JFK’S Contribution to Women’s Rights — and What He Might Want Us to Do Next
Posted: 11/21/2013 11:21 pm
There’s another 50th anniversary in the life of President John F. Kennedy that’s important to remember today.
Just a few weeks before his death, on October 11, 1963, President Kennedy received the final report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. A direct line runs between the work of this commission and the establishment of the National Organization for Women.
In 1961, President Kennedy issued an executive order charging the commission “with the responsibility for developing recommendations for overcoming discrimination in government and private employment on the basis of sex…”
The preamble to the executive order begins with the following statement:
Prejudices and outmoded customs act as barriers to the full realization of women’s basic rights, which should be respected and fostered as part of our Nation’s commitment to human dignity, freedom, and democracy.
President Kennedy appointed Eleanor Roosevelt to chair the Commission, which she did until her death in 1962.
(You can listen to a conversation between Eleanor Roosevelt and President Kennedy about the Commission here).
As Dr. Ellen Fitzpatrick, Professor of History at University of New Hampshire, said in a video produced for a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the Commission that was held by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University,
In appointing a presidential commission on the status of women, Kennedy was calling attention at the very most senior level of our government to the problem that there was structurally within our society enormous inequality and discrimination against women that needed to be redressed, and that was a very significant thing to have done.
The Commission’s final report, entitled American Women: Report of the President’s Commission, was presented to President Kennedy on October 11, 1963, which would have been Eleanor Roosevelt’s 79th birthday. Its central recommendation was that women should have equal political, civil and economic rights and responsibilities. That was a radical notion in 1963 — fifty years later it is one of the central principles of our efforts for equality.
Another important outgrowth of President Kennedy’s commission was that it sparked the creation of commissions on the status of women in all fifty states. By 1967, every state had one.
At a meeting in 1966 of state commissions in Washington, D.C., delegates discussed a resolution demanding that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) carry out its legal mandate to end sex discrimination in employment.
These advocates for women were told — not for the first time, nor the last — that they wouldn’t be allowed to take action. But they were determined.
Writer Betty Friedan and Dr. Pauli Murray, a Yale law professor and member of President Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women, were delegates to the conference and along with other attendees met in Friedan’s hotel room to discuss strategies for taking meaningful action. As this history of the National Organization for Women describes, the groundwork was set in motion then and there for a new civil rights organization that would become NOW.
The work of the commission and other progressive women’s groups helped to draw attention to gender-based discrimination in the United States, which eventually led to a renewed push to pass the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, first proposed by Alice Paul after women won the vote in 1920.
Today — with growing income and wealth disparities that particularly affect women in communities of color; with more and more states blocking women’s access to abortion, birth control and other reproductive health services; and with radical Tea Party extremists doing all they can to turn back the clock on women’s economic security and even our ability to be safe from domestic violence and sexual assault — a constitutional guarantee of full equality for all women is more important than ever.
While President Kennedy did not support the ERA as it was discussed in the early 1960s, (nor did the commission, in fact), I believe he might have changed his views and come to agree with his brother, Senator Edward Kennedy, who was a champion of women’s rights and the ERA for over thirty years, and was instrumental in getting the measure passed by the Senate in 1972.
The cause of equality for women is an important part of John F. Kennedy’s legacy, and I hope that women everywhere join me today in thinking about how President Kennedy would want us to continue the work he began fifty years ago.
The annual “War on Christmas” shrieks from the far-right will fade compared to the primal screams regarding to the federal judge decision. Judge Barbara Crabb, Western District of Wisconsin, struck down a 1954 law giving the “ministers of gospel” billions of dollars in tax exemptions for housing. In her decision she wrote that the law “violates the establishment clause… because the exemption provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.”
Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) wrote in a news release:
“Ministers may, for instance, use the untaxed income to purchase a home, and, in a practice known as ‘double dipping, may then deduct interest paid on the mortgage and property taxes. Clergy are permitted to use the housing allowance not just for rent or mortgage, but for home improvements including swimming pools, maintenance and repairs. They may exempt from taxable income up to the fair market rental value of their home, particularly benefiting well-heeled pastors. The benefit extends to churches, which can pay clergy less, as tax-free salaries go further.”
In the 1950s, Rep. Peter Mack (D-IL) convinced Congress that pastors should be compensated by the U.S. government for “carrying on such a courageous fight against this [godless and anti-religious world movement].” Churches get billions of dollars each year for their “courageous fight”–$82 billion a year. Religious groups also own property exceeding the value of $600 billion.
As founding father Benjamin Franklin wrote:
“When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obligated to call for help of the civil power, it’s a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”
Here are some of the places that receive these tax advantages.
Kenneth Copeland: 18-thousand square foot home valued at $6.3 million
Joel Osteen: $10.5 million home
Joel Osteen: $10.5 million hom
Benny Hinn: $10 million seaside mansion
Benny Hinn: $10 million seaside mansi
Pastor Steven Furtick: $1.7 million dollar home
Pastor Steven Furtick: $1.7 million dollar home
A ruling from neighboring state Ohiodecided against public school science teacher John Freshwater, who distributed creationist materials to students. After he was told to remove religious items from his classroom, “Freshwater deliberately added to them, incorporating the Oxford Bible and Jesus of Nazareth into the classroom,” according to Justice Maureen O’Connor. He was then fired.
