Michael B. Keegan

The Supreme Court's 2014-2015 Term: PFAW Member Telebriefing

Yesterday, People For the American Way members participated in a telebriefing to discuss the Supreme Court’s upcoming term and to preview some of the important cases the Court will be hearing this year. The call was kicked off by PFAW President Michael Keegan and moderated by PFAW Director of Communications Drew Courtney. PFAW’s Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon reviewed highlights of his recent report previewing the Supreme Court’s upcoming term and answered questions from members. Also on the call and answering questions were Senior Fellow Elliot Mincberg and Executive Vice President Marge Baker.

Among the cases Gordon previewed were Young v. UPS, Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, Mach Mining v. EEOC, Holt v. Hobbs, and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama / Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama. The issues addressed in these cases range from employment discrimination and workers’ rights, to religious liberty and voting rights.

He also discussed potential cases that the Court could still add for this term, which included cases on marriage equality, the Affordable Care Act, and contraception coverage by religious nonprofits—the “sequels to Hobby Lobby.”

Members’ questions focused on how the country can move forward to change some of the more damaging decisions like Citizens United, and what each person could do to effect change and impact the courts. Emphasizing what is at stake this election, both PFAW President Michael Keegan and Gordon called on people to vote in November because “when you vote … for the Senate, you are voting for the next Supreme Court justice.”

Listen to the full audio of the telebriefing for more information.

 

PFAW

2014 Midterm Elections: PFAW Holds Member Telebriefing with Political Strategist Celinda Lake

People For The American Way hosted a telebriefing Thursday evening to update PFAW members on the electoral landscape for 2014.  The call, which was kicked off by PFAW President Michael Keegan and moderated by Director of Communications Drew Courtney, featured prominent pollster and political strategist and current President of Lake Research Partners Celinda Lake, as well as PFAW’s Political Director Randy Borntrager and Executive Vice President Marge Baker.

Lake discussed the political climate in Congress and the general frustration voters feel toward both political parties. She emphasized multiple times throughout the call that in this election “the key is voter turnout.” In Kentucky, for instance since most undecided voters are leaning towards Alison Lundergan Grimes, turnout will be critical to help unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Political Director Randy Borntrager discussed the work PFAW is doing to make the biggest impact possible in the most pivotal races to help progressives win this election. Lake and Borntrager emphasized that increasing awareness to voters of what is truly at stake – from reproductive rights to potential Supreme Court vacancies – will help make a difference come November.

Questions from callers also focused on other critical races including gubernatorial races in Florida and Wisconsin, the Senate race in North Carolina, and contests in Alaska and Iowa, among others.

In closing, Drew Courtney noted that the telebriefing shows that “we have some challenges ahead, but we are going to fight hard and push forward, and we’re not going to go back to the way things were before.”

Listen to the full audio of the telebriefing for more information.
 

PFAW

Ferguson and the America We Need to Build

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post.

An unarmed teenager gunned down in the street. Peaceful protesters attacked in a military-style assault. Journalists tear-gassed and arrested to prevent them from covering the actions of government officials. This is not the America to which we aspire.

Many Americans are both angry and appalled at the actions taken by law enforcement officials in Ferguson, Missouri, this week. These actions do not reflect a commitment to the Constitution or to the principles of equal justice under the law and freedom of the press. We applaud the Department of Justice for undertaking an investigation into the violence, and we are grateful that state officials have stepped in to institute a more sensible law enforcement presence. We encourage state and federal officials to continue monitoring the situation and to intervene as necessary to prevent further civil rights violations.

At the center of this controversy is a dead teenager and a grieving family. We recognize that the pain and outrage felt by so many people is grounded in the fact that this kind of killing of young men of color happens far too often. Part of the tragedy is that a killing like this is not surprising. If our commitment to equality and human dignity is to have real meaning, we cannot continue to tolerate conditions that require so many parents to teach their children how to live through a chance encounter with law enforcement.

In the long run, our elected officials must grapple with many complex policy questions, including racial disparities in the administration of justice. Today we support community leaders who are demanding accountability.

PFAW Foundation

Unpacking Hobby Lobby & Other SCOTUS Decisions: PFAW Member Telebriefing

Yesterday, People For the American Way members participated in a special telebriefing to discuss the Supreme Court term that wrapped up this Monday and to unpack some of the critical decisions handed down by the Court this year. The call, which was kicked off by PFAW President Michael Keegan and moderated by Director of Communications Drew Courtney, featured Senior Fellows Jamie Raskin and Elliot Mincberg, as well as Executive Vice President Marge Baker.

