Who We Are: Micah Leadership Council

Representing a new phase in People For the American Way Foundation's commitment to constitutional values through progressive leadership development, the Micah Leadership Council is a formal network of African American ministers and emerging faith and community leaders.

VASHTI 2015 Annual Report

Over the past year, AARA has been advancing the work of VASHTI. Our primary goal was to bring together a core group of 20-25 African American women in order to develop a women's faith-based leadership agenda for civic engagement and social justice.

YEO Network: Managing Director

People For the American Way Foundation conducts research, legal, and education work on behalf of First Amendment freedoms and democratic values; monitors, exposes, and challenges the Religious Right movement and its political allies; identifies, trains, and supports the next generation of progressive leaders through its Young Elected Officials Network and its Young People For youth leadership programs; and carries out nonpartisan voter education, registration, civic participation, and election protection activities. 

A program of People For the American Way Foundation, the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network is an organization that works to unite and support progressive elected leaders between the ages of 18 and 35 who share a passion for building communities that reflect the values of freedom, fairness, and opportunity. With offices in Washington, DC and Tallahassee, Florida, the YEO Network supports members as they define issues, develop solutions, and respond to the needs of their communities. Through policy and research assistance, skills and issue training, personal and professional development, and meaningful networking opportunities, the YEO Network is working to transform the political vision of our elected leaders into progressive action. The YEO Managing Director position is located in the Washington, DC office, reports to the Director of Youth Leadership Programs and works in collaboration with staff in the People For national office.

The YEO Managing Director, in consultation with the Director of Youth Leadership Programs, will manage staff and oversee program strategy and execution across policy, membership and communications departments. The Managing Director will also work with the Director of Youth Leadership Programs to maximize YEO program exposure across a variety of spectrums.


Program and Staff Management

  • Produce and review program deliverables, including policy briefings, press releases, newsletters, annual reports and other written materials
  • Oversee the planning and production of National Convenings, Policy Academies and other YEO events and programs
  • Ensure programs are meeting established goals and benchmarks
  • Lead planning of new and expansion programs

Strategic Planning/Vision Implementation

  • Oversee strategic planning and develop action plans to implement 1 to 5 year planning components
  • Work to ensure that YEO program components complement other People For the American Way Foundation issues and programs
  • Ensure YEO Network program is working toward its long-term plan and goals

Policy Direction

  • Develop and manage annual policy platform and agenda
  • Oversee all YEO policy related components of the National Convenings, Policy Academies, and other YEO events
  • Oversee development and production of annual policy resource guide and exchange database
  • Oversee policy support requests from YEO’s
  • Develop innovative methods to expand policy and program supports for YEOs

Strategic Partnerships

  • Develop and maintain relationships with strategic partners
  • Represent the YEO Network at partner organization meetings and conferences

Donor Relations

  • In coordination with the Director of Youth Leadership Programs, PFAWF senior leadership and development staff, assist in managing specific donor relationships and foundation relationships
  • Assist in producing  and managing YEO grant proposals and associated reporting


  • Previous experience with government, legislative, or progressive policy work required
  • Research skills, academic or professional, are strongly preferred
  • Excellent interpersonal and communications skills, and ability to work with a variety of people in multiple locations
  • Excellent writing and editing skills
  • Experience in public speaking before a wide variety of audiences
  • Exposure to donor relations as well as foundation grant writing and reporting
  • Ability to work effectively in a fast-paced environment; must be well-organized and able to effectively manage competing priorities and frequent deadlines
  • Experience managing and directing staff both in-house and remotely
  • Ability and willingness to work long hours when needed, including some nights and weekends
  • Ability and willingness to travel when needed
  • College degree required
  • Commitment to the values and issues of the Young Elected Officials Network and People For the American Way Foundation


To apply, send resume and statement of interest to Human Resources, People For the American Way Foundation, 1101 115th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005.  Email to hr@pfaw.org.


People For the American Way Foundation is an Equal Opportunity Employer

November  2016

Young People For: Public Affairs and Policy Manager

People For the American Way Foundation conducts research, legal, and education work on behalf of First Amendment freedoms and democratic values; monitors, exposes, and challenges the Religious Right movement and its political allies; identifies, trains, and supports the next generation of progressive leaders through its Young People For youth leadership programs and its Young Elected Officials Network; and carries out nonpartisan voter education, registration, civic participation, and election protection activities.

Young People For (YP4) is a progressive leadership development program focused on identifying, engaging, and empowering the next generation of progressive leaders. YP4 is dedicated to identifying young campus and community leaders, engaging them, and supporting them with the skills and resources they need to create change. Together, People For and YP4 are building a long-term network of emerging leaders committed to protecting our nation's fundamental rights and freedoms.

YP4 has three overarching priorities: 1) to diversify leadership in the progressive movement; 2) to support young leaders to effect change in their communities now; and 3) to ensure that young change-makers are sustained in their leadership over the long term. Over the past decade, YP4 has invested in more than 1,650 young, progressive leaders pursuing and promoting social justice in communities and on campuses across the country.

The position is located in Washington, DC and reports to the Director of Young People For.


