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January 11, 2016 3

Five Things We Hope to Hear in the President’s State of the Union Speech

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Pres­i­dent Obama has said that his final State of the Union address on Tues­day, Jan. 12 will be framed around “the big things” he sees as being pri­or­i­ties in the years to come, rather than tak­ing a policy-centric approach to the speech.  He has said that there is more work that needs to be done, and we agree.

In the run-up to the president’s address, we at the Anti-Defamation League asked mem­bers of our staff and some of our offices across the coun­try for some insights on which issues deserve pri­or­ity treat­ment dur­ing the president’s address. Our com­pleted list fol­lows.  ADL’s pri­or­i­ties for the pres­i­dent include: 1) Fight­ing prej­u­dice and dis­crim­i­na­tion 2) wel­com­ing asy­lum seek­ers and refugees while pro­tect­ing national secu­rity 3) safe­guard­ing reli­gious free­dom 4) Rein­forc­ing a com­mit­ment to Iran sanc­tions, and 5) Sup­port­ing a strength­ened Israel-U.S. relationship.

One caveat:  I should note that while we have num­bered these, they are each sep­a­rate and dis­tinct issues and not ordered by impor­tance. We believe each of these issues deserves pri­or­ity treat­ment by the admin­is­tra­tion at this unique time in Amer­i­can his­tory when we are faced with myr­iad chal­lenges and opportunities.

Let’s hope the pres­i­dent takes on some of these issues as he heads into his final year in office.

Fight­ing Prej­u­dice, Extrem­ism and Dis­crim­i­na­tion  

Last week’s reaf­fir­ma­tion of fed­eral edu­ca­tion anti-discrimination laws,   com­ing at a time of esca­lat­ing prej­u­dice and vio­lence against spe­cific pop­u­la­tions–  refugees, immi­grants, and the Mus­lim com­mu­nity –  was a needed, wel­come reminder for schools.  The Depart­ment of Jus­tice also has used its author­ity under the 2009 Matthew Shep­ard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Pre­ven­tion Act of 2009 very effec­tively, but much more train­ing and out­reach for local police is needed. A 21st cen­tury polic­ing model should include incen­tives for depart­ments   to ensure they are report­ing cred­i­ble hate crime data to the FBI.  Crim­i­nal jus­tice reform, includ­ing leg­is­la­tion now mov­ing through Con­gress, must pro­mote ini­tia­tives to inter­rupt the school to prison pipeline and efforts to build police-community rela­tions.  And the Pres­i­dent should use SOTU to fur­ther explain his new gun vio­lence pre­ven­tion ini­tia­tives, which were announced the same day ADL released a new report doc­u­ment­ing that 2015 was the dead­liest year for domes­tic extrem­ist vio­lence in the past 20 years, with firearms, over­whelm­ingly, the  extrem­ist weapon of choice in 2015 – as in vir­tu­ally every year.  Finally, we hope the Pres­i­dent will press for essen­tial leg­is­la­tion to restore cru­cial vot­ing rights pro­tec­tions elim­i­nated by the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder deci­sion.  If Con­gress fails to act, the Novem­ber elec­tions will be the first Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 50 years with­out the robust pro­tec­tions of the Vot­ing Rights Act.

Wel­com­ing Asylum-Seekers and Refugees AND Pro­tect­ing National Security

Some Mem­bers of Con­gress have recently called for block­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s plan to reset­tle up to 10,000 Syr­ian refugees. This is unfor­tu­nate on so many lev­els and incon­sis­tent with our prin­ci­ples as a coun­try whose ori­gins and evo­lu­tion are so bound up with gen­er­a­tions of immi­grants and refugees. The SOTU is an oppor­tu­nity for the Pres­i­dent to urge Con­gress to oppose efforts to halt U.S. refugee reset­tle­ment or to restrict fund­ing for refugees, includ­ing Syr­ian refugees. We hope that the Pres­i­dent will reit­er­ate that Amer­ica can keep its bor­ders safe and, at the same time, wel­come refugees that are flee­ing the bru­tal­ity of ISIS. The Amer­i­can screen­ing process for refugees works – it is the sin­gle most dif­fi­cult way to enter the United States.  Amer­ica must not turn its back on its fun­da­men­tal com­mit­ment to refugee protections.