Discussing Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Raskin explained the case and the damaging implications of the 5-4 decision. Highlighting the “extreme and extravagant” claim made by Hobby Lobby that its religious rights were violated, Raskin described the court’s decision that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act covers “closely held” corporations and noted that this creates a “dangerous expansion of corporate personhood.” Raskin described how this exemplifies the Court in the Citizens United era, where the far right Justices regularly find ways to rule so they can enhance the power of corporations.

Mincberg also provided background on RFRA and explained how the law was distorted and expanded in this decision far beyond what anyone had in mind when it passed by an enormous bipartisan majority 20 years ago.

Members wanted to know what actions can be taken to help address the imbalance in the Court and the troubling decisions made by the Roberts’ Court in the last few years. Baker addressed the issue of rebalancing the Court, emphasizing the importance of presidential elections on the Court’s make-up.

The telebriefing also covered the recent decisions in McCullen v. Coakley, NLRB v. Noel Canning, and Harris v. Quinn, underscoring the Court’s decisive move to the right.

Listen to the full audio of the telebriefing for more information.

 

PFAW

"Citizen Koch" Premieres Nationwide (And We Highly Recommend It!)

All around the country, the important film "Citizen Koch" is premiering in cities large and small. Find a screening near you!

The movie tracks the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that lifted a century-long ban on corporate election spending by looking at the standoff in Wisconsin between state employees and GOP Governor Scott Walker. During his election and recall campaigns, Walker was bankrolled by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, demonstrating the torrent of unlimited, anonymous political spending by corporations and billionaires that was unleashed through this Supreme Court decision. As the film follows this story, it also shows the fracturing of the Republican Party and proves how Citizens United fundamentally changed how our democracy works.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funding, and even losing its public television distributor, the movie finally comes to theatres this summer. The process that led to it being pulled from public television airwaves illustrates exactly what “Citizen Koch” depicts—that money buys not only action, but also silence. As Buddy Roemer, whose presidential run is chronicled in the film, stated, “Sometimes it's a check. Sometimes it's the threat of a check. It's like having a weapon. You can shoot the gun or just show it. It works both ways.”

People For the American Way hosted the DC premiere of the documentary film “Citizen Koch” at the Washington’s West End Cinema Friday night to a sell out crowd. Friday’s premiere was followed by a panel discussion with one of the documentary’s Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Tia Lessin, along with PFAW’s director of outreach and partner engagement Diallo Brooks and PFAW president Michael Keegan. After the screening, the audience participated in a question and answer session on the effects of big money in politics and what different organizations and mobilized citizens are doing to reverse the effects of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon.

 

PFAW

PFAW Report Exposes Deceptive New Religious Right Strategy

WASHINGTON –  Right-wing groups that oppose advances in marriage equality and reproductive justice have increasingly embraced a new tactic to push their agenda: the claim that opposition to them on policy amounts to oppression of their religious beliefs. A new report from People For the American Way exposes how the anti-gay, anti-choice Religious Right uses false and misleading stories to portray itself as a victim of religious persecution and intolerance. 

The report, “The Persecution Complex: The Religious Right’s Deceptive Rallying Cry,” illustrates how Religious Right activists and elected officials have attempted to portray the increasing unpopularity of their stances on a number of cultural issues as evidence of oppression of their religious faith and represent themselves as the only holdouts in a society that is turning its back on moral values.

“Religious Right leaders hold themselves up as the victims,” stated People For the American Way’s President Michael B. Keegan. “This is a powerful talking point, even if not true. We need to expose these distortions for what they really are—an attempt to protect the Right’s ability to discriminate and push its policy preferences on the rest of us.”

The report explores a number of myths that have become widespread on the Religious Right, despite having little or no basis in reality:

  • Two middle school girls are forced into a lesbian kiss as part of an anti-bullying program
  • An Air Force sergeant is fired because he opposes same-sex marriage
  • A high school track team is disqualified from a meet after an athlete thanks God for the team’s victory
  • A Veterans Affairs hospital bans Christmas cards with religious messages
  • A man fixing the lights in a Christmas tree falls victim to a wave of War-on-Christmas violence
  • An elementary school student is punished for praying over his school lunch
  • A little boy is forced to take a psychological evaluation after drawing a picture of Jesus

None of these stories is true.

These unfounded stories feed into a narrative that portrays conservative Christians as the victims of LGBT rights, reproductive justice, religious pluralism and secular government. This narrative, in turn, has fueled the legislative and legal efforts to turn back any progressive advances.   

