Prayer outside the U.S. Supreme Court / Getty Images
“For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful, amen.”
For ten years I attended a Church of England school and, for every set meal during that time, a version of this grace was said. Although there was a notable minority of Jewish boys and a growing population of Muslims at my school (founded in 1552, just after Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries and establishment of the Anglican Church), there was no real doubt as to who the “Lord” was, no matter which one of the teachers was saying grace.
God bless Mr. Lomas who spelled it out: “… For Christ’s sake, amen.”
And that’s why this week’s ruling of the Supreme Court recognizing the right of American Town Meetings to “solemnize” their opening with prayer is so deeply disappointing. Instead of moving to undo the 1983 Marsh v. Chambers ruling that allowed prayer at government meetings it’s a step towards establishment of religion and an intrusion of majority beliefs into a supposedly independent sphere that honors minorities equally.
I believe that we should solemnize the eating of food. The fact that we can eat stuff that just grows from the ground still seems miraculous to me — whether a miracle of science or of divinity. And the fact that our political and economic system has seen fit to distribute enough food for me and my friends, colleagues and family to eat is also worthy of stock taking. But that still leaves us with a choice of how we do so and how we stuff that choice down each other’s throats.
News of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to pave the way to gay marriage found gay Jewish leaders at the end of a meeting with two dozen Democratic senators on Capitol Hill. A staffer passed a note to Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) reading: “DOMA is struck down” and the senator shared the news with the Jewish leaders, gathered for their annual meeting with the Democratic steering committee and cheers were heard from all corners of the room.
“I got hugs and applauds,” said Alan Van Capelle, CEO of Bend the Arc who led a gay rights movement before joining the Jewish organizational world. Van Capelle whispered to himself the Jewish blessing of “Shehecheyanu,” thanking God for “keeping us alive to see this moment,” he recalled.
From there Van Capelle rushed to the steps of the Supreme Court to celebrate with other gay rights activists. In an interview while surrounded by crowds applauding the decision, Van Capelle said it was “the first moment in which I felt free in this country.”
He then took the train back to New York, where he plans to go directly to his Lower East Side home and “give a kiss to my partner Matt and a hug to my son Ethan.”
Most Jewish communal leaders celebrated the landmark Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. The Jewish community, with 81% of support for gay marriage according to public opinion polls, is the constituency most supportive of marriage equality, second only to the LGBT community in its backing of the rights of gays and lesbians to marry.
“We believe that this is one of the necessary steps to ensure that the human rights of people of all sexual orientations are respected everywhere in the world,” said Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service in a statement. AJWS one of the world’s largest funders of LGBTI rights across the world.
All Jewish Supreme Court justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, voted with the majority against DOMA. The key attorney representing Edith Windsor in her challenge of the Defense of Marriage Act, was Roberta Kaplan a New York Jewish lawyer.
The arguments over Proposition 8 – the California ban on same-sex marriage – gave tantalizing hints about the thinking of Supreme Court justices hearing the case.
After a lawyer in support of the ban, Charles Cooper, argued that procreation and child-rearing were fundamental to a state’s interest in marriage, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg brought up a previous Supreme Court case in which justices ruled prison inmates have a right to marry even though they may be prevented from procreating, according to the BBC.
“There are lots of people who get married who can’t have children,” Justice Stephen Breyer reportedly told Cooper.
And Justice Anthony Kennedy, often seen as a swing vote, suggested children of same-sex couples would suffer an “immediate legal injury” under the ban.
Despite the intriguing clues, a Jewish leader of the marriage-equality movement cautioned against reading too much into the arguments.
“Today’s argument was lively as the justices grappled with the mix of substantive and procedural questions raised in this challenge to Prop 8.,” Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, told the Forward in an e-mail.
