Beginning in August, the Reform Movement will join the NAACP on America’s Journey for Justice—an historic 860-mile march from Selma, Alabama, to Washington, D.C. The Religious Action Center is organizing hundreds of rabbis in partnership with the NAACP for the Journey, which will mobilize activists and advance a focused advocacy agenda that protects the right of […]Read more
By Rabbi Paul Kipnes When the call came to drop everything and fly cross-country to highlight the racial injustice that still exists in America, nearly 200 Reform rabbis answered. We put personal and work lives on hold to retrace the steps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery and beyond.Read more
When the NAACP’s America’s Journey for Justice began in Selma, AL, on August 1, the Reform Movement was there as a partner and ally. This historic 860-mile march in which nearly 200 Reform rabbis and activists are participating, will culminate in Washington, D.C. on September 16. Throughout, the marchers are demonstrating to our nation’s leaders that Americans […]Read more
On Saturday night, legendary civil rights leader Julian Bond passed away at the age of 75. Mr. Bond spent his life fighting for social justice—he was a founding member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center and a longtime chairman of the NAACP. His loss is felt […]Read more
In response to the news late last month that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) had ended its controversial ban against gay scout leaders, the Commission on Social Action (CSA) of Reform Judaism sent a memo last week to all of the nearly 900 Union for Reform Judaism member congregations, informing them their 2001 recommendation that congregations not sponsor BSA troops has been rescinded. While the new BSA policy is an important step forward for LGBT equality, some concerns remain. The text of that memo can be found below.
In 2001, the Commission on Social Action sent a memo to all URJ congregations and CCAR Rabbis concerning the Boy Scouts of America policy of discrimination against gay scouts and scout masters. The memo stated, “While we maintain our hope that the Boy Scouts of America will abandon its discriminatory policies, its lack of response to the many expressions of disagreement and disappointment with the policies gives us little basis for optimism. Therefore, and with pain, we must recommend that congregations sponsoring/housing troops/packs withdraw sponsorship of a troop/pack and/or stop housing one.”
We took this position based on the URJ and CCAR’s longstanding commitment to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and our support for full equality of gays and lesbians in all aspects of congregational and civic life. As a result, the overwhelming number of Reform congregations that had a relationship with the BSA severed those ties.
On July 27, 2015 the Boy Scouts of America voted to adopt a policy change in their leadership standards for adults. The new policy states: “No adult applicant for registration as an employee or non-unit-serving volunteer, who otherwise meets the requirements of the Boy Scouts of America, may be denied registration on the basis of sexual orientation.” This policy change builds on a previous policy adopted by the BSA in 2013 opening its ranks to gay youth.
The BSA’s new leadership standards for adults is a positive step reflecting the fact that leadership ability is never determined by sexual orientation. It assures that gay youth in the scouting movement will see themselves reflected in positive adult role models. Scouts for Equality, an organization composed largely of Boy Scouts of America alumni dedicated to ending the BSA’s ban on gay members and leaders, hailed the policy change. Zach Wahls, SFE’s Executive Director, said in a statement, “We’re calling on gay Eagle Scouts, parents who are straight allies, non-profit organizations who support LGBT equality and anyone else who has walked away from the Boy Scouts to rejoin the fold. Together, we can build a stronger, more inclusive Scouting movement.” ￼￼
There are however, two areas where the CSA continues to have concerns about BSA policy:
1. The new BSA leadership standard for adults applies only to non-religious chartered BSA units. As the BSA’s website explains: The Boy Scouts of America issues charters to civic, faith-based, and educational organizations to operate scouting units to deliver the programs to their youth members, as well as the community at large. Over 100,000 scouting units are owned and operated by chartered organizations. Of these:
- 71.5 percent of all units are chartered to faith-based organizations.
- 21.3 percent of all units are chartered to civic organizations.
- 7.2 percent of all units are chartered to educational organizations.
That means that 71.5% of units will still be allowed, if they so wish, to bar gay leaders. Different denominations, based on their faith teachings, will make their own internal decisions about what their leadership policies will be. However, at the national level, and among all non- religious chartered BSA units, no discrimination is allowed.
2. The new BSA leadership standard is silent about the participation of transgender individuals. Although the participation of transgender scouts and leaders was not part of the concerns the Commission on Social Action raised in our 2001 memo, changing times and understandings of gender and gender identity compel us to note with concern BSA’s silence on this issue. We will continue to urge the BSA to have a fully inclusive policy for scouts and leaders.
