“Why, when we fasted, did You not see? When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?” (Isaiah 58:3). We know these questions as those of the Israelites in the book of Isaiah dismayed that God had not responded to their penance, but in light of today – the 100th day of the hunger strike at the prison at Guantanamo Bay – these questions take on a new relevance. 102 of the 166 men currently detained in Guantanamo are participating in a hunger strike to challenge their treatment and their continued detention. The questions confront us today: do we not see? Do we pay no heed? And, perhaps more pressing, is this the fast that we desired?
Last week the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released its 2013 Annual Report. The report details the rights of religious minorities and the current state of government repression of religious practices around the world. In a statement issued at the report’s release the Commission Chair, Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett said, “The state of international religious freedom is increasingly dire due to the presence of forces that fuel instability. These forces include the rise of violent religious extremism coupled with the actions and inactions of governments.”
In 1969 the Reform Movement issued a resolution on the use of Germ Warfare saying, “As religiously motivated men, women and youth, we enjoin President Nixon to take a moral stand here and now, that the United States unilaterally renounce experimentation with and use of germ warfare and nerve gases. Even belatedly, we press for ratification of the Geneva Protocol of 1925 renouncing the use of chemical and biological agents.” It is always sad when we have to repeat such urgent calls for human rights nearly fifty years after they are first made.
As a fellow Eisendrath Legislative Assistant, Raechel Banks, wrote yesterday, “There are many ways to ‘share our bread with the hungry’ (Isaiah 58:7).” She discussed a very tangible way of helping to combat hunger in our midst (I still have blisters on my fingers from cutting potatoes for 3 hours straight). Today, however, I want to talk about a way of sharing with the hungry that is more difficult to conceptualize, but has no less of an impact on millions of lives – international food aid.
There are nearly one billion people around the world with insufficient access to food. That number is greater than the populations of the United States, Canada and the European Union combined. One in seven people go to bed hungry each night and hunger is the leading cause of severe health problems and death worldwide.
For some time I have intended to write an update about the growing support for marriage equality in Congress, across the country and around the world. As other issues have come up, I’ve been delayed in writing this post a number of times. But each time I’ve postponed writing this post it seems a new person, a new state, or a new country has moved closer toward supporting marriage equality. So, though I am loathe to jinx the amazing momentum marriage equality is experiencing right now, here is an update of where and among who marriage equality is starting to see these great gains.
Today marks the second anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden and as we consider this significant date it feels important to think about American approaches to fighting terrorism and the treatment of terrorist suspects. Despite the Administration’s continued assertion that torture produced no actionable intelligence in the search for Osama Bin Laden, that notion has persisted in the media and public consciousness. However, a recent report released by the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment – the most extensive investigation into U.S. policies of torture in the war on terror- has once again sought to close the debate on this matter.
The Task Force - whose bi-partisan membership included former Members of Congress, former military officers, attorneys and counterterrorism experts – conducted over two years of research and produced an over 500-page long report. The report addresses a number of critical issues from the American conduct in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the U.S. Military prison at Guantanamo Bay, to the external rendition and torture of suspected terrorists.
Last Thursday a bi-partisan group of senators and representatives reintroduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Current federal law contains no prohibition on discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in personnel decisions. A number of states have taken their own action to protect employees of all sexual orientation and gender identity, but today it remains legal to fire, fail to hire, demote or fail to promote an employee because of their sexual orientation in 29 states – it remains legal to do so based on an employee’s gender identity in 34. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act seeks to close that gap and extend the current laws that protect people because of their race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, religion and disability to include protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
As the Commission on Social Action began its semi-annual meeting in conjunction with the Consultation on Conscience, Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Benny Witkovsky opened with this d’var Torah.
There is a lot in yesterday’s double Torah portion – Acharei Mot and Kedoshim – that feels relevant as we begin this Consultation on Conscience and Commission meeting. Many quotes, affectionately known as the RAC’s greatest hits, come from this parsha: “You shall be holy”, “Don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” “Welcome the stranger,” “Leave the corners of your field for the poor” yadda yadda yadda – all concepts that should and will be on our minds as we consider the social justice issues of the day. But I want to focus on something from the Parsha that will likely not be discussed for the rest of the week, goats.