The Ohio Supreme Court decision was 4-3, ruling that the school district had a right to fire him because the First Amendment does not permit him to ignore orders from his employers or display whatever religious items he pleases in his classroom. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public schools cannot teach creationism as science, but three Ohio Supreme Court justices seem to think that it’s just fine. The judges on this court are elected; six of the seven are Republicans.
Another excuse for ire from religious groups was the “Fiction” sticker on Bibles sold at a California Costco. The store apologized and changed the sticker.
Another apology came from Harvard Ichthus Editor-in-Chief Aaron Gyde for publishing an essay claiming that all the suffering that Jewish people have faced since the destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Temple in approximately 70 A.D. came from God and was “just.” The blog comes from a campus “journal of Christian thought.” The essay also argued “the Jews were marked out for destruction when they killed Jesus.”
Marriage equality is wrong according to Russell Moore, president of the Baptist Church’s ethics and liberty commission, and he means equality between men and women. Women who are not subservient violate biblical law, and men can keep them subservient by not getting “too close” to their wives.
A North Carolina Christian school wants families to cast out LGBT relatives and plans to mandate a pledge that would support this. At Myrtle Grove in Wilmington, the “Biblical Morality Policy” would refuse admission to LGBT children or children with any LGBT relatives at all and expel students if any of their relatives reveal those tendencies. To guarantee that everyone understands, heterosexual families must swear in writing that they will not participate, support, or in any way affirm “sexual immorality, homosexual activity, or bisexual activity; promoting such practices; or being unable to support the moral principles of the school.” Myrtle Grove will still receive taxpayer subsidies.
Hobby Lobby, a corporation that sells crafts and claims to be a religious person, wants to take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that provide contraceptives for employees. The company itself is not providing these; the insurance companies are doing that. But the owner sees Hobby Lobby as a religious entity.
The president of Hobby Lobby, Steve Green, is going farther than fighting the health mandate. He has written a Bible curriculum for Mustang School District (Oklahoma) that he wants adopted for classrooms. Students would sit through units that purportedly examine the Bible’s influence on society. Superintendent Sean McDaniel asked Green to write this curriculum because much of his personal wealth has gone into the promotion of Bible education. With Christian revisionist historian David Barton, Green runs full-page newspaper ads to tell people that the United States is a “Christian nation.” He also has strong ties to Bill Gothard, the leader of an extremist Christian fundamentalist sect, rife with allegations of child abuse.
Gothard thinks he can determine a person’s character by staring into the eyes, that disease has spiritual causes, and that men are the sovereign rulers of the household. His books include illustrations to detail how women should stand, what their hairstyles should be, and how long men’s pants should be. Video of Green describing Hobby Lobby’s “desire to share Christ and Disciple others” is on Gothard’s website.
My favorite evangelical story of the week comes from retired Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, vice-president of the Family Research Council. According to the Boykin, mainstream Christians are all wrong about Jesus. He’s not weak and effeminate as churches now teach: Jesus is a “man’s man” and a “tough guy.” Because he was a carpenter and stone mason, Jesus “smelled bad” and had “big, bulging biceps, big ole veins popping out of his arms, thin waist, [and] strong shoulders.” Boykin explained:
“We’ve feminized Jesus in the church and the men can’t identify with him anymore; not the kind of men that I want to hang out with, they can’t identify with this effeminate Jesus that we’ve tried to portray.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is working hard to fence-sit in the church v. state conflict. During his keynote address at a fundraising event for the Florida Family Policy Council, he claimed that the issue is not worth debating because “God is everywhere” and “doesn’t need our permission to be anywhere.” The conservative organization’s agenda promotes ex-gay conversion therapy, creationism in public schools, and the abolishment of reproductive rights.
On the Catholic side, Springfield (IL) Bishop Thomas Paprocki went through with his “Homily for Prayers of Supplication and Exorcism in Reparation for the Sin of Same-Sex Marriage” 30 minutes after Gov. Pat Quinn signed marriage equality for the state into law. Among other justifications is that marriage’s sole purpose is reproduction. I would think that this would eliminate over half the marriages in the country. Also, the Devil uses same-sex marriage to waste resources because “much of our time, energy and resources are being spent in addressing this issue.” My suggestion: don’t address it.
Paprocki had two armed guards for the crowd of 500. Over 2,000 people attended the ceremony where Quinn signed the bill into law.
The United Methodist Church owes an apology to Rev. Frank Schaefer in Lebanon (PA). After officiating at the marriage of his gay son to another man, he was found guilty of violating church law. Schaefer has 30 days to renounce his participation in the marriage or give up his credentials. His punishment for “disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church” ranged from a mild reprimand to being defrocked. Ten years ago, he presided over his oldest son’s 2007 same-sex wedding in Massachusetts. Three of his four children are gay.