After considering the BSA policy change, the response from advocates within the scouting community generally and in particular, Scouts for Equality as a leading voice within the gay scouting community, the Commission on Social Action has concluded that if a URJ congregation wishes to re-establish ties with the BSA and host a fully inclusive and welcoming unit, it should do so. However, we note with great concern the fact that some religiously chartered BSA units will continue to discriminate against gay leaders. We will continue to advocate for a fully inclusive and welcoming BSA for leaders and scouts who are gay and/or transgender, and we encourage those synagogues who elect to rejoin the BSA to participate whole-heartedly in this effort.
The Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism is a joint body of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Union for Reform Judaism and its affiliates that seeks to apply the insights of Jewish tradition to domestic and foreign issues of social justice.
Last July, I packed up all of my bags, loaded up the trunk of my dad’s car, and made the trek from New England to move to Washington D.C. and begin my post-collegiate professional life.
While I’ve been enjoying the past year in the Nation’s Capital, amidst learning WMATA and running routes, dashing between meetings, enjoying the monuments and museums, it’s impossible not to see the rampant inequality in the District. In Dupont Circle alone, just blocks from the RAC’s office on Kivie Kaplan Way, too many people experiencing homelessness camp out at night, not sure where else to go in the hazy humidity of a D.C. summer or during the winter nights before the federal government closes for a snow day.
On September 25, Pope Francis will speak to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City as the members determine the new Sustainable Development Goals. These goals will guide global leaders in finding a way forward for international development. The Sustainable Development Goals are being finalized this September ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change happening in Paris this December. Both UN gatherings are happening in the wake of global temperature rise, sea level rise, increased droughts and flooding, all due to climate change.
Our Jewish tradition is full of journeys, from the very beginning of our sacred texts. Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden; Noah’s Ark and his aquatic sojourn – while these are not explicit commandments from God, they are journeys for these Biblical figures. Later, in parashat Lech Lecha (literally, “go” or “leave”), God commands Abraham “go from your land … to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 17:27). Later on, we read of Moses’ journey from Egypt to Midian, back to Egypt, and then his leadership of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and the subsequent wandering in the desert for forty years before entering the Promised Land. Ruth leaves Moab with Naomi to a new land, Israel, where she is a stranger, and finds a new life. Over the course of millennia, Jewish individuals and the Jewish people have journeyed, whether by choice, whether by command from God, whether by necessity due to forced exile, anti-Semitism or more modern crises, such as the pogroms.
Journeys, both literal and figurative, are familiar to us as Jews. Journeys are not easy, and the miles walked and the distances covered illustrate for us the challenges and struggles of the time.
Sunday marked the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, the last time a nuclear weapon was used as a war tactic against people, almost entirely civilians. The blast left 60,000-80,000 dead within a few days, with tens of thousands injured suffering crippling injuries from radiation and tens of thousands more hurt from radiation poisoning. The anniversary of the bombings provide an opportunity to reflect on the destruction the nuclear weapons caused in the immediate aftermath and over the years, from heart-wrenching photos of survivors in the first days, weeks and months after the bombings, to the scars that will not ever truly fade away – both in Japan and throughout the global community. Read more…
Part of our job as legislative assistants, in addition to staying on top of policy and doing direct lobby visits, is to help Reform Jews – from high school students with us for the L’Taken Social Justice Seminars to rabbis and congregational lay leaders attending Consultation on Conscience – speak to the offices of their elected officials.
From the Equality Act of 1974 to the Equality Act of 2015: Protecting LGBT People from Discrimination
On July 23, 2015, I had the opportunity to join the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Deputy Director, Rachel Laser, at the Capitol Building for a press conference for the introduction of the Equality Act.
The Equality Act (H.R. 3185/S. 1858) would amend existing civil rights legislation in order to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, federal funding, education, credit, and jury selection based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity and prohibit sex discrimination in public accommodations and federal funding. The bill and its introduction were historic in many ways, especially since the LGBT community has focused on just federal employment non-discrimination protections for the past two decades.
The legislative assistant offices at the RAC have a strange feel to them today—all of the zany pictures and decorations adorning our desks have been removed, the usual desktop clutter has vanished and there is a strong scent of cleaning solution flowing through the air. After 50 weeks at the RAC, it’s our last day, and an opportunity for us to reflect on what we’ve accomplished and what we’ve witnessed during our time here. Read more…