Although the federal court ruling overturning California’s Proposition 8 yesterday was only the first step toward a likely Supreme Court hearing of the case, it’s still a landmark moment for the LGBT rights movement, and religious leaders and denominations have issued a range of reactions – including many lauding the ruling.
The Los Angeles Diocese of the Episcopal Church quickly issued a statement declaring that “Justice is advancing thanks to today’s ruling affirming Californians’ constitutional right to marriage in faithful, same-gender relationships.” Episcopal News Service reported that Episcopalian joined public celebrations of the ruling across the state.
Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations praised the ruling as well, but noted the progress yet to be made:
The ruling today by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker declaring California’s Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional is a victory for same-sex couples, their families, and all Americans who believe in equal rights. Over the past several years marriage equality has become a reality in Spain, South Africa, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Argentina. It should be a cause of national shame that the United States is not yet among those nations.
For many years now Unitarian Universalists (UUs) in California have been at the forefront of the struggle for marriage equality in that state. I applaud their continuing efforts, and I reaffirm the commitment of Unitarian Universalists nationwide to stand on the side of love until marriage equality is the law of the land.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism also issued a statement of approval that noted the Reform Movement’s commitment to the LGBT equality movement:
We will continue to stand with the LGBT community in California, and all who cherish justice, as this case makes it way through the Court system. We are proud of the leadership roles played by so many Reform Movement rabbis and activists, and we stand ready to work with them as we move forward.
When Proposition 8 passed as a ballot initiative in 2008, the role the LDS Church, the Catholic Church, and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church played in supporting it greatly overshadowed coverage of religious groups that opposed it. I mean that as an observation rather than a criticism – Mormons’ extensive financing of the campaign to pass the amendment, for example, had a significant impact on the debate and deserved extensive media coverage. But now, as the issue winds its way through the judicial system, a new opportunity to report the faith community’s wide range of beliefs about marriage equality has arrived. The portrayal of the issue as a conflict between religious opponents and secular supporters of same-sex marriage never reflected the complexity and diversity of views in the faith community. This time around, here’s hoping the whole story gets told.
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Forty years ago this summer, social justice activists, labor unions and faith leaders celebrated a historic victory when the United Farm Workers of America ended a grape boycott after growers agreed to sign their first contract with the union. The news from California these days is not as sunny.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ignored calls from Catholic priests, labor unions and workers’ rights groups when he recently vetoed a bill passed by both houses of the state legislature that would have made farm workers eligible for overtime pay if they worked more than an eight-hour day. The bill would have also given the workers the right to take one day off out of seven. (I’m not a Biblical scholar, but even God rested on the seventh day!)
Instead, the governor – who as a newly arrived immigrant in the United States was no stranger to hard labor as a bricklayer – sided with the state’s influential agribusiness lobby, citing his concern that he would put the growers at a competitive disadvantage.
This is another sad example of how a commitment to human dignity is sacrificed for corporate profits, a characteristic sign of a capitalist system that has lost it moral bearings. For more on this, read Pope Benedict’s latest encyclical – a timely reflection on economic justice and the ethical limits of free-market fundamentalism. As Interfaith Worker Justice points out, farm workers have one of the most punishing jobs possible. Exposed to hazardous pesticides and long hours, many live in company-owned labor camps.
Next time you’re enjoying peaches or corn this summer take a minute to remember how this bounty made it to your table.
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Michael Sean Winters, one of the most intriguing and even-handed writers exploring the intersection of faith and politics, has been running a series of interviews at his recently launched National Catholic Reporter blog, Distinctively Catholic. Among commentators recently profiled on his blog include FPL Executive Director Jennifer Butler, who recently spoke about the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform.
Winters’ Q & A this morning with Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Director of Media Relations at the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops, caught my eye. (Full disclosure: Walsh was my boss when I worked at USCCB.) Winters asked her “what the Shirley Sherrod episode tells us about race and politics in the age of Obama.” Sister Mary Ann blasts what she calls “pseudo-journalists” like blogger Andrew Breitbart, who “broke” the Sherrod non-story, and reminds us that in-the-gutter reporting is not just a recent phenomenon, but a modern-day incarnation of yellow journalism practiced during the late 19th century when newspaper publishers like Hearst and Pulitzer battled for readers.
Walsh compares today’s pervasive “journalistic hit squads” to fringe groups that often claim the mantle of Church teaching and orthodoxy to do their dirty work. In particular, she condemns the Catholic News Agency’s recent claim that Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S bishops’ conference, criticized the Catholic Health Association and Catholic sisters in a closed-door meeting for supporting health care reform:
Journalistic travesty includes more than anonymous attacks. In June, a news agency pursued its agenda by inventing quotes and ascribing them to Cardinal Francis George. When first called on it, the agency defended the story. When top editors realized they’d done wrong, they still did not issue a public correction or apology.
