STATEMENT FROM MANNY DIAZ REGARDING PRESIDENT OBAMA’S ACTION ON CUBA

DiazDiaz is a former mayor, attorney and business leader based in Miami. In addition, 500 plus mayors of large, small and moderate size cities selected him as president of the US Conference of Mayors when I was mayor of Atlanta.

“I am happy for Alan Gross and extend my best wishes to him and his family on this first day of Hanukkah. It is my hope that the end of Mr. Gross’ five-year ordeal will lead to change within Cuba. I am thankful for the intervention of His Holiness Pope Francis and all the diplomats who worked for Mr. Gross’ release. His Holiness also deserves great credit for his courage in furthering talks and relations between the United States and Cuba.

As a Cuban exile whose father was held as a political prisoner by the Cuban regime, I have experienced the oppression of the Cuban government firsthand. However, for more than 50 years we’ve tried it one way.  The time has come for a different approach.

I agree with the White House that the ‘decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.I am optimistic that the actions taken by President Obama today will serve to advance the cause for freedom in Cuba.

“Ultimately, we continue to share the common goal of bringing openness, democracy and respect for the human rights of the Cuban people. Today marks a positive step toward that end.”

Manny Diaz,

Former Mayor of the City of Miami and

President of US Conference of Mayors

A national protest for change … but what does change look like?

A start is revamping our grand jury system!

For the second time in a month, a prosecutor has announced a grand jury indictment would not be forthcoming in the death of a U.S. citizen at the hands of image001local law enforcement officers. Regardless of the circumstances of the deaths of African American males Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Ohio, and most notably Michael Brown in Missouri, they were all killed at the hands of their local police. A much needed and overdue national debate is currently underway regarding race, the militarization of our local police departments, community policing and the very definition of “equal justice under the law.” National protests have ranged from Congressional staffers walking off the job with their “hands up” to sadly, violent protests in Ferguson, Berkley, California and Atlanta, Georgia.

President Obama has called for body cameras to be issued to every police officer in America. This is a starting point. But, does it get to the root cause of the current protest – distrust in our judicial system? Attorney General Eric Holder, recently in Atlanta, is grabbing the bull by the horns in his final months in office. The AG is to be commended for calling to an end to racial profiling by police – especially where young African American males are immediately assessed a “threat” by law enforcement. Body cameras, an end to racial profiling, a return to community policing and moving from the post 9-11 bunker mentality by police departments are parts to a whole that need to be addressed. Even here in Georgia, the GBI has indicated they will release police shooting investigative materials as quickly as possible. But, still the answer of how we obtain equal justice for all citizens is not being addressed.

In 1992, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia noted in United States vs. Williams, “… neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.”[1] This means policemen have been traditionally granted a right to defend their actions before a grand jury that you and I, as regular citizens do not have! This is an inherent troubling issue – police officers are allowed to testify in their defense before a grand jury. The officer, like all of us, might naturally portray their actions in the best possible light. Police may cast dispersions on the perceived guilty party in an effort to justify the use of deadly force. To do otherwise could mean possible indictment.

A starting point for public debate to redefine equal justice under the law might include:

1.) Governors empanelling a board of judges, lawyers, law enforcement, district attorneys and lay people to recommend ways to “fix” our grand jury system.

2.) In the interim, when a citizen dies at the hands of a police officer, prosecutors should consider recusing themselves and bringing in an outside special prosecutor, with no ties to local law enforcement or the court system – we already do this with judges. In New York, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has requested Governor Andrew Cuomo to allow the AG’s office play the role of “Special Prosecutor” until their state legislature revamps their grand jury system.

3.) Stop calling officers before the grand jury immediately. Their statements should be videotaped (until body cameras are fully implemented), and submit their recorded statements to the grand jury prior to their testimony.

4.) Congress should give immediate and strong consideration for grand jury reform at the national level. Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) has received criticism for his legislation but he has publicly acknowledged the system needs to be reformed.

5.) We need to rethink police polices of “shoot to kill” and the use of deadly force.

