the vibration, even if it’s just my turn in “Words with Friends.” At the same time, by studying and practicing Mussar, I have learned not to respond instantly when I receive a text or email that I initially deem irritating. Frequently, the simple act of waiting an hour softens my view of the communication I’ve received. At the very least, waiting changes the tone or medium of my response for the better.

How much healthier would we be as a nation, and how much more fittingly would Justice Scalia have been honored in the days after his death, had Sen. McConnell paid tribute to the newly-deceased Justice’s memory, declining to discuss any possible confirmation process until after a nomination were made? How much healthier would we be as a nation, and how much greater the honor to Justice Scalia, a”h, had the President declined to engage Sen. McConnell’s remarks until after the Justice’s funeral. As one who hopes for the confirmation of a successor justice nominated by President Obama, and who agrees with his constitutional argument on the point, I believe he would have carried the day by pointedly refusing to descend into public political discourse about any nomination until after Justice Scalia’s funeral, and certainly not in the hours after his death.

My Mussar teacher, Alan Morinis, reminds us that “sevel,” suffering, and “savlanut,” patience, are formed from the same Hebrew root. Perhaps the Senator would’ve had to struggle mightily, even suffering, to suppress the urge to make his point instantly. Maybe President Obama would’ve been pained by not joining a battle that has been initiated. Each has a “base” that expects no less than instant, repeated, hyper-partisan reaction to every event.

Similarly, we may be uncomfortable sitting with that provocative text or email, but we must suffer patiently in order to reduce the suffering we will cause ourselves and others with the instant, caustic response.

Now, because the Senator and the President lacked patience, the nation suffers.

Rabbi Barry Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Rabbi Block chairs the CCAR Resolutions Committee.

Categories
General CCAR News Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

Marriage Equality and a Vision of Wholeness

We shout mazel tov for marriage equality!

The dream has come true, but there is work to do! The United States has taken one more step toward fulfilling the dream of a country where people can live their own lives without fear; but as we celebrate the SCOTUS decision that gives every person the right to marry their beloved, we know the right to live in peace is still a far off dream for too many people.

This victory is a milestone on the road to justice and freedom. Even as we celebrate, we hold the people of Charleston and the entire country in our prayers. The poignancy of our celebration is huge because our joy is so great and our grief for our African American brothers and sisters is so deep. We know now more than ever that none of us are free until all of us are free.

IMG_0835At the core of my religious faith is the eternal promise of justice for all. Not for some but a vision that one day all people of good will shall sing in one voice an anthem of peace and liberty. In Jewish tradition, we teach that the Sabbath is a foretaste of the world to come. The Sabbath is a model of how the world might be. It is a world without work obsessions, a world where poverty and violence are gone, a world where children go to bed at night with warm full bellies. The Sabbath is the taste of the ideal where we rest from our labors to enjoy the true gift of freedom and taste God’s bounty at a table set for all.

We know the right to marry will face great resistance. We know the violence against transgender people is rampant. We know the need for an employment non-discrimination law is great. We know the need to work against racism is urgent, but today, TODAY, we celebrate as if all is complete, the Shalom, the peace and wholeness of God’s creation is with us.

This vision of wholeness, of Shalom, reminds us that when the celebration ends, and the Sabbath prayers are complete, justice and equality will only be fulfilled by going back to work to bring everyone to the table in all our glorious diversity.

Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, CA. She currently serves as President of the CCAR

Categories
News Prayer Rabbis Reform Judaism

Why the Supreme Court’s Decision Is a Challenge, Not a Problem

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a split decision to keep intact its perceived understanding of permitting sectarian prayer in civic meetings. Most of the American Jewish world is concerned. For instance, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued this statement:

“We are deeply disappointed by today’s Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, upholding sectarian prayer before a legislative session. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that requiring invocations be nonsectarian would call on the legislatures sponsoring these prayers and the courts to intervene and ‘act as supervisors and censors of religious speech.’ Yet, Justice Kennedy did suggest there were limits to such prayers, among them: denigrating non-believers or religious minorities, threatening damnation, or preaching conversion — leaving courts in exactly the same role as line-drawers. The record has shown that the overwhelming majority of prayers offered were Christian. That is why we were pleased to join an amicus brief to the Court, opposing the constitutionality of the town of Greece’s practices, along with a diverse array of faith and religiously-affiliated groups.”

