I’m writing you today with a different request than usual. It may not seem important at first, but I believe that is has a profound spiritual value: I want you to celebrate. Specifically, I want you to join with Religion Coalition of Reproductive Justice (RCRC) and our allies in celebrating the milestone that bring us a little closer to full equality for all people in the United States: President Obama signing executive orders on Monday July 21st that protect transgender federal employees and ban discrimination against LGBT persons in federal contracting. And notably, the latter did not include a broad religious exemption, as requested by conservative faith leaders.
At RCRC, we see the struggle for LGBT equality and the struggle for reproductive health, rights, and justice as inseparable—and also deeply connected to religion. See “Connecting the Dots: LGBT Equality, Reproductive Rights, and Religion” by RCRC President/CEO Rev. Harry Knox for a more detailed description of our analysis and our vision.
The events of the last month have proven that they are connected for our opposition as well. Whether it’s to deny employees’ access to birth control or it’s to discriminate against LGBT people in the workplace, the dynamic is the same: a small-but-powerful minority of religious conservatives want special permission to impose their religious views on others by asking for exemptions from the law.
Unitarian Universalists have long been on the forefront of this struggle, and it’s thrilling to see—and play a small part in—the incredible progress that’s happened. When I started this work 15 years ago, the line we heard all the time from the right wing was that LGBT people didn’t deserve special rights. What happened with the Executive Order represents a total sea change—conservatives were explicitly asking for a special right to use religion as a tool for discrimination. And thanks in part to the efforts of faith groups like the UUA and Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the Administration rightfully declined the conservative’s request and President Obama signed an order on Monday that prevents discrimination without a new exemption. I had the honor of attending the signing ceremony and it definitely stands out as one of the most meaningful moments in my professional career.
Pictured at right outside the White House are: Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, Moderator of the Metropolitan Community Church; Rev. Harry Knox, President/CEO, RCRC; Rev. Susan Russell, All Saints Episcopal, Pasadena; Rev. Dr. Ken Brooker Langston, Disciples Justice Action Network; Bishop Gene Robinson, Retired Episcopal Bishop of NH; Rabbi David Saperstein, Director/Counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Rev. Rob Keithan, Director of Public Policy, RCRC; and Rev. Fred Davie, Executive Vice-President at Union Theological Seminary. Photograph by Rachel Laser
In a conversation with a reporter after the orders were signed, RCRC President/CEO Rev. Harry Knox spoke to heart of the issue, saying “Religion shouldn’t be used as a weapon to harm anyone. Denying someone the right to work denies their basic humanity.”
In one of the few unscripted moments during the ceremony, one of our faith leader colleagues called out an “Amen” after a particularly powerful remark. In response, President Obama paused, looked in their direction, and with a big smile of appreciation said “Got the amen corner here!”
Whatever words or actions you use for celebration, I urge you to intentionally take a moment to rejoice in this important step towards what the President called forming “a more perfect union” where “’we, the people’ applies to all the people.” And I’ll conclude with his final words to us at the signing:
“We’ve got a long way to go, but I hope as everybody looks around this room, you are reminded of the extraordinary progress that we have made not just in our lifetimes, but in the last five years. In the last two years. In the last one year. We’re on the right side of history.”
Rev. Rob Keithan
Director of Public Policy
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Across the country, UU congregations and SSL supporters are responding with love as we find ways as a country to address youth from Central America seeking refuge from violence at home. There are many ways you can take action:
Sign up for our Border Trip this October, so that you have a better first-hand experience of what life is like at the Border;
If you plan on responding to anti-immigrant protesters with love, see here for resources; and
Read the important dispatch below from our UU Congregation in Hidalgo, Texas, and share with your networks.
Blessings on all refugee children.
The inherent worth and dignity of every person = protection for refugees.
All religions believe in justice.
Of course, we are our brother’s keeper.
Immigration: it’s the American way.
We are all human.
These are only a few of the messages that were displayed at a recent interfaith vigil in McAllen, Texas in support of Central American refugees who are escaping violence and persecution in their home countries and arriving at the southern border of the United States. An estimated 500 people lined up across the street from a Department of Homeland Security building to support this message of justice on a sweltering Saturday morning. The group included dozens of social justice organizations, faith-based groups, and concerned community members, both from the Rio Grande Valley and from as far away as San Antionio and Corpus Christi. The vigil opened with a blessing lead by women from the Grupo de Danza Tradicional Azteca Xinachtli, who traveled nearly six hours from Del Rio to stand with us; the blessing was followed by messages of hope, compassion, and justice from representatives of local faith communities, from an imam to a priest. A representative of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hidalgo County read a reflection calling for compassion and responsibility and invited everyone to join in singing our beloved hymn “Circle Round for Freedom.” Both jubilant and somber songs, played by local musicians, soared out across the road. Smiles were infectious.