It is time to revamp our justice system to reflect that no citizen no citizen is above the law. The taking of a citizen’s life without due process should be held to the highest level of legal scrutiny no matter the perpetrator.

A Meditation on Ferguson, on America

AJackThis speech was given by today’s contributor Anthony (Tony) Jack a PhD. Candidate and an Associate Doctoral Fellow at Harvard University at a Memorial/Die-In protest in Harvard Yard this month.  For more information on Anthony Jack visit scholar.harvard.edu/anthonyjack

I was asked to speak as a sociologist today, to provide context to the situation that brought us all here today. I’m letting you know that I will fail at this task. I know the stats but I also live the reality. Black men are incarcerated at six times the rate of white men even when controlling for offense, Bruce Western and Michelle Alexander tell us that. But statistics didn’t kill Mike Brown. More black men are stopped under Stop and Frisk in New York than there are black men in some communities, but facts and figures did not kill Eric Garner. Broken windows is a broken strategy, Robert Sampson tells us that. But debunked policies did not kill Trayvon Martin. Police target black and brown bodies like we are in season, like animals for slaughter. There is something fundamentally wrong when mothers must stand over sons and fathers over daughters and utter words that Emmett Till’s mother should never have had to say in the first place: “I have not a minute to hate, I’ll pursue justice for the rest of my life.” I fear that I am not that strong. It hurts watching the news in the morning to see character assassination of an innocent teenager gunned down by trigger happy cops, for if smoking weed makes you a bad person, we need the National Guard at Harvard on 4/20. It hurts to hear protesters be called rioters, thugs, hooligans, and other derogatory terms when somewhere I read about the freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech. As Dr. King notes, “the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights.” That is what democracy means to me. Yet it hurts to walk around Harvard’s campus and people look at me and fear what I will do to them physically when they really should worry about what I can do to their inflated GPAs.

Black Lives Matter. For some this is a radical concept, but then again, black love always was. To be honest, I am not surprised. This is the land of liberty that reluctantly settled on the 3/5 Compromise. This is the land of justice that needed the 13th Amendment. This is the land of equality that legislated and subsidized white suburbs and dark ghettos, as Malcolm X said, preaching integration yet practicing segregation. I see Black Lives Matter as something much simpler, much more innocent, and shockingly beautiful: a reminder. A reminder that if indeed all lives matter, when 43 Mexican students go missing we should care; when Black, Latina, and Asian women are victims we should all care; when queer-identified people are targeted we should all care; when black and brown bodies are beaten and bruised by those sworn to protect us, we should all care.

What kind of world do we live in when Southern trees still bear strange fruits? The only difference is that now, instead of removing the figurative fruit from branches, we pick them up off the ground after they have been left to fester in the sun for hours. What a world indeed. Faulkner’s words haunt us for the past is surely not yet dead, it is not even past. When I heard Darren Wilson’s testimony I thought I was rereading testimonies from the Rosewood Massacre of 1923. “He was big! He was black!” Bang, bang has now replaced “Let him hang.” There is an anachronistic feel to the whole thing. And that is because we are living with the repercussions of America never really being forced to learn from its past mistakes. Then the question becomes, how do we force America to catch up with the times? Again, as Dr. King reminded us on his last night, “we don’t need any bricks and bottles or any Molotov cocktails.” We must collectively flex the social and political capital that is invested in each one of us. Our president is too slow to act, our Congress and the Senate are too reluctant to act, and our governors fear acting on such issues. But mayors, those urban mechanics and rural draftsman, are invested in local communities in ways that other elected officials are not. Manny Diaz taught me that. They appoint Chiefs of Police and set local policies. We must reach out to mayors to ask them to invest in accountability measures for police officers, to reject military equipment, to create diversity measures so that police and firefighters look like the communities they serve, and to create community programming that removes the boundaries between the blue, the brown, and the black.

