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June 28, 2016 0

Court Warns Mississippi Legislature on Efforts to Circumvent Marriage Equality

Yes­ter­day, a fed­eral court gave Mississippi’s leg­is­la­ture a stern warn­ing about its efforts to cir­cum­vent the U.S. Supreme Court’s mar­riage equal­ity rul­ing.  The warn­ing was made in the con­text of plain­tiffs to a marriage-equality law­suit ask­ing the U.S. Dis­trict Court for North­ern Mis­sis­sippi to reopen their case in a chal­lenge to HB 1523, the State’s so-called “Pro­tect­ing Free­dom of Con­science from Gov­ern­ment Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act,” which goes into effect on July 1st.

Seal_of_Mississippi_2014.svg

Shortly after the Supreme Court’s Oberge­fell deci­sion, the Dis­trict Court issued a per­ma­nent order mak­ing the marriage-equality rul­ing bind­ing on the “… State of Mis­sis­sippi and all of its agents, offi­cers, employ­ees, and subsidiaries….”

Ear­lier this year, how­ever, the State enacted HB 1523, which broadly allows Mis­sis­sip­pi­ans to deny goods or ser­vices to their fel­low cit­i­zens based on their own “reli­gious beliefs or moral con­vic­tions” that mar­riage is lim­ited to oppo­site sex cou­ples.  One HB 1523 pro­vi­sion empow­ers clerks and their sub­or­di­nates to refuse issuance of mar­riage licenses based on this reli­gious or moral view­point pro­vided that “… mar­riage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal.”  But the statute con­tains no pro­tec­tions to safe­guard against imped­i­ments or delays.

The plain­tiffs rightly argue that HB 1523 con­flicts with the Dis­trict Court’s per­ma­nent order, and are insist­ing that it be revised to fully pro­tect their 14th Amend­ment marriage-equality rights.

In grant­ing the plain­tiffs’ request to reopen the case, the Court found that HB 1523 “… may in fact amend Mississippi’s mar­riage licens­ing regime in such a way as to con­flict with Oberge­fell.”  Fur­ther­more, it warned that State leg­is­la­ture that:

[T]he mar­riage license issue will not be adju­di­cated anew every leg­isla­tive ses­sion.  And the judi­ciary will remain vig­i­lant when­ever a named party to an injunc­tion is accused of cir­cum­vent­ing that injunc­tion, directly or indirectly.

The plain­tiffs’ request to the Court is part of a broader chal­lenge to the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of HB 1523, which con­tains other pro­vi­sions favor­ing par­tic­u­lar reli­gious or moral view­points, includ­ing lim­it­ing sex­ual rela­tions to opposite-sex mar­riage and bas­ing gen­der iden­tity strictly on bio­log­i­cal sex.   The law’s pref­er­ences are clearly incon­sis­tent with the First Amendment’s free speech and estab­lish­ment clauses.  Based on this court rul­ing, with its warn­ing empha­siz­ing judi­cial vig­i­lance, there is rea­son to believe that the dis­crim­i­na­tory HB 1523 will even­tu­ally be struck in its entirety.

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March 11, 2016 1

Turning Current Events Instruction Into Social Justice Teaching

Jin­nie Spiegler
Direc­tor of Cur­ricu­lum, Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Edutopia

Mar­riage equal­ity, refugees seek­ing safety in Europe, the Con­fed­er­ate flag, police shoot­ings of black and Latino men, the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Cait­lyn Jen­ner, ISIS, and immi­gra­tion are just a few of the news sto­ries that inhab­ited the head­lines this year on our phones, lap­tops, and news­pa­pers. Unlike 20 years ago when teach­ers and par­ents had to inten­tion­ally raise cur­rent events top­ics with young peo­ple, nowa­days stu­dents are already part of the con­ver­sa­tion. Through their smart­phones, social media out­lets, and over­heard con­ver­sa­tions, they know what is hap­pen­ing. And yet, do stu­dents really under­stand the head­lines they see? Do they have the chance to grap­ple with the infor­ma­tion, or is it sim­ply seep­ing into their psy­che with no oppor­tu­nity to ask ques­tions, dig deeper, or explore how they feel about it?