Organized in only 10 days by the recently formed Human Rights Coalition of South Texas, the vigil demonstrated that the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, and the United States welcome refugees. This is the face of America that we want shown on the news. The impetus for the event was to prevent anti-immigrant protesters at the same location from monopolizing the messages that are being publicized about the issue. As if by divine intervention, only four protesters with “Secure our Borders” signs showed up. To anyone who was driving quickly past or who did not read English, these protestors, with their American flags, would have appeared to be supporting the more powerful message of love. In the event that a bus with children apprehended by Border Patrol passed by, we wanted them to see smiling and welcoming faces—to know that they were safe in the bounty of the United States and that we will do our best to protect them.
This year, thousands of children have been apprehended at the border without their parents; the majority of them are from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Congress and the American people have been divided as to how to approach and solve this issue. This we know: deportations are not the answer. Please join the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hidalgo County and the Human Rights Coalition of South Texas in standing on the side of love in responding to the refugees arriving at our border.
With the support of Humanity is Borderless, a campaign in affiliation with the Human Rights Coalition of South Texas, we are calling for a nationwide series of vigils across American cities to stand in solidarity with our refugees and immigrant communities. Supporters in Massachusetts, Illinois, New York, and Texas have already made the first steps to mobilize their communities. To join our movement and show the world the side of America that stands on the right side of history and on the side of love, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. We must act in unison to help our people.
P.S. Consider going to the Border to learn more for yourself what is happening. Click here for more info and to sign up.
To view the reflection UUFHC shared at the vigil, as well as videos, photos, and news coverage, please click here.
Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against women. Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court ruled against religious liberty. Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court decided that corporations have equal rights and protections as individuals, once again pitting the powerful against the powerless. Two weeks ago, I got angry.
Hobby Lobby, a nationwide chain of craft stores, asked the Supreme Court to determine if for-profit corporations could deny the no-cost contraceptive coverage mandate in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to their employees, based on the employers’ religious beliefs. While the ACA provides ways for religious institutions and religiously affiliated non-profits to opt out of the no-cost contraceptive mandate, there was an expectation that all for-profit company’s insurance plans would cover this basic aspect of health care. The Hobby Lobby v. Burwell case, however, asked the Supreme Court to acknowledge the so-called “religious liberty” of for-profit corporations.
Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against women and their reproductive health in the name of a twisted application of religious liberty. The ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby maintained that ‘closely-held’ for-profit corporations, almost 95% of United States corporations, possess more religious liberty and rights than their female employees. The qualifications offered in the majority opinion suggests that these loopholes apply only to contraceptive coverage and not to other religiously contested medical opinions, such as vaccinations and blood transfusions, and that in other circumstances, religious freedom must not be used as a tool for discrimination. Past Supreme Court rulings with similarly narrow decisions, however, have transformed over time to harm larger swaths of the population and sway further away from the original stipulations. Just days after the ruling was released, groups began to exploit the so-called “religious liberty” of corporations to discriminate, particularly against members of the LGBTQ community.
Even if these loopholes are not exploited in the name of further oppression of marginalized communities, this focus only on women’s reproductive health once again reminds us that our government would rather protect corporations than individuals, especially women, and that we have a long fight ahead to ensure reproductive freedom and equality for all. Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President Rev. Peter Morales writes, “Though I am exceedingly disappointed in this ruling, I reaffirm the commitment of the UUA to work for reproductive justice…because ‘justice is what love looks like in public.’”
While I find myself extremely disappointed and disheartened by this Supreme Court ruling, I have found hope in the progressive work that has already begun to take shape. This week, the United States Senate will vote on the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act. This piece of legislation, also called the Not My Boss’ Business Act, was crafted to protect employees from the Hobby Lobby decision by making it illegal for employers to refuse to provide any health coverage, including contraceptive coverage, that is guaranteed to their employees and dependents under federal law, such as the ACA. I encourage you to join me in spreading the word about the detrimental Supreme Court ruling and this progressive piece of legislation by talking to your peers, sharing a graphic on Facebook, or calling and writing your Senator.
Working to correct the damage done by the Supreme Court will be a long and difficult road. The Not My Boss’ Business Act is one of many necessary responses that the progressive faith community will have to the Hobby Lobby ruling over the coming months – stay tuned for more ways to ensure reproductive rights, health, and justice are protected for all!
In frustration and hope,
Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation Clara Barton InternMore >
Last week during the UUA General Assembly Ware Lecture, immigration reform advocate Sister Simone Campbell, organizer of “Nuns on the Bus,” made a passionate call for us to “walk toward trouble.” Our General Assembly delegates did that when they passed an Action of Immediate Witness calling on President Obama to stop the deportations of our immigrant siblings and called for Unitarian Universalists to participate in a broad coalition of faith groups and immigrant advocates at the July 31-August 2 Pray for Relief! Not One More Deportation actions in Washington, D.C. Now is the time to walk- or roll, or move- toward trouble and fulfill that call.