“Using the resonant rhetoric of religious persecution, bolstered by often-bogus stories of purported anti-Christian activities, the Religious Right has attempted to tip the balance away from pluralism and accommodation to a legal system that allows individuals and businesses to broadly exempt themselves from policies they disagree with,” the report states. “Even when that means trampling on the religious rights of others.”

Read the full report here.

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North Carolina Drops Official Religion Bill

After vocal opposition from People For the American Way and others, Speaker Thom Tillis of the North Carolina House announced yesterday that a resolution stating that North Carolina has the power to declare an official religion would not be brought to a vote.  In effect, this means that the resolution has been dropped. 

The bill claimed that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment does not apply to states.  But as People For the American Way President Michael Keegan noted in a statement on Wednesday,

“There’s no question that any attempt to establish an official state religion is blatantly unconstitutional. That’s true whether it’s North Carolina or the federal government.”

The proposal highlighted the extremes that Tea Party Republican lawmakers are willing to go to in order to push their dangerous ideology – even when it means ignoring core principles on which our nation was founded, such as religious liberty and the separation of church and state.  

UPDATE (4/8/13): North Carolina Representative Harry Warren, one of the sponsors of the resolution, has now publicly stated that he “regret[s] any embarrassment or concern that it has caused the citizens of Rowan County and North Carolina,” calling the resolution “poorly written.”  Warren’s explanation is, however, still problematic.  He says he wanted a resolution that county officials have the right, despite the Establishment Clause, to open their proceedings with specifically Christian prayers.  That, of course, flies against the Constitution. 
 

 

PFAW

PFAW: North Carolina Bill to Establish State Religion Threatens Bedrock American Values

Bill makes clear how radical tea party Republican lawmakers are when it comes to pushing their ideology on the rest of us.

PFAWF: Voting Rights Act Still Key in Preventing Disenfranchisement

WASHINGTON – Today the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, a case challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  People For the American Way Foundation released the following statement:

“The right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights we have as Americans,” said People For the American Way Foundation President Michael Keegan. “The Voting Rights Act, especially Section 5, has been a central part of safeguarding that right for nearly fifty years and continues to play a vital role in protecting Americans from disenfranchisement.  The 2012 election cycle provided far too many examples that threats to voting access – in the form of voter ID laws, restrictions on early voting, and inequitable distribution of resources leading to excessively long waiting times for certain communities to vote – are alive and well.  If we want a functioning democracy, everyone has to have access to the ballot box.

“The 15th Amendment of the Constitution is very clear on this issue: the right to vote cannot be denied on account of race, and Congress has the power to protect that right as it finds appropriate,” Keegan continued. “When, after a comprehensive analysis, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, it was simply doing its job. For right wing Justices on the Supreme Court to substitute their own political judgment would be a radical and unwarranted step and send a chilling message to millions of Americans who are seeing more and more burdens placed on their right to vote.”

“Voting discrimination is deeply rooted in our country’s history,” added Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of the African American Ministers Leadership Council at People For the American Way Foundation. “It’s stunning to me that some say this law is no longer needed, when in the past election cycle we witnessed and fought attempts to make it harder for communities of color to vote all across the country. The right to vote remains fragile for many Americans, and the Voting Rights Act is an essential tool in protecting that right.”

For more information on the Voting Rights Act, please refer to the new PFAW Foundation report from Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin outlining the legal case for why the VRA is still necessary, or the new Huffington Post op-ed from Minister Leslie Watson Malachi describing the challenges that people of color still face at the ballot box nearly half a century after the VRA’s passage.

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Connecticut and The Cause Of Our National Political Paralysis

Call it an occupational hazard for someone who pays close attention to the right wing in America. On Friday, even while my mind and heart were struggling with how to take in, much less make sense of, the news about the killings at a Connecticut elementary school, another part of me was steeling itself for what I knew was to come.

And come it has. Rather than contributing to constructive discussion about a way forward on issues like the insufficient availability of mental health treatment and the extravagant availability of equipment designed for large-scale killing, Religious Right leaders and their Tea Party allies have wasted no time in placing blame for the killing on their usual targets: liberals, teachers, religious pluralism, judges, and the separation of church and state. Yet again.

These past few days have reminded me how Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, while the smoke had not even cleared from the destruction of the World Trade Center, blamed liberals, feminists, gays, People For the American Way, and others for the attacks. Falwell was shamed into an apology, which he later recanted. But Religious Right leaders are showing no shame in using this tragedy to push their agendas in offensive and destructive ways.