I just want to close by sharing that when my godmother was dying, she told us that we better not wear dark colors to her funeral. She said we must wear light colors to celebrate her life. That stuck with. I am wearing white, not to stand apart but to remind us that we are not mourning the death of too many black and brown bodies, we are mourning and protesting the situation that ended their lives. I wear white to celebrate the time they spent with us, although it was cut far too short. So, do me a favor, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the spirit of justice and peace, never forgetting to:

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Langton Hughes, Dreams

 

Boehner will have his hands full with his newest “Crackpot Caucus”

Has the Speaker gone from herding cats to stopping stampeding elephants in the new Congress?

By Gary Cox

NYTimesThere is an old adage that says, “Be careful what you ask for; you may get it.” This may be the case with a solid control in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, especially for House Speaker John Boehner. While the likes of Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) will be exiting Congress, some of the members entering Congress may make her extremist views look rather mild mannered.

Here are some incoming members of Congress who will surely make the national news in the months ahead. They will be joining “The Crackpot Caucus,” a name coined by New York Times columnist Timothy Egan. The list includes three of Georgia’s own! The names to watch for in the news for outlandish policy positions with accompanying commentary are Rick Allen (R-GA), David Brat (Libertarian-VA), Ken Buck (R-CO), Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Glenn Gothram (R-WI), Jody Hice (R-GA), French Hill (Libertarian-AR), Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), Alex Mooney (R-WV), Mark Walker (R-NC), and Ryan Zinke (R-MT).

While we can’t list all the crazy comments made by this “Gang of Twelve” in the last election cycle, here are just a few of the most notable quips and positions.  Retired former Navy Seal Ryan Zinke asserted that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the “anti-Christ.” Consultant Barbara Comstock lists as one of her major clients the Koch brothers. Ken Buck (one of our favorites) called homosexuality a “lifestyle choice” and wants to privatize the Veterans Administration hospital system and the Social Security Administrations (his mantra is “the private sector does it better.) Choral Pastor Mark Walker believes that the government should force women to give birth to the child of the rapist. Professor David Brat wants to slash Social Security payments to retired Americans by two-thirds and says, “..rich nations have nothing to fear from climate change.” Evidently he hasn’t vacationed in south Florida where tidal flooding of streets in Miami Beach is becoming common place.

Now to Georgia’s own – State Representative Barry Loudermilk in 2013 wanted to repeal Georgia’s state-run Medicaid program. He said we need to let non-profit hospitals provide indigent care. (Who pays the bill? Yes, you!) Businessman Rick Allen wants to privatize Social Security, gut the Environmental Protection Agency and decrease federal oversight of education. Then, there is radio talk show host Jody Hice, who was voted by Democraticunderground.com as the “craziest new member of Congress.” Congressman-elect Hice has stated that Muslim Americans have no constitutional First Amendment protections because Islam is “not a real religion.”  Hice also said that women should not be involved in politics without the consent of their husbands. In a recent post-election radio broadcast, Hice said that Congress should pass a law that allows people to discriminate against gay people if homosexuality offends their religious beliefs. Michelle Bachmann has nothing on Rev. Jody Hice.

It will be interesting to see if Speaker Boehner is better at stopping stampeding elephants than herding cats in the new Congress. Boehner is going to have a very hard time appeasing his right flank in the new Congress.

To verify the ascribed comments please check these sources:

Democraticunderground.com

http://thehill.com/homenews/house/223409-10-ultra-conservative-freshmen-who-could-trouble-gop-leadership

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/2014/10/20/3edea770-4b2b-11e4-891d-713f052086a0_story.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/04/ken-buck-midterm-election-results_n_5826572.html

http://www.wfmynews2.com/story/news/politics/2014/07/14/nc-runoff-second-primary-election/12657573

http://www.timesdispatch.com/mechlocal/news/th-district-u-s-house-of-representatives-candidates/article_8ee51aca-5f7a-11e4-a98b-001a4bcf6878.html

http://gareport.com/story/2013/01/07/political-notes-loudermilk-wants-to-eliminate-medicaid

http://www.examiner.com/article/rick-allen-and-john-barrow-debate-for-georgia-12th-district

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/07/23/jody-hice-is-likely-headed-to-congress-he-also-thinks-the-first-amendment-should-not-cover-islam

 

 

ELECTION DAY: Today Georgia Democrats can be decision makers

gavoterToday is Election Day, so let’s recap the political landscape. There will be tons of post election recaps however Blogging While Blue would like to get in front of the election chatter. Democrats, the Party, Independents and everyday folks have made a huge dent in the perception that Georgians are somehow satisfied with things under the Gold Dome, in Congress or in their personal lives.

National media has latched onto the implications of race in Georgia politics but I think one key storyline has been nearly ignored. A significant number of Georgia voters are worried about their jobs, how much they earn to support their families, their children’s current and future education goals, healthcare options and their immigration status.

For the first time in a long time Georgians are considering the prospect that their votes might actually count. The overwhelming turnout during the 18 days of early voting give hope in a sense of renewed political engagement across the state.

What exactly has been going on in Georgia this election cycle?

Georgia Democrats have offered superior candidates for office in Michele Nunn, Jason, Carter, Valerie Wilson, Greg Hecht, Connie Stokes and others. Each one brings relevant experience and a network of people who know them and their work, they appeal across party lines, communicate effectively and address contemporary issues by using facts rather than fiction.

Michele Nunn and Jason Carter have superior statewide and national name recognition that reflects their families’ political traditions and reputation, integrity and a clear understanding of contemporary issues.

Their campaigns have been exceptional. Michele Nunn and Jason Carter are exceptional leaders. 

The Democratic Party of Georgia has unified under the proficient leadership of Dubose Porter these last few years. Porter, a long time legislator from Dublin, Georgia has rejuvenated the Democratic Party with his business acumen and savvy political skills. He’s brought most Democratic leaders together and worked hard to be inclusive. Even when there was public debate about whether the party had any chance of winning statewide offices, Porter kept his cool and did the hard work of building the party base county by county.

Georgia Victory 2014/ the Coordinated Campaign Get Out The Vote (GOTV) plan was enhanced by independent voter registration, voter education and grassroots outreach across the state.  The Georgia Victory 2014 is a coordinated field campaign enhanced by an extensive network of independent robust targeted initiatives including the New Georgia Project, Souls to the Polls, Georgia Equality, GALEO the Latino Vote organization, the People’s Agenda, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, college NAACP chapters and numerous other organizations from Sparta to Athens to Vidalia to Augusta, Savannah and Atlanta. Each has had success and together these initiatives have ignited excitement among voters across the state.

The top ticket campaigns have combined the experience of national and local political consultants with thousands of committed volunteers joining in. The combined value of the local, national and grassroots political efforts is greater than the sum of the parts. Very few recent top Georgia races have had the foresight and courage to manage campaigns this way.

Whether the midterm elections will be an upset or not will be for the voters to decide on Tuesday. Some are already predicting runoffs in the top ticket races. Some are reporting calculations of how much they have accomplished or contributed. Others have claimed victory already.

Wednesday morning the election results will be known and for Georgians who are tired of the gridlock in Congress and are concerned about jobs, healthcare and their children who are in a state that is stuck at the bottom for employment, educational investment, transportation and environment, we remain convinced our coordinated efforts will prevail because many Georgians are worried about gridlock in the nation’s capital in Congress and partisanship that closed downed government in and stifles innovative policy making and decision making on immigration, on tax reform, on tax reform and minimum wage, on national security and environmental policy and are concerned about their jobs, their health and their children in a state stuck at the bottom for employment and investment in smart transportation, sustainable environment and top quality public education.

Doing the same thing over and over doesn’t change the results!

It is time to change the state’s leadership.

NunnCarterAs Election Day, November 4 nears the pressure is on Georgians to distinguish fact from fiction. My intuition tells me even with Politifact Georgia and media exposure too many Georgians might miss a few of the important facts surrounding this year’s elections.