Organizers hope 100 faith leaders will engage in civil disobedience to protest the cruelty brought by the over 1,100 daily deportations and that hundreds more will come in support to the Faith Summit and Not One More Deportation Day of Action. Imagine if 25 of those faith leaders arrested were Unitarian Universalists. We have walked toward trouble before to protest the separation of families and we have pledged to do so again at this action.
From July 31 through August 2 we will be in Washington, DC. Will you be there with us? Will you be there for families, for children, for justice? You can sign up to attend the July 31-August 1 summit, engage in witness and/or civil disobedience, and stay for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network’s Not One More Deportation Day of Action on August 2nd at Standing on the Side of Love—Pray for Relief—Take Actions to Stop the Deportations!
And this Thursday, July 10 at 4pm EST/1pm PST, join Standing on the Side of Love and the UU College of Social Justice for a joint call-in and update from the US/Mexico border. Call 605-475-4000 and use code 476389#.
President Obama has said that he will take action in the event of Congressional inaction on immigration reform. The president has the power to bring relief to the millions of families living under the threat or already suffering from mass detention and deportation. The President needs to hear from those who can bring to this moment the moral voice. A voice that values the worth and dignity of all people, over profit and politics. A voice that hears the cries of human suffering and moves in solidarity against injustice. A voice – joined with voices of other faiths – to say Not One More Deportation!
We know many of you have been working to achieve compassionate immigration reform and stop the deportations. UUs and our partners all over the country have been witnessing, fasting, advocating, and marching together calling for action. We have been leaders within the faith community in standing boldly on the side of human dignity, boldly on the side of love with immigrant families. We know what trouble looks like. Children fleeing violence in their own countries, reaching the United States only to be warehoused and face deportation. Families torn apart every day because of detentions and deportations. Immigration laws and US foreign policy, including trade policies, have created an exploitable workforce of undocumented people and unsettled the stability and economies of countries south of the border. Now is the time to move toward trouble, to bring a light to it and witness for a better way. We have acted. We must act again. We must urge President Obama to act.
On July 31- August 2, faith leaders and human rights activists will gather in Washington to say, “Not one more family separated, not one more deportation”- in demonstrations and in an act of civil disobedience. We will also gather to strategize next steps and further build our communities of resistance and hope. We hope to see many Unitarian Universalists and their partners show up in the face of trouble. Will you be there to stand on the side of love? We hope to see you there.
In faith and solidarity,
Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray
Lead Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix
Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead MA
P.S. Standing on the Side of Love will be raising $ to pay the $50-$100 fines for UUs and our partners who are joining the civil disobedience action. We are working to get the donate link up by Wednesday so please check our page here for updates.More >
We’re packing boxes and printing copies getting ready to join many of you in Providence later this week at General Assembly (GA). As we live into this year’s theme of Love Reaching Out, we hope you’ll join us at some of our upcoming activities. If you won’t be attending GA, we hope you’ll join us virtually!
Where you’ll find us:
• #UUsGetSocial: A series of workshops providing suggestions for UUs to get more connected, communicate more effectively, and build with each other. Four workshops will be held throughout GA and SSL will be sharing some of our best practices to deepen online engagement, reach “nones,” activists, and spiritual seekers and more! Follow the activities of #UUsGetSocial here.
• Brave Souls: UUs Pledge Over the Edge: On Friday, June 27 Campaign Manager Jennifer Toth will join dozens of other people demonstrating “exceptional stewardship” as they rappel over the edge of the Providence Convention Center in the name of generosity and support. She’ll rappel at 2:00pm but activities will be happening all day. Check out more information here.
• SSL@5: Our campaign has witnessed and supported some amazing activities over the last five years. We are so grateful for the creativity and love shown by congregations throughout the country. Come hear from the founders, engaged advocates, and campaign staff about where we have been and where we are going. Join us on Friday, June 27 at 5:00pm in RICC 553 or follow us on social media for live updates. It’s a celebration!
• Love Reaching Out Meme Station: Join us on the UUA Expressway to tell the world how you’re reaching out in love all weekend. If you’re at home, we would love for you to join us here by sharing how you reach out in love.
• Living Our Witness at WaterFire: This year at our annual public witness event we will witness for love at WaterFire Providence, a local community arts festival. Together we will proclaim that unconditional love is the most transformative element in our work to change the world. Campaign Manager Jennifer Toth will act as a fire lighter at WaterFire so look for her in a boat on the river! For more information click here.
We know GA presents an abundance of opportunities and events. We hope you’ll consider joining us as we celebrate the contributions of our supporters-YOU- and share some of our plans for SSL’s work moving forward.
In love and faith,
Jennifer Toth & Nora Rasman, Standing on the Side of LoveMore >