“Now they are going to dig into the mountain of briefs and evidence from a who’s who of America … all showing there is no good reason for denying committed same-sex couples the freedom to marry. It’s always tempting, and often misleading, to speculate about oral argument, but the truth is that it’s in the opinion-writing and circulating process that the justices reach their result,” said Wolfson, widely regarded as a pioneer in marriage rights in the U.S.
Many analysts said the justices appeared to be considering a narrow ruling in the case and avoiding a pronouncement about whether a fundamental right to gay marriage exists in the constitution.
A long list of characters helped elevate a pair of marriage-equality cases to the Supreme Court, where they’ll be heard in 2013. But if one person deserves credit for the ascent of the marriage-rights movement, it’s Evan Wolfson. In 2003, when even gay people felt it a fringe cause, Wolfson founded Freedom to Marry as a “campaign to win marriage nationwide.” A decade later, the organization has helped align marriage rights in nine states and Washington D.C. — and doubled public support for marriage equality to what Wolfson calls “a clear majority”.
Wolfson came to the marriage-equality fight battle-tested; in the 1990’s, he served as co-counsel in an historic Hawaii marriage case that essentially launched the cause. Wolfson has also reaped some of the fruits of his labor. He married biotech consultant Cheng He last October after the State of New York passed the Marriage Equality Act, a bill he pushed for himself. Wolfson, 55, spoke to the Forward from his Chelsea office.
Michael Kaminer: When you started Freedom to Marry, did you imagine you’d see marriage equality debated in front of the Supreme Court?
Evan Wolfson: That was always the goal. Our strategy derives from the lessons of history, from how America does its civil rights business, and from how other civil-rights movements have made progress. The strategy has always said we achieve social justice once either Congress or the Supreme Court brings the country to a national resolution. But that national resolution doesn’t come at the beginning, or even the early middle. It comes after a patchwork of struggles, and progress, and defeats, with some states moving faster while other states regress. The same strategy that brought us to this point of triumph and transformation will bring the freedom to marry home nationwide.
Supporters of jailed kosher meat CEO Sholom Rubashkin received a boost this week in the form of a blog post by a senior editor for the online magazine Slate.
The post, by Slate’s Emily Bazelon, provides rare secular media backing for Rubashkin, who enjoys overwhelming sympathy among Orthodox Jews.
A former top executive of the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking concern, Rubashkin was convicted of scores of counts of financial fraud in 2009 and is currently serving a 27-year jail sentence. The charges came in the wake of a massive immigration raid on the Agriprocessors facility.
The Forward was the first newspaper to report on employee and animal welfare problems at Agriprocessor’s Postville, Iowa plant.
In her Slate post, Bazelon pointed to two longstanding concerns about Rubashkin’s conviction and sentencing. Bazelon noted that his 27-year sentence is relatively long for a bank fraud conviction. She also cited concerns that the judge who heard the case, Linda Reade, was prejudiced by her involvement in planning the raid on the Agriprocessors plant.
Bazelon wrote that a number of attorneys — including Bazelon’s own sister — have filed amicus curiae briefs asking the Supreme Court to review a request for a retrial.
Sometimes the biggest news isn’t found in a hot new scoop, but in a recapitulation of a string of things you knew about but hadn’t put together already—or in little details that flesh out a trend you’d heard about, showing you how fast it’s building up.
An example of the first: Former labor secretary Robert Reich’s Christian Science Monitor blogpost last Tuesday about the ways in which the wealthy have gained and used their access to public discourse in order to change the rules of the game and further enrich themselves —
Yet when real people without money assemble to express their dissatisfaction with all this, they’re told the First Amendment doesn’t apply. Instead, they’re treated as public nuisances – clubbed, pepper-sprayed, thrown out of public parks and evicted from public spaces.
An example of the second: Haaretz military reporter Amos Harel’s news analysis the Friday before last about the growing culture war within the Israeli military between the secular values of the senior command and the increasing numbers of increasingly devout Orthodox soldiers and officers. You’ve heard about the tensions. Here are some of the details: