November 16, 2014

WaPo Article: Catholic Bishops Back Obama Acting Alone on Immigration

The nation’s Catholic bishops are jumping into the increasingly contentious battle over immigration reform by backing President Obama’s pledge to act on his own to fix what one bishop called “this broken and immoral system” before Republicans assume control of Capitol Hill in January.

In an unscheduled address Tuesday (Nov. 11) at the hierarchy’s annual meeting, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the migration committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the USCCB would continue to work with both parties to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

But, Elizondo said, given the urgency of the immigration crisis and the electoral gains by Republicans who have thwarted earlier reform efforts, “it would be derelict not to support administrative actions ... which would provide immigrants and their families legal protection.”

“We are not guided by the latest headlines but by the human tragedies that we see every day in our parishes and programs, where families are torn apart by enforcement actions especially,” he said.

This Week's State of Belief: Equality Below the Mason-Dixon Line

This week on State of Belief, Interfaith Alliance’s weekly radio show and podcast, host Rev. Welton Gaddy gets an update on the latest innovations and most exciting changes in interfaith practice and politics. We’ll hear from Robby Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute to get a window into the religious and political dynamics of this years election. Dr. David Gushee and Brad Clark of Project One America fill us in on breaking developments in the relationship between religious communities and LGBT equality. Finally the Rev. Gina Campbell will share her experience at the Washington National Cathedral’s first ever Friday Muslim prayers held this past week.

The Voters and Their Values

We can’t start a conversation about religion and politics without some good data about how America’s religious communities view social and political issues and the electoral process. That’s why Welton kicks off this week’s show by checking in with Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, about his recently released “2014 Post-Election Values Survey.” Welton will ask Robby about how religious Americans voted this season, the issues they cared most deeply about, and what results Robby found most surprising.

Can We Stop Using Tests To Drive Education Reform?

“Stop using tests to try to drive education reform.”

That’s the conclusion from a recent in-depth report examining the pros and cons of new education standards called the Common Core and the standardized tests that accompany the new achievement targets.

The report, “Questioning The Common Core Tests,” from American Radio Works, a project of American Public Media, examined the rollout of the new standards, particularly in the state of New York, where that rollout has been accompanied by huge controversies over dramatic increases in the failure rates on new state tests.

The reporter, Emily Hanford, casts the new standards as mostly a good thing. She quoted a “a mom and a former math teacher” who claims the standards have led to changes in her children’s school that encourage them to “think more.” And Hanford spoke with Carol Burris, an award-winning principal from a high school on Long Island, New York, who “would like to see students at all schools in the United States get the kind of education that’s laid out in the Common Core standards.”

November 15, 2014

“The Making Of Ferguson” And Preventing The Next Ferguson

The conditions that made Ferguson, Mo., a powder keg waiting for a spark didn’t happen overnight, and it will take more than putting cameras on cops to prevent the “next” Ferguson.

An NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) forum — “The Making of Ferguson,” featuring EPI Research Associate Richard Rothstein and LDF Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill — today focused on the role “a century of purposeful federal, state, and local policy to segregate the St. Louis metropolitan area by race” played in the making of Ferguson. (See the entire forum on YouTube.)

Ifill opened the discussion by reflecting on her historical research into the impact of racial violence on black communities, to introduce the question the forum would address.

Human Rights Day Webinar With UN Special Rapporteur, Dec. 10

Join us for a special NRCAT webinar event marking Human Rights Day on December 10. Professor Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and Dr. Rebecca Gordon, author of “Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States” will bring us up to date on the current issues faced by anti-torture activists, and what we can do as people of faith. There will be time for you to ask questions and I hope you will plan to join us on Dec. 10.

RSVP for the Dec. 10 webinar, 12:30pm-1:30pm EST.

This December 10th, the world commemorates the 66th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As people of faith who seek to protect the God-given dignity of every human being, we reaffirm the Universal Declaration's statement that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." 

Ebola Debt Relief

The US government is asking the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cancel $100 million of debt of the three developing countries most impacted by the Ebola epidemic. US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew is proposing a plan at the G20 meetings. Jubilee USA urged the White House at regular meetings during the Ebola outbreak to take this action. The Treasury Department announcement calls for relief for Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to come from a special IMF trust fund set aside for countries impacted by natural disasters. The fund was established in 2010 when Jubilee USA called for the cancellation of Haiti's debt after its devastating earthquake. The three countries owe the IMF approximately $370 million. Guinea, where the outbreak began, spends more money annually on debt than on public health.