  • Lead the Public Affairs and Advocacy team and manage the Policy & Civic Engagement Associate and the Communications Associate
  • Oversee the development and implementation of all Public Affairs and Advocacy program initiatives including: the Alumni Board, local alumni networks, alumni giving, the Career Center, the Vote program, the Youth Courts Matter Initiative, and YP4’s communication efforts.
  • Oversee curriculum development, trainings, and day-to-day management of the YP4 Civic Engagement and Vote Program, a national voter education and engagement initiative focused on building long-term political power around local and state elections.
  • Spearhead YP4’s trailblazing Courts Matter Initiative, an effort to engage young folks in a conversation around the political importance of the judiciary — including the planning of a one-day summit, strategic partner relationships in the progressive movement, and the development of unique messaging around the courts tailored to young people.
  • Work collaboratively with the Fellowship department to provide alumni engagement with the Fellowship, particularly with the mentorship program and at regional trainings and the annual national summit.
  • Build and sustain strong local, state, regional and national relationships that effectively engage alumni in YP4 programming organize and connect them to one another and to the larger progressive movement, and support them in their personal and professional goals.
  • Manage—and where necessary evaluate and update—data collection on alumni engagement, progress, and impact.
  • Support the Public Affairs and Advocacy team to develop new and innovative strategies to maintain YP4 alumni connections amongst peers and the broader progressive movement, including online and in-person activities.
  • Collaboratively with the YP4 staff, identify the critical professional development issues facing young progressive leaders and develop programs, materials and resources to address those issues for diverse audiences.
  • Conduct state legislative analysis related to the issue areas outlined in the Young People For website; research and prepare state policy briefs, fact sheets, public education campaign materials and all other policy related publications;
  • Represent the policy interests of Young People For, coordinate efforts with the various civic engagement coalitions and partner organizations, and oversee the strategic engagement of those relationships in order to contribute to our efforts and overall success.
  • Serve as liaison for the Young People For Alumni and Fellowship community by responding to state policy needs and communicating federal policies and actions that impact states and local communities and vice-versa;
  • Provide policy vison and insight to the YP4 team and community
  • Serve as the internal point of contact for the alumni department within PFAW Foundation.
  • Support efforts to strengthen relationships with key local, state, and national partnerships/alliances to influence programming to further the mission and vision of Young People For.
  • Work closely with and support the Director of YP4 in her role as the principal voice of Young People For, provide both material/content as well as thought partnership;
  • In collaboration with the Director of Young People For and the Public Affairs and Advocacy department team, develop and manage department budget, set and monitor annual department goals, and train and support department  staff to meet their professional and leadership goals.
  • Support the Director of YP4 in the development, implementation, and evaluation of effective communications strategies designed to enhance and elevate the mission of Young People For.
  • Serve as the primary content developer for YP4 in producing varied and integrated communications products, including website, print publications, and social media content


  • 3-5 years of experience in public affairs and policy/advocacy, including experience in community/student organizing  
  • Experience managing integrated social media channels.
  • Extensive knowledge of YP4 issues with experience in policy advocacy and coalition building.
  • Ability to work effectively in a fast-paced environment; must be well organized, detail-oriented and able to effectively manage competing priorities and frequent deadlines.
  • Ability to communicate effectively with a diverse audience through various mediums, including email, conference calls, and public speaking engagements.
  • Excellent interpersonal skills, including ability to work effectively with a variety of people.
  • Strong commitment to professional development.
  • Excellent written communications skills.
  • Familiarity with MS Office applications, experience with online communities, and interest in web-based tools to advance progressive causes.
  • Demonstrated staff management experience including ability to supervise, motivate and evaluate staff is desirable.
  • Ability to analyze and synthesize complex information and present in a usable format.
  • Ability to work independently, with supervision, and as part of a team.
  • Ability and willingness to travel occasionally and to work additional hours when needed.
  • Experience drafting curriculum and offering workshops, trainings, and/or facilitation required.
  • Flexibility, resourcefulness, ability to manage multiple projects and/or events, and meet frequent deadlines.
  • Familiarity with the progressive community, and a commitment to the issues People For the American Way Foundation of Young People For.
  • College degree required

To apply: Send resume, statement of interest, and three writing samples (URL’s preferred) to Human Resources, People For the American Way Foundation, 1101 15th Street NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005. Email hr@pfaw.org.  No telephone calls please.


People For the American Way Foundation is an Equal Opportunity Employer

November 2016

YEO Network: Communications and Programs Associate

People For the American Way Foundation conducts research, legal, and education work on behalf of First Amendment freedoms and democratic values; monitors, exposes, and challenges the Religious Right movement and its political allies; identifies, trains, and supports the next generation of progressive leaders through its Young Elected Officials Network and its Young People For youth leadership programs; and carries out nonpartisan voter education, registration, civic participation, and election protection activities.

The Young Elected Officials Network (YEO) has been established to provide a network of support to young progressive elected officials in all levels of government. The program is based in Tallahassee, Florida and Washington, D.C. and works with a network of elected officials throughout the country. This position is located in the Washington, D.C. office, reports to the YEO Network Director  and works in collaboration with staff in both locations.

The YEO Network Communications and Programs Associate will help manage and coordinate various aspects of the YEO Network program as it continues to grow. This position requires an orientation to various aspects of marketing, communications, and graphic design; excellent communications and writing abilities; detailed program management and conference coordination skills; and familiarity with and a commitment to progressive issues and ideals.


  • In coordination with the YEO Network senior staff, execute and support YEO programs with a focus on internal and external communications strategy, especially pertaining to members, donors, and the general public.
  • In coordination with the YEO Network senior staff and DC Communications Department, support the Network’s communications and branding, draft press releases and coordinate media efforts, and work to maximize YEO Network program and member exposure.  
  • Manage website updates, HMTL, and graphic design components.
  • Design and draft newsletter content, marketing material, and reports.
  • Serve as liaison with graphic designers, the communications department, and website management vendors.
  • Manage regular outreach to the YEO Network membership using SALSA and other database management systems.  
  • Coordinate logistics for conferences, meetings, and summits of the YEO Network program, including scheduling and agenda development.
  • In coordination with the YEO Network senior staff, execute and support all branding and communications associated with trainings and conferences.
  • Execute and support deliverables for temporary or short-term projects, including grant reports.
  • In coordination with policy and membership teams, develop all related reports for special projects.
  • Assist YEO Network Director and staff with administrative work, scheduling, internal reporting and communications.


