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September 16, 2014

From The Archives: Violence Against Women Act 20 Years Later

Twenty years ago, on September 13, 1994, President Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a law which reflects a core part of ADL’s mission: the prevention of bias-motivated criminal behavior. VAWA authorized government action to improve criminal justice and community responses to domestic and sexual violence and provided funding for the establishment of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. ADL’s support for the law, which aimed to protect women from violence directed against them because of their gender, was a natural extension of its work on hate crimes. pres-clinton-bill-signing-1994-09-13

In 1996, two years after VAWA’s enactment, ADL added gender to its model hate crimes legislation, citing the fact that gender-based hate crimes could not be easily distinguished from other forms of hate-motivated violence. In response to legal challenges to VAWA following its enactment, ADL joined several amicus (friend of the court) briefs in support of the Act. In 2000, in U.S. v. Morrison, ADL, along with a number of other civil rights organizations including People for the American Way, the American Jewish Congress, and Hadassah, filed an amicus brief supporting the constitutionality of VAWA’s civil remedy provision, which allowed survivors of gender-motivated violence to sue their attackers in federal court.

Following the Court’s decision to strike down the civil remedy provision, ADL continued its support for legislation that counters discrimination and bias crimes—including on the basis of gender or gender identity. In 2009, Congress enacted the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act criminalizing hate crimes targeting victims because of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.  ADL spearheaded coalition efforts to pass the bill for more than a decade.

After failing to reauthorize an update to VAWA in 2012, Congress enacted new legislation in 2013, which included additional programs specifically designed to address domestic violence against women of color, Native Americans, new campus hate crime requirements, and intimate partner violence involving members of the LGBT community.

On this important anniversary, ADL reaffirms its long-standing commitment to advocating for legally-sound statutes at the federal and state level that counter discrimination, bias crimes, and violence against women.

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March 25, 2014

The Hobby Lobby Case – It’s Not Okay To Discriminate In The Name of Religion

This week, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two consolidated cases where owners of for-profit, secular corporations challenge the federal Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraception mandate as a violation of their religious freedom rights.

The names of the two cases are Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. hobby lobby

The ACA requires covered employers to provide a full range of preventative health care and screening services, including contraceptives and birth control, in their employer-sponsored health care plans. Referring to the contraception coverage as a “mandate” is actually a misnomer because employers have the option of paying a modest tax instead of providing comprehensive health insurance. And that tax is often less expensive than provision of employee health insurance.

However, recognizing religious sensibilities surrounding contraception and abortion, the Obama Administration worked hard to accommodate differing religious views. The so-called ACA contraceptive mandate does not apply to non-profit religious organizations (like a church or synagogue) and religiously-affiliated organizations (like church-affiliated schools) can easily opt out of the requirement by signing and filing a one-page form.

The fervently-religious owners of Hobby Lobby, a large chain of arts and crafts stores that employs over 13,000 people at over 500 locations, brought suit against the mandate because they object to certain forms of contraception. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld their challenge, deciding that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) applies to corporations and that the federal government ACA contraceptive mandate substantially burdens the owners’ religious practice.

The owners of Conestoga Wood, a company that employs hundreds of people that makes cabinets and other woodworking products, similarly object, on religious grounds, to providing contraceptives to their employees. However, in this case, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in contrast to the Tenth Circuit, decided that for-profit secular corporations cannot engage in religious speech and are therefore not protected under the RFRA.

RFRA requires the federal government to demonstrate a compelling interest where it “substantially burdens” a person’s religious exercise. ADL strongly supported the enactment of this 1993 statute, which was intended to be a shield against religious discrimination. But in this case, the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are attempting to use RFRA as a sword – giving them license to impose their religious beliefs on others. That undermines the purpose of the statute, and turns religious freedom on its head. There is no doubt that RFRA could not have been enacted into law if it had been anticipated that it would later be used by corporate owners to thwart anti-discrimination laws or the religious freedom of company employees.