"This is absolutely fantastic news," said Eric LeCompte, executive director of the religious debt relief organization, Jubilee USA. "We are so grateful that Secretary Lew and the Administration are bringing this plan for debt relief for the Ebola-stricken countries."

ICE Issued 39% Fewer Detainers in FY2014

There has been a dramatic drop in the number of detainers issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to the latest available data from the agency. In the eighteen month period from the end of FY 2012 through March 2014, there has been a 39 percent decrease in the number of ICE detainers sent to local, state and federal law enforcement officials. This 39 percent decline translates into around 9,000 fewer ICE detainers issued each month, or more than 100,000 fewer a year.

Detainers, often called "immigration holds," have been a primary tool that ICE uses in order to detain and deport individuals it is seeking. These official ICE notices ask local, state and federal law enforcement agencies not to release suspected non-citizens held at their facilities in order to give ICE an opportunity to take them into its custody and initiate deportation steps.

Here are the numbers. During FY 2012, ICE issued over a quarter of a million detainers — an average of 22,832 detainers each month. This volume fell to a monthly average of 17,777 during FY 2013. The most recent data covering the five month period ending in March 2014 reveal that the average monthly number of ICE detainers issued has now fallen to just 13,898. These results are based upon detainer-by-detainer records obtained from ICE by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Save the Date: 12/3 Young v. UPS Day of Action

On December 3, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Peggy Young v. UPS, a pregnancy discrimination case that will determine whether and when the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires an employer to make accommodations for a worker who needs them because of pregnancy. The decision in this case will have a major impact on the health and economic security of women and families across the country.

Please join us for Day of Action—on the Supreme Court steps and nationwide—to show support for pregnant workers and raise awareness about this very important issue and case.

Over 160 National Groups Tell Congress to Enact Full-Year Funding

The Coalition on Human Needs was joined by 162 national organizations today in urging Congress to pass a full-year funding bill that meets urgent needs before the current temporary appropriations bill expires on December 11. The organizations include faith groups, a wide range of service providers, labor, expert policy groups, and other important advocates, together representing millions of people nationwide.

In the letter, the organizations call on Congress to approve full-year FY 2015 appropriations that responds to current needs, addressing inadequate funding in many human needs programs and providing for emergency spending to meet unanticipated and urgent needs related to Ebola and child migrants fleeing violence in Central America.

Nevada Shows National Leadership in School Nutrition

Nevada now leads the nation when it comes to ensuring children are not bombarded with junk foods and junk food marketing on school property. The American Heart Association is thrilled to share that the Nevada Department of Agriculture recently adopted a new and robust School Wellness Policy that provides two key provisions that help our kids grow up healthy. First, all items sold to Nevada students on campus during the school day must now meet the Smart Snacks Nutrition Standard as established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In addition, only marketing consistent with Smart Snacks Nutrition Standards is allowed at schools. This includes any advertising and other promotion on campus during the school day whether they are oral, written or visual. The AHA is proud to have partnered with Nevada in efforts to improve school health and recognize Nevada as one of the first states to reflect in public policy what 72 percent of parents are expecting from their schools, as noted in a poll released last month by The Pew Charitable Trusts. We are grateful to the Partners for a Healthy Nevada, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, and to the leadership of the Nevada Department of Agriculture and its School Wellness Policy Taskforce Members. All of these partners played a critical role in this monumental step forward in ensuring the health of all Nevada school children.

Jerusalem Church Heads: Serious Concern About Current Crisis

On November 6, 2014, Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem published a statement in which they express their concern about the outbreak of violence and the rapid deterioration of the situation in the Holy City. They also call for the respect of the Status Quo, especially on the Haram al Sharif, the esplanade of the Mosques.

We, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, wish to express our serious concern regarding response to recent activity on Haram al Sharif which has included both full closures and some limitation of access to Al Aqsa Mosque.

These events have been provoked by acts of extremism which are becoming a phenomenon both here in the Holy Land and in the wider region.