  • Excellent project management skills and ability to work with staff in multiple locations
  • Excellent interpersonal and communications skills, and ability to work with a variety of people
  • Excellent writing and editing skills, with special attention to detail; familiarity with and interest in writing about progressive policy preferred
  • Design software experience, including the Adobe Creative Suite – InDesign, Photoshop, and Dreamweaver– as well other HTML development systems, experience with web content management systems like Word Press, and design skills required
  • Ability to work effectively in a fast-paced environment; must be well-organized and able to effectively manage competing priorities and frequent deadlines
  • Familiarity with database management systems (i.e. Salsa, Constant Contacts, MailChimp) 
  • One to four years of related experience is preferred
  • College degree required
  • Ability to work independently, with supervision, and as part of a team
  • Entrepreneurial and innovative skills and strong problem-solving ability
  • Computer proficiency, including MSOffice, Outlook, and Internet tools; must have database and spreadsheet experience
  • Ability and willingness to travel when needed
  • Ability and willingness to work campaign hours when needed, including some nights and weekends
  • Commitment to the values of the Young Elected Officials Network and People For the American Way Foundation

To apply:  Please send a resume and cover letter to People For the American Way Foundation, 1101 15th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005.  Email to hr@pfaw.org.

People For the American Way Foundation is an Equal Opportunity Employer
November 2016

"I Think of Voting as a Chess Move, Not a Valentine."

A version of this post first appeared on the Young People For blog.

In a piece published last week in The Nation, the writer and activist Rebecca Solnit spoke powerfully about the importance of voting as a strategic choice rather than a solemn duty. Writing, “I think of voting as a chess move, not a valentine,” she evoked sentiments that resonated with many young progressive activists: that in casting our ballots we cannot invest all our hopes in any one candidate or institution but that through the act of voting, we’re making a deliberate choice of who we want to work with.

Over the past several months, nearly 60 Civic Engagement and Vote Fellows with PFAW Foundation’s Young People For Program have organized in 24 states to mobilize their communities in today’s local, state, and federal elections.

Our organizers have ensured prisoners in Suffolk County, Massachusetts’s pre-trial detention program have access to their absentee ballots. They’ve organized marches through Hattiesburg, Mississippi to the polls, convened conversations with immigrant and refugee communities in Kentucky about civic engagement, supported vote organizing in the Sacred Stone Camp in North Dakota, and worked with local government to explore pathways which would allow undocumented people to potentially cast ballots in municipal elections.

In doing so, our Fellows have organized not only because they know tonight’s electoral outcomes will shape our political landscape for years to come; they organized because they knew that building power — building movements — requires a tangible effort to bring our communities from the margins to the center of our society’s social, political, and economic concerns.

We are committed to holding space for our communities to not only survive the peaks and valleys of electoral politics but grow a robust, pluralistic democracy which addresses our needs and reflects our dreams for the future. To echo Solnit’s closing words, “We need to build a road through elections toward justice, to get on that road and never stop.”

PFAW Foundation

Edit Memo: The Critical Importance of Face-to-Face Outreach in 2016 African American Voter Engagement

To: Interested Parties
From: Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Religious Affairs, People For the American Way Foundation
Date: November 7, 2016
Re: The Critical Importance of Face-to-Face Outreach in 2016 African American Voter Engagement

While spending on political ads could break records this election cycle and campaigns are increasing relying on texting voters, less attention has been given to traditional, face-to-face voter contact through community efforts to get out the vote. This remains a proven, critically important method of engaging voters in the electoral process—and one that faith leaders in People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) have carried out in communities across the country this year.

Studies have found that increasing voter turnout depends on direct contact with voters through “a trusted messenger who can convey a message that resonates with the target voter’s lived experience.” These interactions greatly increase the likelihood that people will turn out to vote, and have been found to be more effective than other voter contact methods. This research underscores what the AAMLC national network already knew from its community organizing work: that knocking on doors and personally connecting with voters is a critical tool for engaging African American voters.

Though it has occurred largely outside of the spotlight of national media coverage, this vital work has been happening in cities and states across the country. For example, in the 2016 election cycle, AAMLC members have:

• Marched to the Board of Elections to cast early voting ballots in Cleveland, OH and Jacksonville, FL
• Canvassed throughout Ohio’s Cuyahoga County
• Led “Why Vote” forums at community colleges in Detroit, MI
• Led voter outreach at supermarkets in Miami, FL
• Organized community and church rallies in New Orleans, LA; Atlanta, GA; and Philadelphia, PA
• Led prayer meetings for seniors in Buffalo, NY and Minneapolis, MN
• Taken seniors to the polls throughout South Carolina
• Prepared and distributed informational materials in Meridian, MS
• Driven vans to the polls across the country

In addition to the recent engagement efforts, the AAMLC’s year-round education and training across the country ensures that voters know the date, time, and location of elections as well as the numbers to call for voting challenges and rides to the polls. This in-depth, community-led organizing makes a critical difference for early voting and on Election Day, and its significance should not be overlooked in 2016.


SCOTUS Schedule Speaks a Thousand Words

The Supreme Court clearly can't proceed with certain cases it accepted before the current vacancy opened until the Senate fills that vacancy.
PFAW Foundation

AAMLC Statement on Ohio Voting Rights Victory

On Wednesday, a federal court in Ohio ruled that Secretary of State Jon Husted could not rely on half measures that do little to right the proven wrongs of the state’s massive—and illegal—purge of voters. The court instructed the state to instead protect voters’ rights and let them know what they might encounter this Election Day.

Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of the African American Ministers Leadership Council at People For the American Way Foundation, released the following statement:

“This is a victory not only for Ohio voters but also for our democratic system. Illegally purging voters from the rolls undermines the most fundamental right we have as Americans. And the fact that African Americans and low-income people were disproportionately purged makes it all the more outrageous.

“Our elected leaders should be looking for ways to engage more people in the democratic process, not trying to block people from casting a ballot. We applaud the court’s decision protecting the rights of these voters who were wrongfully targeted.”