Georgia’s economic recovery lags the nation in almost every measure. Even the most recent federal reports confirm what thousands of Georgia families know…. our unemployment rate is awful. Georgia has the HIGHEST unemployment rate in the US. That means 49 governors are doing a better job than our governor in creating jobs, retaining jobs and employing its residents. On Governor Deal’s watch, his economic recovery plan of corporate tax cuts, refusing to expand Medicaid and balancing the state budget at the expense of education hasn’t worked! It is time for a change. Jason Carter has the guts to advocate for refocusing Georgia on investing in education. This is the surest method to improve Georgia’s growth in business opportunities and economic expansion. It will insure Georgia’s long-term economic health.  The days of starving education and expecting economic growth are over. In the 21st century a first-rate innovative education plan from cradle through college including technical school are essential to meet the educational needs of Georgia’s children. We all benefit when our neighbors are working too. Those who are unemployed need more than the Governor’s quarrels with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lip service that “statistics don’t matter” is a disservice to unemployed Georgians. They need job training and access to education.

In the U.S. Senate race to replace Saxby Chambliss, too many attack TV ads make it seem as if President Obama is running to be Georgia’s next senator. He isn’t. In fact, Michele Nunn’s career has been far from partisan. She is on a first name basis with four former presidents, George H. Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter as well as President Obama. She is a bridge-builder who has worked to break down barriers that keep us from working together. In 2009, she worked with Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to pass the Serve America Act, which gives small grants to volunteers for service projects in their communities.  From her Hands on Atlanta experience to CEO of President’s Bush’s Points of Light Foundation, Michelle has worked to seek full civic engagement of everyday folks that empowers neighborhoods to help themselves. Nunn’s experience and record reflects her ability to work with Republicans and Democrats, which is why her donors also include both Republicans and Democrats. Her top priority is to create jobs and economic opportunity in Georgia – and not outsourcing Georgia jobs to China.

It is time for change in Georgia – it is time to vote for Jason Carter for Governor and Michelle Nunn for the U.S. Senate!

 

Will Georgia Voters Rebuff Republicans this November?

Twit-FacebookThe national media continues to probe Georgia politicians about the political campaign landscape in the statewide races, especially the Michele Nunn and Jason Carter races. There are discussions about the other statewide races but the national attention is focused on the Senate and gubernatorial races. The primary question to me is whether Georgia voters as diverse as they are—will rebuff the politics of Georgia’s Republican leadership? Or will the demographics shifts in Georgia make a big enough difference to ignite high voter turnout to sweep Nunn, Carter and others into statewide elected positions? In case you are wondering what some of the issues are take a look at Jason Carter’s recent release.

Rankings That Matter: Deal’s Record for the Middle Class

As Gov. Deal continues to trumpet a ranking from CNBC, let’s remember the rankings that show how the middle class is really doing under the governor:

  • A study released this week said that Georgia’s schools rank 32nd overall. The study shows that Georgia has the 4th highest dropout rate and the least safe schools in the country. (WalletHub, accessed 8/6/14)
  • Georgia has the 5th highest unemployment rate in the country (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed 8/6/14).
  • Georgia is one of only two states in which real per capita GDP has declined in the last 15 years (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/20/14). Adjusted for inflation, the average Georgia family in effect makes $6,000 less than the average family did 10 years ago (Politifact, 1/23/14).
  • The same CNBC ranking that Gov. Deal is trumpeting found Georgia to be among the worst states for “quality of life” and “education,” ranking 32nd in both categories. (CNBC, 6/24/14)

Some other statewide issues like healthcare, transportation and water can be added to the Carter list. Many Georgians live with only emergency healthcare services because Governor Deal refuses to acknowledge the benefits of expanded Medicaid. Healthcare is a critical quality of life issue for Georgians. Without viable transportation solutions, the negative impact of snarled traffic in metro Atlanta will continue.

Our water challenges continue while Georgia enjoys a AAA bond rating in part because state funding of infrastructure isn’t a high enough priority for Governor Deal.