We condemn threats of changes to the status of the Holy Sites from wherever they may come. The Holy Sites need constant watchful protection so that reasonable access to them can be maintained according to the prevailing Status Quo of all three Abrahamic faiths.

10th Anniversary Reflections: Continuing the Journey...

As I celebrate my 10th year as the director of Disciples Justice Action Network, I look with pride upon what our many activists have done and continue to do: protesting the President's immigration policies in front of the White House in Washington, DC; standing with mistreated workers at Walmart in Chicago; providing safe and supportive passage to women seeking reproductive health services in Oklahoma; standing with Disciples minister William Barber at Moral Mondays in North Carolina; marching and praying for the closing of the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia; supporting farm workers in North Carolina and Florida.

But that's not all! DJAN activist have also been working hard to end work place discrimination based on religion, race or gender identity; speaking out and even getting arrested to secure better pay for low-wage workers; working with persons and groups from other faiths to promote a greater commitment to creation care and ecological justice; and supporting the ongoing struggle against racism, sexism, and homophobia in our churches. And, when not in a prayer vigil or protest or march or rally, a number of our activists are busy writing weekly and monthly columns and blogs about the crucial and controversial issues of our day.

November 7, 2014

DREAMers' Moms USA On 5th Day of Fasting in Front of the White House

Dreamers' Moms USA and allies have reached the 5th DAY of their fast in front of the White House to urge President Obama to extend Deferred Action for 11 million aspiring Americans.

"We have fasted for five days in front of the White House to urge President Obama to finally follow through with his promise to provide us with administrative relief that will allow us to come out of the shadows and work and drive legally without the fear of being separated from our children, spouses, and community every time we walk out our front doors. We will not move until the President hears us and acknowledges the pain that we suffer daily living with such uncertainty," said Lenka Mendoza, General Coordinator of Dreamers' Moms USA."

The Dreamers' Moms have been fasting since Thursday, November 3rd. They call on members of the community for their support and to stand in solidarity with these mothers who are fighting to keep their families together.

PRESS RELEASE: National Groups to Hold President to His Promise on Immigration

Today, national leaders from all segments of the pro-immigrant rights movement held a press conference to urge President Barack Obama to seize the moment and use his authority to take administrative action to expand immediate relief from deportations for millions of workers and families that are already a part of our American communities.

Below are brief remarks from several of the speakers at today’s press conference:

Rev. Dr. Earl Trent, Chair, Church World Service said, “Across this nation, there are 5.5 million children who have at least one undocumented parent. These children live in fear that deportation will destroy their families. As people of faith, we say no more. The President must keep his promise and end the fears of millions of children. Anything less will be an abdication of his moral responsibility to these families.”

Mary Kay Henry, Int’l President, SEIU said, “Yesterday, as Republican Congressional leaders issued threats, President Obama reiterated his determination to do what is in his authority to do and provide relief for our country’s immigrant families and communities as soon as possible. We fully support his commitment; it is urgently needed. Millions of immigrants need to be brought out of the shadows and into the light of our economy and society through bold and decisive action from the President.”

News Flash: Proposition 47 Approved by California Voters

Historic Proposition 47 Approved by California Voters. An estimated $200 million projected to be saved by decreasing incarceration costs and redirecting the savings for drug and mental health treatment, education and victims of crimes.

The people of California, frustrated by a lack of meaningful criminal justice reform, have taken the matter into their own hands and voted a resounding "yes" on Proposition 47, a ballot initiative that reduces the penalties that are associated with low level drug and property crimes.

In the early morning hours of November 5, the Sacramento Bee reported that with almost three million ballots counted, 53 percent of those who voted approved of The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, better known as Prop 47. In an exuberant email sent out November 5, Lenore Anderson, chair of the Prop 47 ballot committee, hailed Californians who voted for the initiative and thanked them for their support by stating, in part:

Faith and Reproductive Justice Weekly

North Dakota voters rejected Measure 1 on Tuesday, a so-called personhood amendment that would have changed the language of the state constitution to define life as beginning at conception. Measure 1 marked the fifth time the personhood measure was up for a vote in the state—and the fifth time it has been defeated—in six years. The amendment would have affected reproductive health in a variety of ways, including ending in vitro fertilization and abortion care.