PFAW Foundation Releases Report on Extremist Anti-Choice Movement’s Return to Wichita

WASHINGTON—Today People For the American Way Foundation released a report on the extremist anti-choice movement’s return to Wichita, Kansas, this summer, a quarter century after the “Summer of Mercy” in which close to 2,000 anti-abortion activists were arrested in clinic blockades. The report documents the July 2016 Wichita convening through in-depth, first-hand reporting and provides background on the history of and trends in the extremist fringe of the anti-choice movement.

Among the report’s findings:

  • A major theme of today’s fringe anti-choice movement is pushing state and local officials to simply defy federal laws and Supreme Court rulings on abortion. They have been empowered in this by more mainstream conservatives’ increasing embrace of “nullification” strategies.
  • This part of the movement’s routine harassment of abortion providers is made more unsettling by its direct connections to the violent peripheries of the anti-abortion movement—as exemplified by its embrace of activists like Matt Trewhella, who once signed a statement saying that the murder of abortion providers is justifiable homicide.
  • The relatively small turnout at this year’s Wichita events was marked by increased virulence, with activists beginning to see some success in getting their messaging out to the broader conservative movement.

“Despite their small numbers,  these activists argue that they have the power to curtail abortion rights for the entire country," said Miranda Blue, research editor at People For the American Way Foundation and principal author of the report. “What’s most alarming is that it’s a message and approach that is increasingly being embraced by people in positions of some power in the conservative movement.”

A short video showing footage and photos from the Wichita events is available here.

Through the Right Wing Watch blog, Blue regularly monitors and documents the activities of anti-choice right-wing activists. She is available for interviews with the press. To arrange one, please contact Laura Epstein at media@pfaw.org.


People For the American Way Foundation Calls on Florida Governor Rick Scott to Extend Voter Registration Deadline

Given the severity of Hurricane Matthew, including the ordered evacuations of 1.5 million people, People For the American Way Foundation is calling on Florida Governor Rick Scott to reconsider his stance against extending the voter registration deadline for Floridians. People For the American Way Foundation Director of Outreach and Public Engagement Diallo Brooks issued the following statement:

“Our thoughts are with those impacted by Hurricane Matthew. As Floridians are rightly focused entirely on emergency preparedness and response, we call on Florida Governor Rick Scott to move the voter registration deadline. Scott should stop playing dangerous, partisan games with the storm that is currently battering Florida and extend the state’s voter registration deadline as his counterpart in South Carolina did.

“Voting is the most significant way most Americans participate in our democracy. For centuries, Americans have fought for the right to vote, and we continue to fight hard for that right today.

“There should be no need for a fight here: In the face of what could be one of the worst hurricanes in Florida’s history, there’s simply no justification for denying a person the right to vote through refusing to move the voter registration deadline, which would ensure that all who would like to exercise their right to vote can have the opportunity to register to vote.”

People For the American Way Foundation is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.



The Supreme Court Term 2016-2017: A Sabotaged Court Tries to Carry On, With Our Rights in the Balance

To: Interested Parties
From: Paul Gordon, Senior Legislative Counsel, People For the American Way Foundation
Date: October 3, 2016
Re: The Supreme Court Term 2016-2017: A Sabotaged Court Tries to Carry On, With Our Rights in the Balance

With the Senate simply ignoring the nomination of D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court for more than half a year, our nation’s highest court begins its new term the same way it spent the second half of the last one: short one member, divided ideologically 4-4 on many issues, and unable to fully function properly.

This is not be the first time the Supreme Court has begun a term short-staffed. But it is the first time a nominee for a Supreme Court vacancy has remained pending across two terms of the Court. And this is happening because the Supreme Court’s ability to carry out its constitutionally mandated role is being deliberately compromised. Even though Justice Antonin Scalia passed away almost a full year before President Obama leaves office, Senate Republicans immediately announced that they would not consider anyone he nominated, no matter who it was, so that the seat could be filled by the next president (who they hope will be a Republican). They transformed the nation’s highest court into a political football, and they are fighting to keep the seat open for Donald Trump to fill.

In June, People For the American Way released The Supreme Court Term 2015-16: Lessons on an Extended Vacancy. In addition, with the Constitutional Accountability Center, PFAW Foundation issued a report on Harming Justice: Effects of an Eight-Justice Supreme Court (and an end-of-term supplement). These demonstrated how the 4-4 split on the Court left critically important constitutional and other legal questions unanswered. They included the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s immigration executive actions, the legality of its accommodation to religious nonprofits with regard to contraception coverage for employees, and the continued ability of public sector unions to collect fair-share fees from non-members whose interests they are legally required to represent.

This year, more than 200 days after Judge Garland’s nomination, the Court begins its new term with the current vacancy still not filled. Likely because of the ongoing obstruction, the justices began their summer recess last June having accepted only 21 cases so far for the upcoming term, significantly fewer than normal at that point in time. Even with nine new ones accepted at the end of September, the number of cases is still lower than normal for this time. What point is there in accepting a critically important case when the Court is unlikely to be able to resolve the questions being raised?

As Justice Elena Kagan noted while speaking at Harvard Law School, “[p]resumably we're there for a reason. We're there to resolve cases that need deciding, answer hotly contested issues that need resolving, and you can't do that with a tie vote.”

Notably, one of the highest profile cases on the docket so far was accepted for review before Justice Scalia passed away. The Court at that time had no reason to shy away from the religious liberty issues raised in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley (see below). But now, even though it has been fully briefed and is ahead of many other cases in line, the Court has not yet scheduled it for oral arguments. The Court appears to recognize that it simply can’t do its job in this case as long as Senate Republicans continue to force it to operate without its congressionally mandated ninth seat.

Most of the cases accepted since Justice Scalia’s passing have been relatively low profile and not ideologically charged, concerning business and criminal law issues. But some of the cases accepted by the Court do raise important, high-profile issues, and there are others waiting in the wings that the Court may choose to hear once the Senate allows them to have their ninth justice.