Deal does not advocate for the financing Georgia’s desperate need to expand, renovate and build reliable transportation networks of safe bridges, efficient roads, connected transit, trails and paths and statewide water supply, storm water and sewer systems. In fact, from our experience last winter there is evidence emergency service system and planning needs investment as well.

The data clearly illustrates the problems in Georgia; the only question now is will Georgia voters rebuff the Republican leadership this November.

Voter turnout in a midterm election is usually less than presidential elections. Progressive candidates are counting on a larger than usual turnout to sweep them into office. Georgia’s ineffective leadership and voters desire to change that leadership may be the perfect equation to make this year’s midterm election the exception to the rule.

The University of Texas-Austin Victory is a Win for Diversity

UTA

UTA

Whether the 2-to-1 ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans decision to allow the University of Texas-Austin to use race in college admissions to achieve diversity will have an impact on other higher education institutions is not known. Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote. “It is equally settled that universities may use race as part of a holistic admissions program where it cannot otherwise achieve diversity.”

The decision is the result of a lawsuit filed by Abigail Fisher, a white Texan who sued the university after she was denied admission in 2008. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court said the federal appeals court should take another look at case. After the Supreme Court ruling, there was speculation that use of race in admissions policy at the University of Texas might be stuck down. Instead the Appeal Court upheld the decision. The University of Texas “10 percent” admissions rule states that Texas students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes can earn automatic admission. For the other 90 percent there is a combination of factors in the evaluation process and race can be one of them.

University President Bill Powers said in a statement, “We remain committed to assembling a student body at the University of Texas at Austin that brings with it the educational benefits of diversity while respecting the rights of all students. This ruling ensures that our campus, our state and the entire nation will benefit from the exchange of ideas and thoughts that happens when students who are diverse in all regards come together in the classroom, at campus events and in all aspects of campus life.”

This decision might provide a moment of comfort for colleges and universities that use race as one factor or criteria for admission but the moral obligation to admit diverse students in academic institutions will not likely be won, if it has to battled in court from state-to-state.

Let’s Stand With Jada

A recent national survey from more than 300 colleges and universities reflect serious problems in responses to student reports of sexual violence. It also indicates that colleges and universities across the nation are violating federal law by failing to investigate sexual assaults on campus.

Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) plans to use the findings for legislation that she is writing with bipartisan support that includes Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). The bill is scheduled to be released this fall when students return to campuses. Schools are required by law to investigate when they ARE  made aware of a sex crime on campus. But more than 21% of “the nation’s largest private institutions” surveyed conducted fewer investigations than they reported to the Department of Education.

It is good that sexual assaults and the reporting of those assaults is now being addressed by higher education and by government. It is critical that the safety and protection of girls be taken seriously no matter what academic stage they are in. Which brings us to the rape of 16-year oljadad girl last week in Houston. Jada is the teenager who attended a house party with a friend who knew the host her rape was recorded and shared on social media. Once the video started to circulate online and her friends began to call her, Jada knew something horrible had happened. The video went viral but that did not shame or stop Jada from telling her story to a local Houston television station. “There’s no point in hiding,” she said. “Everybody has already seen my face and my body, but that’s not what I am and who I am.” Jada was allegedly drugged and passed around by several men who raped her.

One of Jada’s perpetrators mocked her on social media by calling her a snitch and other derogatory phrases, which has encouraged cyber bullying. A disgusting social media trend has users posting photos of themselves bottomless and passed out mocking Jada. Recent reports from the ongoing investigation indicate that there may be other young girls who may have been victims. The police are asking for the publics’ help by asking young girls to call into the station if they see themselves in any videos online.

Jada’s case has gotten some very high profile help from actresses Mia Farrow and Jada Pinkett Smith. Jada Pinkett Smith recently posted on social media,”This could be you, me, or any woman or girl that we know. What do we plan to do about this ugly epidemic? #justiceforjada” Jada Pinkett Smith has also been a vocal public advocate for victims of human trafficking.