Many such groups claim the word “orthodox” for themselves. They dismiss those who do not agree with them or their approach as “unorthodox.” People of a different opinion or approach are accused of setting up a “parallel magisterium.” These are serious condemnations in a church which holds fidelity to its teachings as paramount. Despite the fact that theology and canon law are matters of careful analyses, these groups bring the subtlety of a meat cleaver to church discussions. In what is not unrelated, many of these groups use such attacks as part of their fundraising apparatus.
As we noted when this story emerged, CNA is more of a right-wing propaganda outlet than a legitimate news source, but such powerful condemnation is rare from the U.S. bishops – influential religious leaders whose teachings are often hijacked by self-righteous zealots with partisan agendas. Deal Hudson, Bill Donohue and Co. should consider themselves put on notice.
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Since Faithful America unveiled its new radio ad last week challenging Glenn Beck’s claims about social justice, Beck has ramped up his attacks. As Media Matters notes, Beck responded to the ad by alleging that issues important to 100,000 Faithful America members had nothing to do with religion, but in fact were the products of “fascism” and “evil.”
While dismissing health care reform, immigration reform and ending war and torture, he directed particular attention to Faithful America’s commitment to addressing climate change. Beck complained:”If your pastor or priest or whoever is talking about social justice and it is, ‘God is telling you that the government needs to solve global warming’, run for your life.”
Beck may not want to believe climate change is a religious issue, but there’s a reason people of faith across the spectrum– from evangelical leaders and the conservative Christian Coalition to the Pope, numerous mainline protestant churches, and Jewish groups– have called for action on this issue. Not only is our current energy infrastructure unsustainable, but it disproportionately harms the poor. As climate change continues to worsen, access to clean water and food supplies deteriorate, and extreme changes in weather uproot entire communities–hitting developing countries the hardest. Our faiths call us to care for both creation and those in need, both of which will be devastated if we fail to act.
Beck’s attempt to appoint himself arbiter of what is or is not a religious issue may make for good radio, but by ignoring the broad religious concern for the issues he’s dismissing, Beck reveals his true ignorance.
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NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby on Capitol Hill, has long been a tireless advocate for those whose voices are rarely heard in Washington’s marbled corridors of power. Their small staff of Catholic sisters and lay Catholics, along with the Catholic Health Association and women religious across the country, literally helped save health-care legislation when prospects for passage seemed bleak.
Yesterday, NETWORK released a sobering new report that should be read by any elected official or citizen concerned about our nation’s fraying social safety net. TANF Tested: Lives of Families in Poverty during the Recession paints a bleak picture of what happens when the good intentions of “welfare reform” crash into the realities of the worst economy since the Great Depression. For the past 14 years, NETWORK has tracked the monumental public policy experiment that began in 1996, when “welfare as we know it” (as Bill Clinton phrased it ) was replaced with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which imposed a strict five-year deadline on assistance and required recipients to enroll in welfare-to-work programs. Welfare rolls declined dramatically in many states. Centrist Democrats and Republicans declared victory. Advocates who work with the poor everyday witnessed a different reality.
This report is NETWORK’s third close look at TANF, and first since the economy tanked and unemployment soared. More than 800 interviews were conducted at 70 social service agencies, including food pantries, family centers and homeless shelters in 20 states and the District of Columbia. The findings are instructive if unsurprising. TANF’s “work first” emphasis poses major challenges when jobs are scarce. If middle-class college graduates are struggling to find work, a single mother without a high school degree is going to have serious difficulty. Over two-thirds of respondents were not working at the time of the survey, and one-fourth reported being laid off in the past year. Lack of child care and transportation were identified as major barriers to finding and keeping work.
NETWORK staff offers sensible recommendations to strengthen TANF, most notably changing its measure of success from reducing caseloads to reducing poverty. They also call the five-year limit on benefits “unrealistic” – especially during a time of high unemployment. Increasing access to education is also highlighted as a significant need that must be met if those on public assistance hope to improve their chances of finding work.
At a time when the debate on Capitol Hill is dominated by calls to reign in a ballooning deficit and cash-strapped states are tightening fiscal belts, politicos often forget about those barely holding on. “It’s easy for those in Washington to talk about numbers, percentages and graphs,” said Simone Campbell, NETWORK’s Executive Director. “But this is not just about numbers or a mythical safety net. It’s about the real struggles of families.”
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