Many of our rights and liberties will be on hold until the Senate allows the ninth seat on the Court to be filled. The next justice should respect our nation’s constitutional values of liberty, equality, and justice for all, as Merrick Garland’s career shows that he does. Justices that bend the law and twist logic in order to empower the powerful would constitute a major step backward in our nation’s ongoing struggle to live up to the ideals set forth in the United States Constitution. Analyzed below are some significant cases in several important issue areas that the Court has agreed to review or may review in 2016-17.

Religious Liberty

The Court already has one potentially significant religious liberty case on its docket, and it may very well grant certiorari in cases that raise other religious liberty issues.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley: Direct State Financial Grants to Churches

As noted above, the Court agreed to hear this case before Justice Scalia’s passing but is clearly not scheduling it until they hope they will have a ninth justice. Assuming the Court has nine justices in time, this case has the potential to weaken church-state separation provisions in the U. S. Constitution and in numerous state constitutions.

Missouri has a competitive grant program for organizations to improve their playgrounds. Trinity Lutheran Church operates a religious preschool and daycare program that infuses sectarian instruction throughout the day. Trinity applied for a grant to improve the children’s playground despite the state constitution’s clear mandate for the separation of church and state. It explicitly prohibits the government from providing funds to churches, either directly or indirectly. It also specifically prohibits funding to help or sustain a religious school. So Trinity’s grant application was rejected.

Trinity, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, sued the state, claiming that denying it funds for its playground because it is a religious entity violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection and Free Exercise Clauses. According to the church, Missouri targeted religion for disadvantageous treatment, which can be justified only if the grant program is narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest. Trinity claims there is no such compelling state interest, because (Trinity argues) the grant would be permissible under the federal Establishment Clause. Trinity also argues that the program forces adherents to choose between their religion and receiving a generally available public benefit, which denies them full and equal participation in the community and violates the Free Exercise Clause. Trinity gave no assurances to state officials that it would not use the taxpayer-funded playground for religious purposes. The Eighth Circuit rejected Trinity’s arguments.

PFAW Foundation joined an amicus brief authored by the ACLU pointing out the serious defects in Trinity’s legal argument. A fundamental principle of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause is that states may not award direct grants to houses of worship. The Court has upheld indirect grants such as vouchers, where parents rather than the state decide whether to spend taxpayer funds on a religious or a secular school. But direct grants to houses of worship contravene the clear meaning and intent of the Establishment Clause. The Founders recognized that churches would either support themselves or not, and that religious liberty would be threatened, not enhanced, if the government could use its taxing and spending powers to favor certain religions or religion in general. In contrast, despite the Establishment Clause, Trinity and its allies would have the Court require state support of churches and other houses of worship.

In a similar case challenging state constitutional “no aid” provisions, the Court is considering whether to grant certiorari in New Mexico Association of Nonpublic Schools v. Moses. There, the state constitution states that no funds spent for educational purposes can be spent on “any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university.” This covers all private institutions, not just religious ones. Based on that provision, the state supreme court struck down a program in which the state purchases non-religious educational material selected by public and private schools and lends them to qualified students in either public or private schools, which allows those schools to divert funds they would have otherwise used to obtain the material. The New Mexico Association of Nonpublic Schools, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, filed a certiorari petition with the Court, not asking it to take the case immediately, but rather to hold on to it pending resolution of Trinity Lutheran Church. It asserts the New Mexico constitutional provision violates the federal Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses.

Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission: Religion as a sword to deny other people their legal rights

The Court has not yet decided whether to hear this case involving the ability of a bakery to refuse services to a same-sex couple. Masterpiece Cakeshop is another vehicle used by the religious right to portray LGBT equality as inherently inconsistent with religious liberty. It is also an effort to expand their efforts to transform religious liberty from a shield designed to protect rights into a sword designed to strip others of their rights. The case relies on claims under the Free Exercise Clause as well as the First Amendment’s free speech provision.

The bakery is owned by Jack Phillips, who practices a version of Christianity deeply hostile to LGBT equality. When two men asked him to design and make a wedding cake for a local celebration after their planned marriage in Massachusetts (Colorado did not permit them to marry at that time), the bakery owner refused, saying his religion disapproved of their marriage and so he would not create wedding cakes for same-sex couples. However, Colorado prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, and as a business open to the general public, the bakery was ordered to end its policy of discrimination.

Masterpiece argues that creating and baking a wedding cake is an expressive act signifying his approval of the marriage being celebrated. Therefore, compliance with the anti-discrimination law would be unconstitutional compelled speech he does not agree with, under the First Amendment.

The problem with this argument is that there is no indication that the cake would contain a message that the baker would be offended or repulsed by (such as a written racist, political, or religious message on the cake). The Eighth Circuit concluded that operating a public bakeshop that designs and sells wedding cakes in compliance with anti-discrimination laws does not convey a celebratory message by the baker himself. Any pro-equality message that an observer might interpret from the cake would be attributed to the couple, rather than to the baker. In addition, the court ruled that simply obeying a law does not express agreement with it.

Masterpiece also claims that enforcement of the law violates the bakery owner’s rights under the Free Exercise Clause. (There is no RFRA claim, because that is a federal law, and Colorado has no state-level equivalent.) Under the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith case (which weakened the Free Exercise Clause and led to the passage of RFRA in response), the Free Exercise Clause does not excuse a person from complying with a valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that it prohibits or requires conduct in violation of their religious beliefs.

The 5-4 Hobby Lobby case showed that five justices were willing to transform the concept of religious liberty into a weapon to deprive others of their legal rights. But one of those in the majority was Justice Scalia, so the Court is divided 4-4 on this fundamental issue. Last term’s Zubik v. Burwell failed to resolve the issue in the context of the Affordable Care Act’s accommodation for religious nonprofits with regard to contraception coverage; the Court essentially punted the issue back to the lower courts. But this is a question that will come up over and over again in the lower courts, until a ninth justice takes their seat and can help resolve the current impasse.

