Tag Archives: Civil Rights
Rabbi Merrill Shapiro & Florida Secretary of State Bruce Smathers

Why We Went, 1964: How 17 Rabbis Took a Stand for Civil Rights in Florida

By Rabbi Merrill Shapiro

Ask 1,000 people around the country “Where was the largest mass arrest of Rabbis in United States history?” and the only answer will be 1,000 blank stares. Ask 1,000 people in St. Augustine, Florida and the result will be the same! The story of June 18, 1964, as 16 Rabbis and one administrator from Judaism’s Reform Movement were arrested for responding to the call of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., is (in the words of Carol Rovinsky, chair of the Justice, Justice 1964 Committee of the St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society) ”Under-told! Not as well-known as it should be!”

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Smarter Sentencing Act Passes Key Senate Committee

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Smarter Sentencing Act by a bipartisan 13-5 vote, sending the bill to the Senate floor. The SSA, as the ACLU put it, is the most “significant piece of criminal justice reform to make it to the Senate floor in several years.” As Reform Jews committed to humane punishment and to addressing the root causes of crime, we join with other advocates of criminal justice reform in applauding the bill and encouraging the Senate to pass it.

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2 men married

The State of Marriage Equality

It’s been an exciting few weeks for marriage equality—here’s the latest on where we’ve come from, where we are today and where we’re heading!

While 2013 may have seen more victories for the LGBT community than any previous year, all the accomplishments of the last few weeks makes 2014 already look like a very promising year for gay and lesbian individuals, allies and advocates who work tirelessly for equal rights.

The Past

It’s been a long and uphill battle for gay and lesbian Americans. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which had two major provisions: the first declared that no state, territory or possession of the United States nor Indian tribe is required to give any sort of recognition to the marriage of a gay and lesbian couple as recognized or performed in any other state. The second defined marriage for federal regulatory purposes as the union between one man and one woman as husband and wife. Yet in the last 18 years, our country has come a long way. Not only was the second provision of DOMA struck down over the summer, but the number of states recognizing same-sex marriages through legislative action and judicial rulings is increasing at such a rapid rate, it’s becoming hard to keep up with blog posts! Read more…

Freddie Lee Pitts

Capital Punishment: New Drugs, New Questions

The death penalty is back in the news with increasing frequency —and there is, in fact, a reason. See if you can piece this together:

  • In Ohio, it took Dennis B. McGuire 25 excruciatingly painful minutes, from the time he was injected with fatal drugs to the time he was declared dead. The state used a new drug combination in its execution of Mr. McGuire, and received court approval to proceed despite defense attorneys asking for a delay, “in fear of the unused drug causing ‘air hunger,’ inflicting ‘terror and agony’ upon their client.”
  • In Virginia, the House of Delegates passed a bill that would mandate death by electrocution in many cases, while Missouri and Wyoming have flirted with reintroducing the firing squad.
  • The Supreme Court issued a last-minute, temporary stay of the execution of a Missouri inmate, Herbert Smulls, in the hours between President Obama’s State of the Union Address Tuesday evening and the man’s scheduled execution at 12:01 Wednesday morning, following the state’s refusal to disclose where they obtained a lethal-injection drug.
  • The first four executions of 2014 are being carried out by Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Texas, respectively. Each is using a different lethal injection procedure.

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Obama logo rainbow

#SOTU: LGBT Equality

For years, the issues of workplace protection for LGBT individuals has been of significant importance to the Reform Movement. As Reform Jews, we have strived to embody the principle of b’tselem Elohim, that all humans are created in God’s image and therefore deserve to be treated with respect and dignity (Genesis 1:27). The Senate passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in November was marked as a huge milestone for the RAC and our partners in the LGBT rights community.

Last night, President Obama’s State of the Union address focused heavily on economic inequality. LGBT advocates had been hopeful that this would have provided the President an opportunity to speak out against LGBT workplace discrimination as well. After all, prohibiting discrimination in the workplace rightfully allows LGBT people equal avenues for economic success. Read more…

African-American civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968, centre) listening to a transistor radio in the front line of the third march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to campaign for proper registration of black voters, 23rd March 1965. Among the other marchers are: Ralph Abernathy (1926 - 1990, second from left), Ralph Bunche (1903 - 1971, third from right) and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907 - 1972, far right). The first march ended in violence when marchers were attacked by police. The second was aborted after a legal injunction was issued. (Photo by William Lovelace/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Blacks and Jews in America: Fifty Years Later

This article by Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson and Reverend Paul S. Briggs originally appeared in the Huffington Post Religion Blog on January 19, 2014

1964 was a significant year in the relationship between Blacks and Jews in America. Black and Jewish lawyers meeting in the conference room of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism helped shape The Civil Rights Act. That Freedom Summer witnessed the arrest of Martin Luther King Jr. and leading American rabbis in St. Augustine, Florida, and days later the brutal murder of three Civil Rights coworkers outside Meridian, Mississippi — James Cheney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner — the first African-American and the others Jewish.

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Justice Everywhere: The Fight for International LGBT Equality

After celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. yesterday, a poignant quote of his rings in my ears: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” While we continue to fight for the civil rights and equality of all people in our own country, we cannot turn a blind eye to our global community and the human rights denied to those outside of the United States.

Last week, the President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which criminalizes same-sex marriage and relationships. Under this new law, Nigerian gay and lesbians could face up to 14 years in prison for engagement in same-sex relations and even the guests of same-sex ceremonies could be jailed for 10 years.  Further, anyone operating or participating in gay clubs, societies and organizations is liable to 10 years of imprisonment. Read more…

Protect Voting Rights!

Late last week, a key piece of civil rights legislation, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 was introduced in both chambers of Congress. The bipartisan bill represents a significant step in protecting voting rights for all Americans.

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