By a wide margin, Colorado voters also rejected a personhood amendment for the third time—Amendment 67, which would have defined a fertilized egg as a legal person. The defeated amendment would have added “unborn human beings” to the state’s criminal code, which could have enabled the state to ban abortion.

In Tennessee, opponents of Amendment 1, a referendum regarding the state’s constitutional protections of abortion, were unable to garner sufficient votes to defeat the ballot initiative. As a result, the state legislature may now pass laws that restrict and regulate abortion.

Lack of Clean Water in Gaza Reduces Quality of Life

The United Nations predicts an underground reservoir used by locals will become unusable by 2016 leaving residents of the Gaza Strip without a single water supply. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem also confront daily challenges in accessing water. Due to a lack of urban development plans, hundreds of apartments in the area have been built without permits prohibiting them from being legally connected to the water supply and sanitation systems. The water infrastructure could “adequately provide for the consumption needs of 15,000 people, while the local population numbers 60,000 to 80,000.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) standards stipulate that a minimum of 100 liters of water be allocated for a single person on a daily basis. The average water intake for Israelis is 183 liters per day, 73 liters for Palestinians connected to the water grid, and 20-50 liters for Palestinians not connected to the water grid. Gaza’s primary water source is the coastal aquifer which has been over-pumped for decades. Currently the Palestinian Water Authority pumps 180 cubic meter (mcm) a year from the aquifer, while its replenishment rate is only 50-60 mcm per year. At the current rate of pumping the aquifer is unable to naturally replenish itself and may have passed the point of return in terms of rehabilitation.

Americans Vote for a Raise

On Tuesday, voters in five states voted to raise the minimum wage, sending a clear message that support for higher wages is widespread and strong. Ballot initiatives passed in Alaska, South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Illinois by large margins. What’s more, more than 7-in-10 Americans support a higher federal minimum wage.

A report from the Center for American Progress, “A Win-Win for Working Families and State Budgets,” shows how raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, coupled with expanding Medicaid coverage, will improve the lives of millions of Americans across the country and at the same time strengthen state budgets.

According to the report, if the 24 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid were to do so this year, the states’ Medicaid expenditures would drop by $2.5 billion per year. More families would have access to health care, as well as greater overall economic security.

Crisis in Nigeria

The world has followed the tragic abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls (#Bringbackourgirls) from Chibok, Nigeria. Yet that tragedy is just one incident in an increasingly bloody attempt by Boko Haram Islamist insurgents to make northeast Nigeria into an Islamic state.

Caught in the middle is Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), the largest Christian denomination in the area of northeast Nigeria where Boko Haram is taking territory. This year EYN has seen many of its churches and congregations destroyed, as thousands of church members have been killed and pastors and their families have been among the hundreds more people abducted since the Chibok schoolgirls were taken. Most of the schoolgirls were from EYN. Estimates are that more than 90,000 EYN church members have been displaced by the fighting this year.

Now the situation of EYN is dire as its headquarters property and Kulp Bible College have been taken by Boko Haram. The attack on the headquarters on October 29, 2014 occurred as Boko Haram fighters were on their way to attack and take the nearby city of Mubi, near the Cameroon border. It is believed most of those at the EYN headquarters escaped alive, but many people in Mubi and surrounding villages were killed and others are now trapped in the control of Boko Haram.

EDITORIAL: President Obama, You Can End the Nightmares of 5.5 Million Children

Can I be honest? I am sick and tired of the predictable victory and concession speeches that we hear on election nights. Politicians promise to listen to all their constituents – both those who voted for and against them. They promise to go to Washington and to get to work. They ritually close their speeches with the national creed of “God bless America.” But these hollow promises rarely seem to ring true. Instead, we end up with too many politicians who cater to corporate interests and fringe voices – rather than follow the call of justice, dignity and the promise of our nation.

In recent months, when our elected leaders have failed us by ignoring the need for immigration reform, the faith community has decided to take prophetic action and to stand in the gap. Congregations across the nation are providing physical sanctuary to immigrant moms and dads facing final orders of deportation. For these parents, sanctuary has been their last hope and last option to remain here in the U.S. with their kids. This prophetic action in cities across the country has captured the attention of millions, and we pray that they have also inspired Congress and the President to act.