As with Trinity Lutheran Church, the bakery in this case is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom.

LGBT Equality

Religious liberty cases like Masterpiece Cakeshop clearly implicate LGBT equality, since that community is a major target of the Far Right’s effort to redefine religious liberty. But LGBT equality issues have traditionally been raised in other contexts, and one such case may be heard by the Court this term.

Gloucester County School Board v. G.G.: Transgender equality under Title IX

This case – which the Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to take – involves a public school board’s efforts to prohibit G.G., a transgender boy, from using the boys’ bathroom at school. At issue is whether Title IX requires schools to allow transgender students to use the restrooms that are appropriate for their gender identity.

Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity receiving federal funding. So, for example, girls’ bathrooms and boys’ bathrooms must be comparable. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has interpreted this to require schools providing separate boys’ and girls’ bathrooms to generally treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.

A district court rejected this interpretation and ruled in favor of the Virginia school district without a trial, but on appeal, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit reversed the lower court and held that Title IX can be interpreted as the Department of Education does. The school district has appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court, which has stayed the appeals court ruling while it decides whether to take the case.

If the Court takes the case and rules that the DoE’s interpretation is reasonable but not the only possible one, then a future administration would likely be able to reverse it. A ruling that the department’s interpretation is the only correct one would cement the policy in place.

Voting Rights

Weeks before the 2016 term even began, the Court took interim actions having significant impacts on the right to vote in three states:

  • In August, the Court rejected North Carolina’s request to let it enforce provisions of a voter suppression law struck down by the Fourth Circuit, pending the outcome of the state’s appeal to the High Court.
  • In early September, the Court rejected Michigan’s request to enforce its new law banning automatic straight-ticket voting (where a voter can easily vote for all candidates of the same party running for any office). This will allow many voters to cast their ballots far more quickly and reduce lines at polling places.
  • Several days later, the Court declined to put a temporary hold on a lower court’s ruling striking down Ohio’s “Golden Week,” when voters can both register and vote at the same time. This period is used particularly by African Americans, but it will be unavailable to them this fall.

Any one of these cases could eventually be considered on the merits by the Court. Perhaps the most important of these is the North Carolina case.

North Carolina v. NC Conference of the NAACP: North Carolina has not yet submitted its petition for certiorari in this case.

In July, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower federal court and struck down North Carolina’s notorious voter ID law, as well as its provisions curtailing or eliminating early voting, same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and preregistration of 16 and 17 year-olds. The court concluded that not only did the law have a racially discriminatory impact, it was actually intended to make voting harder for African Americans. The judges concluded that provisions of the new law “target African Americans with almost surgical precision” without remedying the alleged problems the state claims were their justifications.

Struck down were the elimination of one of two Sunday early voting days (which have been used as “souls to the polls” voting turnout efforts by African Americans); a strict new photo ID law; same-day registration; out-of-precinct voting; and preregistration of 16 and 17 year-olds. All these provisions targeted voting methods more frequently used by African Americans, or required photo IDs that African Americans are less likely to have.

The Fourth Circuit ruling was an enormous victory for the right to vote. However, given the important issues raised, the lower court’s ruling on a constitutional basis, and the high profile of the case, it seems likely that the case will be appealed to and heard by the Supreme Court.

As noted above, the state had asked the Court to stay the Fourth Circuit’s ruling and allow enforcement of the new law during the November election, pending resolution of North Carolina’s as-yet-unfiled certiorari petition. On the preregistration provision, the Court split 7-1, with only Justice Thomas voting to let the state enforce it. But on all the other provisions at issue, the Court split 4-4. Without a majority, the petition was denied.

That 4-4 split suggests that if the case is ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, the identity of the ninth justice will be of enormous importance. Had Merrick Garland been granted timely consideration by the Senate, he likely would have been on the Court in time to provide a tie-splitting vote on North Carolina’s stay application.

Bethune-Hill v. Virginia Board of Elections and McCrory v. Harris: Racial redistricting.

The Court will be hearing two cases involving redistricting plans adopted after the 2010 elections that are challenged as racial gerrymandering.

In McCrory v. Harris, North Carolina appeals a decision by a three-judge district court that two of the Congressional districts created after the 2010 Census are racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

The lower court said that strict scrutiny applies to race in redistricting only when race is the “dominant and compelling” consideration in drawling lines. In this case, the court ruled, race was the predominant consideration with respect to CD1 and CD 12, and the state legislature did not narrowly tailor those districts to serve a compelling interest. Plaintiffs in this case are two voters, one from each district, who claim that North Carolina used the Voting Rights Act’s Section 5 preclearance requirement (then in effect) as a pretext to pack African American voters into the two districts, thereby reducing their influence in other districts.

Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections addresses Equal Protection challenges to twelve state legislative districts. In this case, the lower court upheld the redistricting. It concluded that race was not the predominant factor in motivating the state legislature’s boundary choices in 11 of the 12 districts, and that they all survived the lower level scrutiny applicable in that situation. The court did find that race was the predominant factor in shaping one district (House District 75), but that the legislature had a compelling interest (compliance with the VRA), and its use of race was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.

Improper redistricting is one way that the electoral influence of communities of color can be diminished. These cases may help lower courts determine when race has been used unconstitutionally.

Disability Rights

The Court has accepted three cases that could have a significant impact on people with disabilities.

Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools addresses the interplay among four federal laws designed to remove obstacles preventing people with disabilities from participating as full members of our society: the Handicapped Children’s Protection Act of 1986 (HCPA), the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. In this case, a student with cerebral palsy was prohibited from bringing her service dog with her to school, which provided a human aide instead. At issue is whether her parents can sue for damages, which are not available under the IDEA, under the ADA and Section 504 without first going through all the state-level resolution efforts required by IDEA and HCPA.