As thou­sands of men, woman, and chil­dren have fled hor­rific real­i­ties of bru­tal vio­lence and extreme poverty and hunger in El Sal­vador, Guatemala, Hon­duras, and Mex­ico, we also have seri­ous con­cerns about the Administration’s recent cam­paign of home raids to round up and deport these fam­i­lies and adult asylum-seekers. We hope to hear Pres­i­dent Obama speak out and direct the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity to stop these raids and depor­ta­tions.  More­over, chil­dren and fam­i­lies flee­ing for their lives must be pro­tected and have access to legal coun­sel so that they can apply for asy­lum and pro­tec­tion in the United States.

 The Pres­i­dent should also use the SOTU to encour­age Con­gress to recom­mit to advanc­ing com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform that pro­vides for a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship for immi­grants, sound bor­der secu­rity, safe­guards against bias and dis­crim­i­na­tion, and fam­ily reunification.

 Pro­tect­ing Reli­gious Free­dom, LGBT Equal­ity and Repro­duc­tive Rights 

The Pres­i­dent should com­mit to con­tin­u­ing his administration’s sup­port for vig­or­ous reli­gious free­dom advo­cacy on the fed­eral, state and local lev­els, includ­ing oppos­ing orga­nized prayer.  At the same time, the admin­is­tra­tion should con­tinue to demon­strate lead­er­ship on issues of impor­tance to the LGBT com­mu­nity – which have resulted in pos­i­tive, sys­temic changes in pro­tec­tions and equal rights for LGBT peo­ple – by mak­ing it clear that mea­sures couched as sup­port­ing reli­gious free­dom that per­mit busi­nesses to evade anti-discrimination laws and refuse ser­vice to peo­ple based on their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity are not accept­able.  On the issue of repro­duc­tive rights, we under­stand that all eyes will be on the United States Supreme Court this year as it con­sid­ers restric­tions on Texas women’s clin­ics that we think are unnec­es­sary and uncon­sti­tu­tional, but we hope the Pres­i­dent will under­score his oppo­si­tion to the Texas leg­is­la­tion and other sim­i­lar initiatives.

 

Rein­forc­ing America’s Com­mit­ment to Enforce­ment of Iran Sanc­tions 

Iran con­tin­ues to take actions pro­mot­ing poli­cies and human right vio­la­tions that pro­foundly con­flict with core Amer­i­can val­ues.  As we move closer to “imple­men­ta­tion day,” when the IAEA would cer­tify that Iran has met the require­ments under the nuclear agree­ment to lift inter­na­tional sanc­tions, Iran’s ongo­ing human rights vio­la­tions and its exter­nal aggres­sions must be taken into account when con­sid­er­ing the prospect of nor­mal­ized rela­tions. The United States can­not look away from the insti­tu­tion­al­ized dis­crim­i­na­tion fac­ing eth­nic and reli­gious minori­ties in Iran, includ­ing Baha’is, Chris­tians, Jews, and Sunni Arabs. Their treat­ment ranges from quiet intim­i­da­tion to sys­tem­atic impris­on­ment. LGBT cit­i­zens fare far worse. The Iran­ian regime con­tin­ues its decades-long sup­port of ter­ror­ism against Israel and other coun­tries, and rou­tinely pro­motes fan­tas­ti­cal anti-Israel and anti-Semitic con­spir­acy the­o­ries, includ­ing mock­ing the Holo­caust and accus­ing Israel of cre­at­ing ISIS. It also has lent finan­cial and mil­i­tary sup­port to the mur­der­ous cam­paign of the Syr­ian government.

The U.S. should be vig­i­lant in using exist­ing sanc­tions tar­get­ing these prac­tices and explore new tools that might be needed to tar­get both human rights vio­la­tions and JCPOA violations.

We hope the Pres­i­dent will send a strong mes­sage Tues­day night to Tehran that there will be con­se­quences to test­ing both the bound­aries of the nuclear agree­ment and con­tin­u­ing its nefar­i­ous behav­ior in the region, and repres­sive poli­cies toward its own people.

 Sup­port­ing a Renewed U.S.-Israel Relationship

Con­gress and the Admin­is­tra­tion rec­og­nize the unique secu­rity threats and chal­lenges fac­ing Israel and the Pres­i­dent should reaf­firm the unshake­able U.S. com­mit­ment to Israel and its secu­rity in the SOTU. Nego­ti­a­tions between the U.S. and Israel are under­way for a new Mem­o­ran­dum of Under­stand­ing (MOU) to ensure Israel is able to main­tain its qual­i­ta­tive mil­i­tary edge over its adver­saries. The cur­rent MOU pro­vides $30 bil­lion in assis­tance to Israel over a 10-year period and is set to expire in 2017.