Would I prefer the Court to have ruled differently? Yes. Am I surprised it did not. No.  Futhermore, its decision does not bother me for three reasons.

1) From my understanding of the U.S. Bill of Rights, the onus is on the government not to unduly influence religious institutions, not the other way around. Whether or not this is “good for the Jews,” it does represent the tenor of the First Amendment. Law professor Stephen L. Carter makes this argument in an easy to understand way in his book, The Culture of Disbelief.

2) You cannot legislate class, common sense, or good manners. Those who will choose to make others uncomfortable with their exclusionary antics will find a way, like the couple at the restaurant last week who were behaving as if their public displays of affection were invited or at least easily tolerated. Ministers are not immune from making others uncomfortable. Like others, they are usually unaware of the harm they are causing. The Nine Justices couldn’t change that no matter how much they try.

3) The best way to help make our civic ceremonies more sensitive is to reach out to our neighbors and educate them about what inspires and what harms. This is an education challenge, a networking call-to-arms, not a judicial or congressional matter.

We have just celebrated Israel’s 66th birthday. I am so proud of Israel, even though I realize our Israeli brothers and sisters continue to face many external and internal challenges. One thing they don’t have to worry about is non-Jewish religious people making them feel uncomfortable in small town civic ceremonies. Living in America means we do face such a challenge. It reminds me of what has often been said about our democracy: it is the worst form of government ever devised, except for all the others.

In short, if you want to help make more of us feel welcome here, don’t look to D.C. Look across the street. And then cross it, handshake at the ready.

Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago and is one of the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh, the new CCAR machzor.

Categories
Ethics News Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

Affirming Affirmative Action

When I was a high school student, I had clear-cut ideas about affirmative action: it wasn’t fair. Inspired by that great principle of American Democracy that “all men are created equal”, it seemed simply unjust that students who might not otherwise be as qualified as others should be granted admission to top universities on the basis of their racial background. If all people were created equal, then objective measures should be the only standards used for admission, employment and more: anything else was simply unfair.

This was a remarkably easy conclusion for a young white male teenager of privilege to reach in the comfortable confines (if not ivory tower) of an upper-class suburb. While I knew about the generalities of injustice in the world, and had been taught by my parents’ actions how to see to the needs of the vulnerable, I never questioned the role that the accident of birth plays in determining so many lives. I imagined a talented teenager from the South Bronx had as good a chance of becoming a corporate CEO as an equally endowed student in Great Neck. I never considered that children growing up in poverty might go through half the school day hungry, until they eat their first food of the day at a federally-funded lunch program; so how could I have imagined the impact that severe hunger (let alone the emotional angst that might have accompanied it) on a student’s academic performance? After school, I could choose between being a Jock or a Theater Geek; there were no gangs tempting me to drop the charade of public education to live a different life on the street.

Not knowing any of these things, I certainly couldn’t have encompassed the remarkable role race often plays in issues of poverty and policy. I didn’t dwell on the inherent biases of SAT and ACT tests; I wasn’t equipped to consider how a growing test prep industry turned these purported examinations of intelligence into an inquiry of the financial resources students’ families had to properly prepare them to game the system. I had learned about the victories of (my personal hero) Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honestly (and naively) thought that Civil Rights in America had been secured for all.

There was a lot I didn’t know when, as a teenager, I believed Affirmative Action was wrong. I rejected this unfair policy because I genuinely didn’t know the world wasn’t fair. My textbooks and privileged reality prevented me from learning just how unfair our world, our nation, is for so many people.

Our world remains unfair. And, this morning, I woke up to the sad news that for those in our nation who tend to be the disproportionate victims of injustice, the balance has skewed even further against them. Our Supreme Court, in a 6-2 decision, upheld a Michigan constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action in public universities. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, stakes out a position as naïve and uniformed as the one I have outgrown since high school: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” It sounds as perfect and tautological as any argument ever mounted. And it works very well if you are male, white and privileged.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot surprisingly, our Court’s two female Justices dissented from this disappointing decision. Justice Sotomayor, herself the beneficiary of Affirmative Action policies, recast Roberts’ ruling: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race,” she wrote, “is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”

When I was a child, I had dewy optimistic eyes that looked at our nation through its lofty rhetoric and aspirational ideals. Part of meaningful maturation is opening our eyes to the world around us and allowing reality to challenge our preciously held positions. With a ruling made, in my opinion, with six sets of eyes widely shut, our Supreme Court yesterday made it harder for all of us to overcome the unfortunate effect of centuries of racial discrimination in America.