Ivy v. Morath addresses efforts by five hearing-impaired Texans to get drivers’ licenses, but the basic legal question could have a much larger impact. Texas will not give out drivers’ licenses to anyone under 25 unless they first provide a driver’s education certificate. The problem is that the only entities that provide such certificates are private companies licensed by the state, and none would provide a sign-language interpreter for the students. They initiated a class action lawsuit against the state agency to get it to comply with the ADA. The major legal issue is whether, under the ADA, the state is liable for discrimination in a program when it has delegated responsibility to private contractors.

In Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the Court is being asked to resolve the level of benefit that school districts are required to provide to children with disabilities under the IDEA. Circuit courts have split on the issue. As a result, districts in some parts of the country only need to provide “some educational benefit,” while those in other parts of the country must provide a “meaningful educational benefit.”

Housing Discrimination

Bank of America Corp. v. City of Miami and Wells Fargo v. City of Miami raise questions about Miami’s efforts to hold lenders accountable for the long-term effects of their discriminatory policies. The Court has accepted and consolidated the two cases. Lenders are asking the Court to decide whether the Fair Housing Act (FHA) allows cities to be among those who can sue because of racial discrimination in housing committed by others against city residents. Also at issue is whether the term “aggrieved person” in the FHA just means an Article III injury, or whether it requires something more than that. The lenders are also challenging how far down the cause-and-effect line one can go before you can no longer say that the defendant’s actions were the “proximate cause” of a bad result, as required by the FHA.

Other Important Issues

Other important legal issues that will be decided this term – unless the Court splits 4-4 because the current vacancy remains unfilled – include:

  • Must certain acting government officials who have been nominated (but not yet confirmed) to positions requiring Senate confirmation step down from their acting position once nominated? This is not a constitutional case, but one interpreting a statute setting forth rules for filling higher-level vacancies in the government. In an era of partisan obstruction of executive nominees, this could have a significant impact. (National Labor Relations Board v. SW General)
  • Some state laws prohibit merchants from charging a surcharge when customers use credit cards, but allow them to offer discounts to those who pay by cash. Does it violate the merchants’ First Amendment free speech right to describe their cash/credit disparity as a “surcharge” rather than a “discount for cash” in order to discourage customers from using credit cards? This could be an important case, since the Roberts Court has in the past used the First Amendment as a way to strike down ordinary economic and business laws, just as the Due Process Clause was used for that purpose in the Lochner Era. (Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman).
  • The Court has accepted three cases that could have an impact on some immigrants. Lynch v. Morales-Santana challenges a federal law treating (for the purposes of citizenship) children born abroad with only one citizen parent, depending on whether the citizen was the child’s mother or their father. Jennings v. Rodrigues addresses various aspects of bond hearings for non-citizens in detention. Lynch v. Dimaya asks whether the term “crime of violence” in immigration law is so too vague and therefore unconstitutional.


The Supreme Court’s decisions affect everyone: individuals and communities, businesses and consumers, employers and employees. As Citizens United and Shelby County show, they can have profoundly dangerous consequences for the health of our democracy. But as Obergefell and Whole Women’s Health show, the Court can hold the key to undoing unjust and oppressive laws that violate people’s basic rights.

The type of Court we have going forward will depend on who is chosen to fill its vacancies. No matter what issues one cares about, the Supreme Court is critically important in that area.


People For the American Way FoundationStatement On Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s Suspension

People For the American Way Foundation President Michael Keegan issued the following statement regarding Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s suspension today for violating ethics codes with his defiance of the Supreme Court and lower federal courts on marriage equality:

Roy Moore has spent years advocating for the defiance of federal court rulings that he finds to be against his own personal religious beliefs. This is a dangerous position for anyone in elected office to hold, much less the chief justice of a state supreme court. The Alabama Court of the Judiciary has made it clear that regardless of Moore’s personal views on marriage equality, he still has the obligation to uphold the laws of the United States.

In February 2015, People For the American Way Foundation filed an ethics complaint against Chief Justice Moore for his efforts to stymie and defy a federal court ruling on marriage equality.


PFAW Foundation Statement on the Shooting of Terence Crutcher

WASHINGTON – On Monday the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Police Department released footage of a white police officer fatally shooting Terence Crutcher, an unarmed African American man. People For the American Way Foundation President Michael Keegan released the following statement:

“On behalf of everyone at People For the American Way Foundation, we offer our deepest condolences to the family of Terence Crutcher. This kind of horror is something no family should ever have to experience.

“It is unconscionable that an unarmed man standing beside his stalled SUV would be shot and killed by the police. It’s on all of us to speak out not only against excessive police force but against the systemic devaluation of Black lives in our country. 

"We challenge everyone within the progressive movement and all people of conscience to speak out, demand accountability and justice, and fight for policy change to address police brutality and systemic racism.”

People For the American Way Foundation is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.


Bryan Fischer: Only Those Who Believe In God And Oppose Abortion Are Qualified To Serve As Judges

American Family Radio host Bryan Fischer declared on his radio program on Friday that a person who does not believe in God or who supports abortion rights is unqualified to serve as a judge at any level in America.

Fischer got onto the subject after praising Donald Trump on his radio show for naming Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Antony List as the head of his presidential campaign's pro-life coalition.

"I would submit to you that no man is qualified to sit as a judge in America who does not understand and believe that there is a Creator and that the Creator is the source of every single one of our fundamental, inalienable rights," Fischer said, "and that the first of these rights given to us by God is the right to life."

"No one is qualified to sit on any bench in the judiciary at any level, whether municipal or county or local or state or federal," he continued, "no man is qualified to sit on the bench who does not believe in a Creator, does not believe that the Creator is the source of all of our rights and does not believe that the very first of these rights, these legal rights, the constitutional rights, is the right to life."