 As he enters his last full year in office, Pres­i­dent Obama clearly has a full plate.  He also has the oppor­tu­nity to work with Con­gress to insti­tu­tion­al­ize changes, alter­ing the land­scape – domes­ti­cally and inter­na­tion­ally – in ways that will endure well beyond his pres­i­dency.  We and the nation will be pay­ing close attention.

Fol­low us live @ADL_National dur­ing the State of the Union Tues­day night at 9 PM EST for our take on the speech.

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November 10, 2015 0

Supreme Court to Hear Second Contraception Mandate Challenge

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a sec­ond chal­lenge to the Afford­able Care Act’s (“ACA”) con­tra­cep­tion man­date.   This time, mul­ti­ple religiously-affiliated groups are claim­ing that the law’s min­i­mal require­ments for opt­ing out of the man­date vio­late their reli­gious free­dom rights.  Fol­low­ing its own recent prece­dent, the Court should reject these claims.

The ACA requires employer-provided health insur­ance to cover all FDA– approved pre­scrip­tion con­tra­cep­tion at no cost to employ­ees.  Houses of wor­ship and other sec­tar­ian insti­tu­tions are wholly exempted from this require­ment.  Religiously-affiliated orga­ni­za­tions may opt out of the con­tra­cep­tive man­date by merely sub­mit­ting a one-page form or let­ter to the Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices (“HHS”).  In that cir­cum­stance, the health insur­ance com­pany or a third-party admin­is­tra­tor pays for and admin­is­ters the coverage.

 

Supreme CourtDespite this nom­i­nal require­ment, a num­ber of religiously-affiliated groups filed law­suits claim­ing that this reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion pro­vi­sion “sub­stan­tially bur­dens” their reli­gious exer­cise in vio­la­tion of fed­eral Reli­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act (“RFRA”) because it makes them “con­duits” for pro­vid­ing con­tra­cep­tion cov­er­age.   Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear seven of these cases in one con­sol­i­dated appeal.

Seven of eight U.S. Courts Appeals (lower fed­eral courts) have already rejected such claims, includ­ing the influ­en­tial D.C. Cir­cuit.  It found that the fil­ing of the form or let­ter excuses plain­tiffs “… from play­ing any role in the pro­vi­sion of con­tra­cep­tion ser­vices, and they remain free to con­demn con­tra­cep­tion in the clear­est terms.”  The Court fur­ther deter­mined that the ACA  — not the opt-out notice – oblig­ates health insur­ance com­pa­nies or HHS through third-party admin­is­tra­tors to pro­vide con­tra­cep­tion cov­er­age.  As a result, it cor­rectly con­cluded that:

Reli­gious objec­tors do not suf­fer sub­stan­tial bur­dens under RFRA where the only harm to them is that they sin­cerely feel aggrieved by their inabil­ity to pre­vent what other peo­ple do to ful­fill reg­u­la­tory objec­tives after they opt out.  They have no RFRA right to be free from the unease, or even anguish, of know­ing that third par­ties are legally priv­i­leged or oblig­ated to act in ways their reli­gion abhors.

Although these seven deci­sions should per­suade the U.S. Supreme Court, they are not bind­ing.  But lan­guage in the Court’s own highly prob­lem­atic June 2015 Hobby Lobby deci­sion should dic­tate the out­come this time.  In Hobby Lobby, the Court reached the trou­bling con­clu­sion that for the pur­poses of RFRA it could not dis­tin­guish between a for-profit close cor­po­ra­tion ver­sus a religiously-affiliated group hav­ing a reli­gious objec­tion to the con­tra­cep­tion man­date.  As a result, it ruled that like non-profit religiously-affiliated groups, such close cor­po­ra­tions could opt out of pro­vid­ing con­tra­cep­tion cov­er­age under the man­date.  The Court, how­ever, effec­tively ruled that the opt-out pro­vi­sion was per­mis­si­ble under RFRA, stat­ing that it “… con­sti­tutes an alter­na­tive that achieves all the Government’s aims while pro­vid­ing greater respect for reli­gious liberty.”

Although ADL and oth­ers strongly dis­agreed with the Court apply­ing RFRA to for-profit cor­po­ra­tions by equat­ing them with non-profits, con­sis­tency would dic­tate that it reject religiously-affiliated groups’ chal­lenges to the opt-out pro­vi­sion.  To do oth­er­wise would be con­tra­dic­tory and mean that any bur­den on reli­gion — no mat­ter how triv­ial — could be used by religiously-affiliated groups as a vehi­cle to opt out of fed­eral law or impose their reli­gious beliefs on others.

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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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