On the Move

Summer 2014 E-Newsletter

In This Issue
SHJ Shares in Another Victory for Marriage Equality
SHJ Joins Efforts to Prevent Anti-Discrimination Exemptions for Religious Organizations

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The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling on July 28 in Bostic v. Schaefer, striking down Virginia's same-sex marriage ban. This is the first such decision in a southern state and also the first time a court applied the word segregation to marriage equality. The SHJ had joined the ADL and a coalition of 20 organizations in filing an amicus brief in this case, arguing that overturning the marriage ban not only would ensure that religious considerations do not improperly influence which marriages the state can recognize, but would also allow religious groups to decide the definition of marriage for themselves. Both the state's governor and attorney general had refused to defend the state's marriage ban, which follows a trend in marriage equality cases. 

The SHJ has similarly joined amicus briefs filed in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (DeBoer v. Snyder, MI; Henry v. Hines, OH; Tanco v. Haslam, TN; and Bourke v. Beshear, KY). These cases are scheduled to be argued on August 6.  


These briefs argue that the district court decisions striking down the state Marriage Bans should be upheld. The briefs contend that the Marriage Bans in these states "violate not only the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, but also the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. A decision overturning these states' Marriage Bans would assure full state recognition of civil marriages while allowing religious groups the freedom to choose how to define marriage for themselves." Recognizing that religious views differ regarding what marriages qualify to be solemnized, and that the Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom for all must be protected, the briefs argue that "selective religious understandings cannot define marriage recognition under civil law." All states are subject to the First Amendment Establishment Clause's prohibition against denying individuals the right to marry simply because such marriages would offend the tenets of a particular religious group. Decisions overturning the marriage bans, in fact, would protect religious liberty for all.

The Virginia ruling brings to twenty the number of states along with the District of Columbia that permit same-sex marriage, either by popular vote, state law, or court decision, while thirty states ban same-sex marriage by constitutional amendment and state law or by constitutional amendment or state law alone, although decisions by courts ruling the marriage bans in some of these states unconstitutional are being appealed (procon.org


The Society for Humanistic Judaism (SHJ) joined 90 religious, education, civil rights, labor, LGBT, women's, and health organizations in a request to Attorney General Eric Holder that the Office of Legal Council (OLC) withdraw its June 29, 2007 Memorandum, which exempts religious organizations from adhering to the non-discrimination provision in the 2013 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA bars organizations from engaging in employment discrimination with VAWA funds, but, because the OLC Memo governs administration policy, the administration is permitting religious organizations to use religion as a criterion when  using taxpayer dollars to hire employees. Such exemptions threaten core civil rights and religious freedom.

The SHJ also joined more than 100 organizations in a letter to President Obama urging him to sign an executive order that would bar discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The letter urges him "to reject calls to weaken the executive order by providing a special exemption for religiously affiliated contractors" and asks that he "rescind Executive Order 13279's amendment of Executive Order 11246, which exempted religious organizations that contract with the government from the prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of religion." Unfortunately, the Executive Order issued, while expanding anti-discrimination protections long applied to "race, color, religion, sex or national origin" to LGBT workers, left intact the 2002 Executive Order permitting religious groups the right to consult their beliefs when hiring and firing for government contracts.

Such religious exemptions, based largely on a broad interpretation of the Religious Freedom Education Act (RFRA), permit religious organizations and, since the Hobby Lobby decision, for-profit companies to impose their religious beliefs on employees. SHJ will continue to work, in coalition with like-minded organizations, to eliminate such government-supported exemptions permitting the imposition of one set of religious beliefs on individuals who hold other beliefs.

Contact the Society for Humanistic Judaism 


Larry Lawrence, President 

Bonnie Cousens, Executive Director

Rabbi Miriam Jerris  


We believe that it is human beings who have the responsibility for solving human problems. We are committed, in the enduring Jewish tradition of support for social action and social progress, to community service and actions for social justice. We each take responsibility for our own behavior, and all of us take collective responsibility for the state of our world.  

- SHJ Core Principles



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