Lester Holt, Let’s #FirstDebateDemocracy

Of the many pressing issues this election cycle, there is one that must be addressed first in order to accomplish much of anything else: the issue of democracy itself. Without fundamental reforms to how our political system operates, complex problems like climate change, racial injustice and economic inequality will only worsen as our elected officials continue to cater to wealthy donors rather than serving the interests of “We the People.”

People For the American Way joins our allies in calling on Lester Holt, the moderator of the first presidential debate on September 26, to ask Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump about their respective plans to deal with the issues of unchecked money in politics, efforts to undermine the functioning of the Supreme Court, and attacks on voting rights. The American people deserve to know what their next president will do to deal with these structural problems that hinder progress on countless issues facing our nation.

Take money in politics as an example. Hillary Clinton has made reforming the current campaign finance system a key pillar of her campaign ever since she announced her candidacy. She has called for a constitutional amendment overturning Supreme Court cases such as Citizens United, a small-donor matching system, and increased disclosure of political contributions. Furthermore, while she would prefer to reach bipartisan agreement with Congress, Clinton has said that absent such agreement, she will use her legal authority to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has yet to offer any proposed solutions. While he consistently rails against a ‘rigged’ system, he has failed to explain how he would address this issue. If anything, he has boasted about how much money he has donated to politicians in the past, and how they were always “there for me.” Bragging about participating – and benefitting from – pay-to-play politics is hardly a case for reform, let alone an agenda to implement reform.

On September 26, the nation will tune in to watch the first presidential debate of this cycle. Democracy issues have already been cemented as a pivotal theme this election cycle, particularly given the quest for reform that fueled the campaign of Bernie Sanders, educating an entire generation of voters on the perils of Citizens United and our country’s big money system. If Lester Holt and NBC want to set the course of conversation in the right direction, and strike at the root of many problems that are of great consequence to the American people, they should commit to ensure that we #FirstDebateDemocracy.

PFAW Foundation

Right-Wing Pastor: Satan Is Staging A 'Homosexual Invasion' From The White House

In a sermon on “the deception of the homosexual agenda” at last month’s “Summer of Justice” event in Wichita, Kansas, Bishop Otis Kenner of Louisiana declared that Satan is staging a “homosexual invasion” to stop God from taking dominion over the earth and that the “devil” in the White House is in on it.

Kenner, who also addressed the crowd on the evils of suffragist Susan B. Anthony and women in the workplace, declared that Satan has “devised a system” using gay people to stop God’s “colonization of the earth realm” through procreation.

“Because the homosexuals know that they cannot procreate, so they take our innocent sons and daughters through adoption … to try to stop the colonization of God in the earth realm,” he said. He then spoke as Satan: “‘If I can get into their minds, if I can get into their spirit, then I can break the process of God, stop the procreation process of God and the colonization of the earth realm and make more just like them.’ It’s about them colonizing the earth with their own kind.”

“In 2008, I preached a sermon called ‘Homosexual Invasion,’” he said. “God has showed me this in 2008 how the homosexuals were going to invade our country because they want to stop the colonization of God in the earth realm.”

Kenner later addressed the lighting of the White House in rainbow colors on the evening of the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down state-level bans on marriage equality.

Noting that the decision was handed down on June 26 of last year, he pointed out that the date included “two sixes, which means 666, the Mark of the Beast.”

“They legitimize same-sex marriages and they light the White House up with the gay pride colors to signify Satan is sitting at the seat of power,” he said.

“Will you vote for the devil because he showed up black?” Kenner said he had asked his congregation, clarifying that he wasn’t calling President Obama the devil, just that “what he did was the devil.”

This, he said, was all reason for Christians to “interpose” against LGBT rights laws and declare that “we will not allow a transgender bathroom in our schools.”

Anti-Abortion Event: Satan Used Susan B. Anthony To Put Women In The Workforce

Last month, Operation Save America organized a week of anti-abortion protests in Wichita, Kansas, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Summer of Mercy, the famous 1991 abortion protest event. Participants in OSA’s event were treated every night to a lecture at their host church including, one evening, a talk about the “deception of the homosexual agenda” that touched on how Satan worked through Susan B. Anthony to get women into the workforce.

Bishop Otis Kenner, a Louisiana clergyman who does African-American outreach for OSA, told participants that through Satan, “Susan B. Anthony and the women’s lib and equal opportunity has devalued our women and has put them into the workforce”:

The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 11:3, Christ is the head of man, man is the head of the woman and God is the head of Christ. Satan has devalued our women. Proverbs Chapter 31 talks about the virtuous woman and talks about her occupation in the home. She rises up early before her family gets up to prepare meat for them. She goes into the marketplace, she sews, she cooks, she invests. But Susan B. Anthony and the women’s lib and equal opportunity has devalued our women and has put them into the workforce. Whoever told our women that to be a homemaker was subservient?

Kenner said that women should be “pampered” and have a “good time” as long as they do all of the childcare work and are home when their husband gets home from work:

What it looks like, I got steel-toe boots on with a bandana around my head because I’ve been in the workforce, and my wife comes home looking like me? I mean, I just believe that women were to be pampered and was to be loved. You should get your nails done as much as you want, your feet done as much as you want, I mean just go shopping and all that kind of stuff, take care of the children, watch over them, just have yourself a good time, just be home when I get home from work. That’s not so bad, is it?

“Here’s the deal,” he concluded. “Because Satan has broken the governmental authority of God, he had put the women in the workforce. Who are raising our children? The government. And our public schools, they our turning our children out one by one.”

Operation Save America recently posted a video of the speech on YouTube.

NC Voting Restrictions Struck Down as Intentionally Discriminatory

A three-judge circuit court panel unanimously agrees that North Carolina passed its law with the intent to discriminate against African Americans.
PFAW Foundation
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