Most edu­ca­tors feel a sense of respon­si­bil­ity to talk with their stu­dents about what’s going on in soci­ety and the world. Indeed, it’s the rea­son that many decided to become teach­ers in the first place. With top­ics both large and small — from the Supreme Court rul­ing on mar­riage equal­ity to the lack of diver­sity in the Acad­emy Awards, from racism in polic­ing to the school dress codes con­tro­versy — teach­ing about cur­rent events has enor­mous ben­e­fits for stu­dents. And it almost always has a social jus­tice lens with which to learn, ana­lyze, and discover.

Whether teach­ers have a few min­utes, one class period, or an entire unit to spend on a cur­rent event topic, the oppor­tu­nity is ripe with learn­ing poten­tial. Stu­dents’ high inter­est and moti­va­tion lay the ground­work for being an informed cit­i­zen and talk­ing at home with par­ents and fam­ily mem­bers. Cur­rent events dis­cus­sions offer ample oppor­tu­nity for skill build­ing (e.g. vocab­u­lary devel­op­ment, read­ing and writ­ing infor­ma­tional and ana­lyt­i­cal text, oral expres­sion, crit­i­cal analy­sis — all part of the ELA Com­mon Core Learn­ing Stan­dards). Stu­dents can build and prac­tice their social and emo­tional skills, and these top­ics often present an oppor­tu­nity to con­nect the present with the past. Finally, because so many cur­rent events top­ics shed light on human and civil rights, teach­ers have an excel­lent con­ver­sa­tional bridge as well as a lens for address­ing equity and jus­tice, a topic that so many young peo­ple are hun­gry to discuss.

As you reflect on what and how to bring cur­rent events top­ics into your class­room, con­sider the following:

1. Thought­fully con­sider who is in your classroom.

All cur­rent events top­ics have the poten­tial to raise sen­si­tive issues for stu­dents, espe­cially around iden­tity. Whether the topic brings up race, reli­gion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, immi­gra­tion, etc., think about the com­po­si­tion of your stu­dents. The young peo­ple who might iden­tify with the topic per­son­ally will likely have a range of thoughts and feel­ings about dis­cussing the topic: relief, embar­rass­ment, annoy­ance, pride, excite­ment, or noth­ing at all. Do not assume that all of the stu­dents in that iden­tity group know about or are inter­ested in talk­ing about the topic at hand, and be care­ful not to put those stu­dents in the posi­tion of being the “author­ity” or main pos­ses­sor of knowl­edge on the topic. Do not ask or expect them to speak for all stu­dents in this iden­tity group. If you antic­i­pate that the topic could be very emo­tional for some stu­dents, con­sider speak­ing with them prior to the lesson.

2. Explore opin­ions and perspective.

Most news top­ics raise con­tro­ver­sial issues with dif­fer­ent points of view. Use the topic as an open­ing to help stu­dents under­stand what they believe and why they believe it. Pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties to talk about and write their opin­ions on the issue. Engage them in read­ing about and lis­ten­ing to the opin­ions of oth­ers — their class­mates as well as op-ed colum­nists and sub­ject mat­ter experts. This can and should com­pli­cate their think­ing and pro­pel them to ques­tion, change, and/or sharpen their points of view, and artic­u­late those posi­tions with evi­dence. Dis­cus­sion, debate and dia­logue should be foun­da­tions for these conversations.

3. Make the anti-bias, social jus­tice theme explicit and clear.

What­ever the sub­ject is, bring to the cen­ter of the dis­cus­sion the spe­cific aspect of diver­sity, bias, or injus­tice that it raises. For exam­ple, when dis­cussing home­less­ness, explore the stigma and stereo­types of home­less peo­ple in the U.S. You may also need to pro­vide some foun­da­tional skill devel­op­ment in under­stand­ing the lan­guage of bias, or give back­ground infor­ma­tion in order for stu­dents to under­stand a cur­rent con­tro­versy (e.g. under­stand the his­tory of and dis­crim­i­na­tion against Native Amer­i­can peo­ple, includ­ing the his­tory of mas­cots and sym­bols in sports, in order to make sense of the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins’ name controversy).

4. Make the les­son inter­ac­tive and use technology.

As much as pos­si­ble, cre­ate inter­ac­tive and engag­ing activ­i­ties that also develop skills and expand knowl­edge. This could take the form of debates, mock tri­als, stu­dent sur­veys or inter­views, small-group dis­cus­sions, role plays, teach-ins, or a sim­pler activ­ity. Take advan­tage of stu­dents’ inter­est and acu­men in the dig­i­tal world by inte­grat­ing stu­dent blogs, pho­tog­ra­phy and video, and social media plat­forms, and by fol­low­ing spe­cific hash­tags, info­graph­ics, and analy­sis of how social media has helped to facil­i­tate cur­rent activist efforts.

5. Do something.

Top­ics in the news can eas­ily lead to despair, anger, and hope­less­ness. Espe­cially for young peo­ple, it is crit­i­cal that we give them the per­spec­tive and tools to do some­thing about the injus­tice they see in the world. Expos­ing stu­dents to the wide range of responses to injus­tice, includ­ing activism strate­gies both past and present, goes a long way toward their turn­ing these neg­a­tive emo­tions into pos­i­tive actions. If pos­si­ble, work together on a class project, and encour­age stu­dents to get involved in larger efforts on issues that are impor­tant to them.

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September 3, 2015 11

Public Officials: If Your Religion Prevents You From Doing Your Job, Step Aside

Many of us make impor­tant deci­sions in our daily lives grounded in our reli­gious val­ues and beliefs. That should be respected, even per­haps, applauded. How­ever when one chooses to take an oath of office or accepts a posi­tion as a pub­lic offi­cial in a sec­u­lar con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy like ours, she has a respon­si­bil­ity to do the job she was hired to do. Rowan County Ken­tucky Clerk Kim Davis’s job requires her to issue mar­riage licenses to any­one who may legally get married.

LGBT Zip code

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court for­mally rec­og­nized the dig­nity of les­bian, gay, bisex­ual and trans­gen­der peo­ple when it extended the free­dom to marry to same-sex cou­ples nation­wide. The Court ruled that the Con­sti­tu­tion for­bids states to ban mar­riage for same-sex cou­ples. Since the deci­sion, a small minor­ity of pub­lic offi­cials, most notably Ms. Davis, have argued that they should be exempt from hav­ing to issue mar­riage licenses to same-sex cou­ples, cit­ing their sin­cerely held reli­gious beliefs. The Supreme Court dis­agrees, and yet Davis con­tin­ues to defy the Court by deny­ing same-sex cou­ples mar­riage licenses. Now, she and, at her direc­tive, her staff, are refus­ing to issue mar­riage licenses mak­ing it impos­si­ble for any­one to obtain a mar­riage license in that county.

No one should ques­tion or chal­lenge Ms. Davis’s reli­gious beliefs. The fact that some news arti­cles and com­men­ta­tors have crit­i­cized Davis’s beliefs as incon­sis­tent or hyp­o­crit­i­cal is beside the point. The bot­tom line is that she has no right, con­sti­tu­tional or oth­er­wise, to refuse to do the job the state of Ken­tucky pays her to do.

The real­ity, as ADL’s ami­cus brief argued, is that over­turn­ing mar­riage bans ensures that reli­gious con­sid­er­a­tions do not improp­erly influ­ence which mar­riages the state can rec­og­nize, but still allows reli­gious groups to decide the def­i­n­i­tion of mar­riage for them­selves. That remains true. Rab­bis, priests, min­is­ters can­not be com­pelled to par­tic­i­pate in mar­riages of which they do not approve. Reli­gions are not required to sol­em­nize any kind of mar­riage they don’t want to rec­og­nize. How­ever, that does not mean that gov­ern­ment employ­ees may aban­don their duties nor may they seek to impose their reli­gious beliefs on oth­ers by inter­fer­ing with their con­sti­tu­tional right to marry.

If Ms. Davis or oth­ers feel that they can­not ful­fill the duties they were selected to per­form, they should step aside and allow oth­ers to serve the community.

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