ADL joined a coalition brief with a diverse group of more than two dozen faith-based organizations. The brief, prepared by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argues that applying the conception regulations to the corporations does not substantially burden religion. For-profit corporate entities do not practice religion. And because the legally distinct corporations would actually pay for and provide the comprehensive health insurance, any religious burden on their owners is minimal. Not to mention that the owners have the option of their corporations paying a modest tax instead of providing comprehensive insurance.

The brief further asserts that Americans do not lose their religious freedom when they establish for profit businesses. But the religious beliefs of these employers should not be imposed on third parties – their employees – and the owners’ rights cannot trump the religious rights of their employees.

It would be hard to overstate the stakes for religious liberty and equality in these two cases. The American workforce is highly diverse. Allowing secular corporate owners to restrict access to affordable contraceptives on the basis of religion discriminates against women and limits their equality and independence. Approval of this action by the Court would also be a grave blow to religious freedom in this country – and open the door to the specter of workplace discrimination and for-profit companies denying coverage for other essential medical services that some owners might deem religiously offensive, such as blood transfusions, psychiatric care, and vaccinations.


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March 7, 2014

ADL-Led Coalition Defends The Hate Crimes Prevention Act

The Anti-Defamation League has filed an amicus brief in a case pending before the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of a broad coalition of civil rights, religious, educational, and law enforcement organizations in support of the constitutionality of the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA).  This is the first coalition brief defending the Act, and it attracted some of the most prominent and important civil rights, religious, law enforcement, LGBT, educational, and professional organizations in the country. HCPA-brief

The cases involve Samuel Mullet Sr., the self-appointed Bishop of an Old Order Amish sect in central eastern Ohio, who ordered more than a dozen of his followers to engage in violent beard-and hair-cutting attacks against church members who had rebelled against his domineering control.

The victims of these religiously-motivated crimes were being punished: they had not obeyed Mullet’s edicts and “strayed from the true path.”  Married men in this Amish community typically grow long beards and the women grow their hair long and keep it covered under a prayer bonnet.  Beards and hair are sacred symbols of their religious identity.

The assailants invaded the victims’ homes or lured them into the open before attacking them. They forcibly cut their hair and beards using a variety of implements, including horse shears and electric beard trimmers. The attackers took pictures of their assaults to compound and memorialize the victims’ shame, and then buried the camera.

The attacks inspired fear throughout the Amish communities in the region. In September 2012, Mullet and his followers were tried and convicted of federal conspiracy, kidnapping, and violating the HCPA. U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster eloquently described the defendants’ actions during sentencing: “you did more than just terrorize, traumatize, disfigure your victims, you trampled on the Constitution, and particularly the First Amendment which guarantees each and every American religious freedom.”

The defendants, Mullet and his followers, are now appealing the case, challenging their convictions and sentences on the grounds that the HCPA is unconstitutional, a violation of the First Amendment, and that the HCPA cannot apply to a case in which the perpetrators and victims are of the same religion.

The ADL coalition brief counters each of these arguments.

First, the brief argues the fact that the perpetrators identify as the same religion as the victims does not shield them from culpability under the HCPA: “To exempt intra-faith crimes from the HCPA would ignore many acts of bias-motivated violence that that devastating effects on communities.”

Second, the brief clearly demonstrates that the HCPA does not infringe on the defendants’  religious freedom rights:  “Appellants are, and always have been, free to speak their minds and free to worship in any way they wish.  They simply are not free to target victims for violent crimes because of religion.”

The list of organizations joining ADL and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights on this brief includes American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Association of People with Disabilities, American Association of University Women, American Federation of Teachers, American Jewish Committee, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, B’nai B’rith International, GLSEN, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hindu American Foundation, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights First, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, Japanese American Citizens League, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish Women International, Muslim Advocates, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Council of Jewish Women, National Disability Rights Network, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, National Organization for Women Foundation, National Urban League, OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, People For the American Way Foundation, PFLAG National, Police Executive Research Forum, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sikh Coalition, Society for Humanistic Judaism, South Asian Americans Leading Together, Southern Poverty Law Center, Union of Reform Judaism, UNITED SIKHS, Women of Reform Judaism, and Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.

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