Rabbi Seth M. Limmer is rabbi of 
Congregation B’nai Yisrael of Armonk, New York.  

Categories
News Reform Judaism Social Justice

On This Side of History – A Personal Reflection on Marriage Equality

What does it feel like
when a human-made law
tells you your relationship isn’t worth as much as that of others
even when you’ve been together 10 years, 20 years, 60 years?
What does it feel like for your religious marriage ceremony to not be backed by your government?

Before today, I couldn’t tell you, because it was too oppressive,
and I didn’t want to explore the pressures it forced upon my life.

But today, on this side of history, I can say
that the Supreme Court decisions of June 26, 2013
feel like sunshine breaking through the clouds.
That the Creator is shining down
renewing the covenantal promise
that we are indeed created in the Divine image.
It feels like a heavy rush hour traffic suddenly clearing
and all road blocks have been taken away.
It feels like we are 10,000 feet up and now free to move about the cabin.
It feels like news that a disease has gone into remission.

One of life’s major obstacles have been removed
and instead of our government working against our family unit,
it is supporting it, rooting for us.

It feels like we are marching through the parted waters of the Red Sea,
on our way to freedom.

It feels like people have confidence in our ability to make the world a beautiful place,
instead of begrudgingly tolerating us.

It feels like justice.
It feels like intentional, sincere hugs and cheers.
It feels joyous, empowering and deeply affirming.

It feels like we are a true part of the community and that we are blessed.

Rabbi Heather Miller serves several congregational communities in Los Angeles, CA. Prior to ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2008, she majored in Peace and Justice Studies and Africana Studies at Wellesley College in Wellesley, MA. She and her wife, Melissa de la Rama, were named the 2013 Liberty Hill Foundation “Leaders to Watch.” Learn more at www.rabbiheathermiller.com.

Categories
Ethics General CCAR Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice Statements

Reform Movement Welcomes Ruling in Marriage Equality Cases

Reform Movement leaders issued a statement today in response to the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on marriage equality in the cases Windsor v. United States and Hollingsworth v. Perry. The following statement comes from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Steve Fox, chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbi Marla Feldman, executive director of Women of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:

Today’s Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality is a significant victory for the protection of Americans’ civil rights. No longer will lesbian and gay couples remain invisible to the federal government; no longer should there be doubt about the legal legitimacy of these partnerships.

 

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which we vigorously opposed when it was first considered, has been an offensive and discriminatory measure since its passage in 1996. Since then millions have been denied fundamental rights because of the impact of this ill-advised law. Though that law still stands, today’s ruling in Windsor v. United States promises to lessen some of its most damaging effects. By striking down Article Three of DOMA – a section of the law that the Obama Administration stopped defending several years ago – the Court has enabled legally married same-sex couples to receive the same federal benefits, rights and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples.

 

Sadly, too many couples across America are still denied the fundamental right to marry. The Court’s ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry effectively expands that right to tens of millions more Americans. The Court missed an opportunity to take a stronger stand for marriage equality today, yet it is a step toward greater civil rights for millions of Americans.

 

There is no more central tenet to our faith than the notion that all human beings are created in the image of the Divine, and, as such, entitled to equal treatment and equal opportunity. Many faith traditions, including Reform Judaism, celebrate and sanctify same-sex marriages. Thanks to the Court’s decision, the federal government will now recognize these marriages as well, while still respecting the rights and views of those faith traditions that choose not to sanctify such marriages.

 

Inspired by our Movement’s longstanding commitment to civil rights, we joined in amicus briefs to the Court in both the Perry and Windsor cases. We look forward to the day when full civil marriage equality is the law throughout the country, reflecting our nation’s historic commitment to the civil rights of every individual. In the meantime, today’s decisions will inspire us to continue to seek justice for all.