On his radio station Monday morning, James Dobson cited lack of belief in God, legal abortion, the advance of marriage equality as reasons for the school shooting: "I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that's what's going on."

The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer also blessed his listeners with his personal insight into what he says was God's gentlemanly reason not to protect those children from harm:

God is not going to go where he is not wanted. Now we have spent since 1962 - we're 50 years into this now - we have spent 50 years telling God to get lost. Telling God, 'We do not want you in our schools.'...In 1962 we kicked prayer out of the schools. In 1963 we kicked the word of God out of the schools. In 1980 we kicked the Ten Commandments out of schools. We've kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, 'Hey, I'll be glad to protect your children, but you've got to invite me back into your world first. I'm not going to go where I am not wanted. I am a gentleman.

Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee made similar comments as did others. The Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody defended them from their critics, saying their views were shared by millions of evangelicals.

Why look at what these people are saying? Because of the real power they now hold. What they say is what keeps us from even discussing, never mind solving, this country's critical problems.

Even efforts to bring people together to comfort the suffering brought attacks. Operation Save America called Sunday's interfaith memorial service "an affront to Almighty God" and added that "We expelled God from school and banished Him from the schoolyard. He was replaced with metal detectors, condoms, policemen, anti-bullying policies, No-gun zones, and violence of unprecedented order."

One of the most dismaying statements came predictably from Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel, who responded to President Obama's remarks at the memorial service on Sunday with this tweet:

Absolute slime ball, #Obama exploiting memorial service to push radical#GunControl. His extremism knows no lows#Newtown

It is amazing what can be conveyed about our politics in 140 characters or less. It strikes me that Barber's tweet is emblematic of everything that the radical right has done to distort our political system and destroy our ability to even have a reasonable conversation about critical problems the country needs to solve.

Would that this was just about guns. This frenzied effort to forestall even a conversation about the ready availability of military-style weapons - and this is even before the NRA itself wades in - points to a larger picture.

Just five years ago, we were able to have some reasonable political conversations, even across party lines, about important issues like climate change and immigration reform. Of course, there were significant disagreements about the exact nature of the issues and the proper policy responses. But more recently, any effort to even acknowledge the existence of climate change runs up against a solid wall of denialism from the right wing and most importantly from legislators who now so fear the far right. Similarly, some conservatives who championed comprehensive immigration reform five or six years ago saw the effort savaged by the right wing who sounded the alarm of losing white America.

On the fiscal front, Grover Norquist's no-taxes-ever pledge, backed with the kind of political intimidation that deep-pocketed ideologues have perfected in the Tea Party era, have made it nearly impossible for the country to seriously address both its short-term job shortage and its long-term deficit problem. And we saw last year that the fear of a right wing primary challenge is much greater than the fear of damaging the credit rating of our country.

The horrific shootings in Connecticut may be leading some elected officials to consider tackling some problems that have been ignored or considered politically off-limits. But we should not have to rely on tragedies to overcome obstacles to needed action. While the far right's ideological enforcers can be counted on to fight any move by conservatives toward common sense and common ground, such movement is essential. As we are sometimes so painfully reminded, Americans need a functional political system, one with the ability to address urgent political questions to achieve much needed compromises. And quite simply, none of this can happen until we have political leaders with the courage to stand up against the far right's willingness to paralyze our country.

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post.

PFAW

Election Is Mandate for Policies Grounded in Progressive American Values

The American people have made their choice -- a resounding victory for President Obama and Vice President Biden and a mandate for their policy agenda.
PFAW

Appeals Court Strikes Down Discriminatory DOMA, Congress Should Repeal It

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages sanctioned by the states, is unconstitutional.

Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way, issued the following statement:

“Every federal court that has reviewed DOMA’s section 3 has found that it violates our constitutional principles. This should be no surprise. DOMA hurts gay and lesbian married couples by denying them some of the most basic protections of marriage, and it does so for no reason but prejudice against LGBT families. Our Constitution guarantees all Americans equal protection under the law, and DOMA clearly violates that principle.

“House Speaker John Boehner has wasted nearly a million and a half taxpayer dollars on defending this indefensible law. I am confident that the Supreme Court would not let DOMA stand, but I hope that they never have to review it. Most Americans don’t want to hurt their gay and lesbian neighbors, and we’ve seen over and over again that DOMA does real harm to real people. Congress must recognize the harm that DOMA has done and repeal it before it hurts more legally married Americans.”

A People For the American Way petition calling for the repeal of DOMA has gathered over 200,000 signatures.