There are 237,868 reported rapes every year in America, every two minutes there is a sexual assault, 40% of the victims are under 18 and two-thirds of the attacks are by someone the victim knows. Here is how we can help Jada and every other victim of sexual violence. Acknowledge the facts. Pay attention to the reports of rape. Insist community leaders use the power of their influence to encourage training for schools and colleges and make the process for reporting and investigating sexual assault less traumatizing for the victims. Push police chiefs and law enforcement officials take immediate action to investigate and prosecute those who attack and violate girls and women. But most of all don’t be silent about assault.

Let’s stand with Jada and other sexual assault victims by pushing for fair investigations and laws that protects victim so that perpetrators will be justly prosecuted.

Will the Georgia State Legislature revisit religious freedom bills? Hobby Lobby ruling just may have opened a new door …

By Gary S. Cox

“Hobby Lobby stones gay employee to death,” read the recent headline on The Daily Currant, a self-described “global satirical newspaper.” Now that we virtueonlinehave your attention, of course, the headline isn’t true though it zinged around the web on social media as if it were a true story. Nonetheless, the point of the satire was that recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., best characterizes the “slippery slope” we are now on when it comes to practicing one’s faith in the workplace under the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The satire was emphasizing the fact that a “corporation” has the right to practice religious freedom. If this argument is taken to the extreme, then, could the company invoke Leviticus 20:13 which states, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood is on their own heads.” By claiming to be a Christian corporation that abides by Christian principles, how far can a privately held corporation take their religious beliefs? Could they refuse to hire or give service to gay people? Where is the bottom of the slope? No one really knows yet.

With the Federal government losing the Hobby Lobby challenge to mandated birth control coverage, Georgia’s extreme right political pundits are hailing the victory as an opportunity to have the General Assembly pass the previously failed Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. The prevailing argument is the ruling gives “political cover” to Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus, and State Representative Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) to re-introduce the legislation in 2015. Senator McKoon, in light of the ruling, is actively and openly courting support for his legislation. In a recent right-leaning editorial column in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, McKoon was quoted as saying, “The protection of people of faith, it’s a foundational reason that America exists … Yes, religious freedom is a priority in Georgia.” What does he mean by these comments? In reading Senate Bill 377 we know his priorities, according to the Credo-Mobilize website, “ … would authorize any business to refuse services and goods based on religious convictions. This would open a Pandora’s box of possible discrimination and anti-civil behavior targeting gays and lesbians, women, racial minorities and certain religious groups.” Senator McKoon’s editorial comments make it sound like re-introduction of his failed Senate Bill 377 is a foregone conclusion. Would it fail again post Hobby Lobby? The level of uncertainty is too great that we must call attention to the issue now, before the legislative session starts in 2015!

As a reminder, the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) does not apply to state laws. This was determined in the City of Boerne vs. Flores – RFRA was struck down in 1997 as it applies to states, but left intact Congress’s authority to make it apply to the Federal government. In reaction to the 1997 ruling, a new tool, such as the McKoon legislative initiative, emerged to impose “religious protections” at the state level. Versions of RFRA have been passed in Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Texas. Thus-far-to-date, none of these states have legislation as broad as McKoon’s bill which was defeated in 2014 because of the backlash from Georgia’s corporate Fortune 500 giants.

Even though the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to extent protections to the LBGT community in the workplace, Speaker Boehner announced the legislation was “dead on arrival” in the U.S. House of Representatives. Under current law members of the LBGT community may legally be discriminated against in the private sector workplace with no legal avenue available to them to redress of their grievances of possible workplace discrimination. In Georgia at the state level, the LBBT community does not enjoy a status as a “protected class.” The fallout of Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., here in Georgia may very well be the re-introduction and ultimate passage of House Bill 1023 and Senate Bill 377. Those oft cited examples of signs in restaurant windows of “No Gays Allowed” could very well become true in less progressive areas of our great state.

Those of us in the progressive community will need to be ever watchful in the upcoming 2015 legislative session and call upon our friends in the business community and on civic leaders to speak out for equality and justice for all our citizens regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation or sexual orientation.