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PFAW Report: Predatory Privatization Puts Citizens and Communities at Risk

 Washington, DC -- State and local budget crises and the election of anti-government ideologues have left taxpayers and communities increasingly vulnerable to predatory “privatization” of government services and public infrastructure. “Desperate government is our best customer,” says one finance company executive specializing in the privatization of public infrastructure. A new report from People For the American Way documents that the push to privatize public services and assets often reduces the quality of services, burdens taxpayers and threatens democratic government.

A copy of the full report, Predatory Privatization: Exploiting Financial Hardship, Enriching the One Percent, Undermining Democracy [pdf] is available here: http://site.pfaw.org/pdf/Predatory-Privatization.pdf

“The combination of budget deficits, anti-tax ideology, and financial predators can be deadly to the interests of citizens and communities,” said People For the American Way President Michael Keegan. “Right-wing anti-government and anti-union ideologues are exploiting tough economic times and taking advantage of desperate public officials. The public picks up the tab but gives up control and accountability. The public good should never be on the auction block. If citizens are not vigilant, they will end up paying a terrible long-term price for deals to plug short-term budget holes. ”

Among the examples examined in Predatory Privatization:

  • In 2009, the city of Chicago sold revenues from the city’s parking meters to a group of companies led by Wall Street giant Morgan Stanley. Investors got the right to control parking meter revenues for 75 years. Not only did the city give up revenue, but it actually has to pay the private company whenever a street is closed for repairs or for a street fair; the company claims city taxpayers already owe it almost $50 million.
  • Republican officials are pushing to privatize more prison operations, even though private prisons often end up costing taxpayers more. The multi-billion-dollar private prison industry has an incentive to increase the numbers of prisoners incarcerated and to keep people locked up as long as possible – and spends millions to lobby state legislators.
  • Investors are lining up – and lobbying legislators – to get their hands on the billions of dollars spent on public education. Many schools are being privatized despite very mixed results. Many investors rake in millions even though many students in these private schools do much worse than their traditional counterparts.
  • Indiana turned over its toll road to foreign firms for 75 years. Fine print in the contract has required taxpayers to reimburse investors when Indiana waived tolls for safety reasons during a flood. The contract allows the company to raise tolls every year; they doubled during the first five years of the 75-year contract.


The report also gives individuals advice on how to protect the public interest by responding strategically to privatization schemes, including a set of crucial questions that public officials should be forced to answer before voting on any proposal.

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American Apartheid? The Republican "Dream" Scheme

After years spent bashing Latinos, polls show the GOP brand suffering among that demographic, so Republicans are now trying to bamboozle Latino voters with a new dream-free version of the DREAM Act.
PFAW

In a Victory For Women’s Health, Senate Rejects Extreme Blunt Amendment

In a 51-48 vote today, the Senate rejected an amendment to the transportation bill by Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt that would have allowed employers to deny their employees health insurance coverage for any treatment for any reason.

Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way issued the following statement:

“The Blunt amendment was not only astoundingly bad public policy, it represented a fundamental misreading of the First Amendment. If it became law, it would have put working Americans – regardless of their religious beliefs – at the mercy of the religious beliefs of their employers. That’s not religious liberty – in fact, it’s exactly the opposite.

“Sen. Blunt’s plan would have caused chaos in our health care system by allowing each employer to decide which medications and procedures will be available to their employees. If this plan were to become law, no American who secures a job could be confident that that job would come with full health care benefits.

“The Blunt amendment was a desperate attempt by the GOP to appeal to a narrow and extreme base at the expense of the well-being of all Americans. Every senator who voted for this amendment can be assured that voters will notice and take note of their priorities.”

 

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PFAW Foundation Invites Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn to Debate Arts Censorship and Religious Freedom

People For the American Way Foundation President Michael Keegan has invited Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn to a public debate on arts censorship and religious liberty in light of the controversy over a new exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.

Michael Keegan, President

About Michael Keegan, President of People for the American Way

PFAW Names Activist Leader Michael B. Keegan New President

Michael B. Keegan, who has served as interim president since April and has been a board member for over 15 years, will become PFAW's new president.

Leading Progressive Advocacy Organizations Launch Search for New Leader

People For the American Way, one of the country's leading progressive advocacy organizations, has launched a wide-ranging national search for a new president and CEO, who will also oversee the affiliated People For the American Way Foundation. The new president will lead staff members engaged in research, education, communications, advocacy, organizing, and action to counter the agenda and political power of the radical right, strengthen progressive youth leadership, and help build an America that more fully reflects the nation's ideals.
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