Archive for April, 2012

Unite for Women Rally – Saturday, April 28, 2012

April 30, 2012

I am a woman, a mother and wife, daughter and sister, niece and aunt. I am a friend, clergy and Ethical Humanist.

These are all aspects of one human being. We are a multi-dimensional and complex species,
embracing many roles and engaging in many relationships.

But there are those who would diminish us to labels to make us “less than,” to dehumanize and control us.

I hail from western New York,
home of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass of Rochester and Elizabeth Cady Stanton of Seneca Falls, home of the first Women’s Rights Convention of 1848.

There’s a huge sculpture in a park down the street from where Anthony and Douglass lived called “Tea Time.” It shows them sitting together companionably. A stack of books shares the table with the tea set. I imagine them talking about equal rights. The motto of Douglass’s newspaper, The North Star, was “Right is of no Sex – Truth is of no Color.”

Ethical Culture and Faith
In Ethical Culture, we say “Believe or disbelief as you wish, but put ethics first.” Your behavior, the way you treat others, is of primary concern, and misogyny is unethical.

Several of the “first-wave feminists” were Quakers, a faith tradition that believes in the responsibility of every member – woman and man – to speak out for, and act on behalf of, social justice.

Faith narratives are beautiful. These stories connect believers to a shared history.
They should help us to see ourselves in others and inspire us to good deeds.
They should not be used as an excuse to engage in unethical behavior.

To treat any human being as “less than” is unethical. It is abhorrent. And yet we tolerate this behavior, under the guise of “religious,” not only in our intimate relationships, but also on the public national political stage.

Sadly, there are those today whose beliefs would grant full protection under the law to the unborn, but woe-betide the infant that leaves the womb a female. Then you are relegated to second-class status. And these people have the money to lobby for their beliefs.

It must stop!

Equal Protection
When we were young, my brothers would watch “The Three Stooges” on Saturday mornings. I disliked the show for two reasons: They hit each other, and they had a “Women Haters Club.” I hated the stooges, but at least they were honest, if fictional. Today we have real stooges with power who hate women – and it’s no joke. What they have in store for us women is dangerous, and it’s real – not imaginary.

Shame on our country for preaching democracy and freedom around the world, but denying equal protection under the law to over half of its population!

Suffrage was only the beginning, Sisters. The 14th amendment did not include us when it was ratified in 1868, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has made it painfully clear that it does not apply to us today. Corporations – yes, women – no.

And shame on our sisters of privilege and complicity who do not join us in fighting this injustice!

I have a son and a daughter. I love them both fiercely. They are equally precious to me.
But we live in a country – we are citizens of a country – that does not treat them equally.
That is wrong. That is unethical.
So we must use the vote that we do have to change the laws.
We need an Equal Rights Amendment NOW!
To hell with paternalistic, condescending “fair” treatment under special circumstances determined by a court.
We demand equal protection and rights as human beings, as citizens in our own home.
If we are not equal, we are not free.

Civil rights leader Ella Baker said, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” Say it with me now: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes!”

Leader’s Message – “The Next Generation of Humanists” – May 2012

April 30, 2012

On Wednesdays during the academic year, I take the #1 train up to 116th Street and go to my office in Earl Hall on the Columbia University campus. Since August 2010, I have served the Ethical Humanism Chaplaincy there as religious life adviser, and last year was chosen by my colleagues to co-chair Columbia’s United Campus Ministries. What a vibrant community it is! I have participated on discussion panels, taught classes, and collaborated on interfaith programs; dished up ice cream and handed out chaplaincy bracelets at freshman orientations; and, of course, met with individual students.

Especially dear to me is the Columbia Humanist Society which started taking shape in November 2011. Fear not, members of the NY Society! Though young people may not rise early on Sunday mornings to join us for platform services, they do gather late at night to discuss humanism, and travel to other neighborhoods on weekends to perform community service.

Undergraduates Frangell Brasora Fortuna and Michael Taylor Winsor learned about me from a graduate teaching assistant in a religion class and visited my office last fall to strategize forming a club that would appeal to “like-minded” colleagues. I introduced them to my children, who grew up in the Brooklyn Society, and over the winter holidays, they socialized with young people from several societies in the metro NYC area. By January 2012, Fran and Michael were on Facebook and Twitter proclaiming: “Columbia Humanist Society (CHS) is a Columbia University student organization serving humanists, freethinkers, and anyone else who wishes to learn about Humanism and secularism.” However, even in the age of internet social networking, paper fliers plastered on bulletin boards all over campus are still needed, so it took a few weeks to pull together students to draft a constitution, prepare a budget, and elect officers.

So now, in addition to Wednesdays, I often attend meetings with this wonderful group of students on Tuesday evenings and recently joined them in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for a community clean-up. The accompanying photograph shows CHS students at a soup kitchen in Harlem.

In an article for the American Ethical Union online newsletter Dialogue, Fran recently wrote about CHS: “We celebrate our diversity because we understand that our differences are reflections of the world around us. We strive for a greater community that is not limited by categories or attributed standards, but is freed by our willingness to learn from one another and the acknowledgement that we are one, though being many.”

Other humanist chaplaincies are active on the campuses of Harvard University in Cambridge, MA; Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; and American University in Washington, DC. The Center for Free Inquiry NYC has organized students at New York University and Bronx Community College; and the Secular Students Alliance has chapters on college and high school campuses all across the country. Children who grew up in Ethical Societies and attend college or are in their 20’s are members of Future Ethical Societies (FES) and hold annual conferences over Memorial Day weekend. This year they are gathering at the Ethical Humanist Society of the Triangle in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Take heart: The next generation of humanists is already here.

Leader’s Message – “I Am Trayvon Martin” – April 2012

April 2, 2012

“On February 26, our son Trayvon Martin was shot and killed as he walked to a family member’s home from a convenience store where he had just bought some candy. He was only 17 years-old.”

Thus begins the online plea from parents in Sanford, Florida to sign a petition to have Norman Wolfinger, Florida’s 18th District State’s Attorney, investigate this incident and arrest the perpetrator, George Zimmerman, a crime watch volunteer who called 911 and then, contrary to the dispatcher’s directions, pursued – and shot – Trayvon.

I listened to the 911 tapes posted online. They culminate with a faint voice crying and pleading for help. A gunshot is heard, and then silence. Trayvon’s parents are sure that the voice belonged to their son. Several witnesses who heard the encounter agree with them. It is a heartbreaking sound. Minutes earlier Trayvon had called a friend on his cell phone to tell her that a man was following him as he walked home. She heard him ask, “Why are you following me?” and a distant voice ask, “What are you doing around here?”

For weeks the Police Department in Sanford said that under the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law, one of 21 such laws around the country pushed heavily by the National Rifle Association, it had no call to bring charges. This controversial law, opposed vigorously by law enforcement, gives the benefit of the doubt to a person who claims self-defense, regardless of where the killing takes place: in one’s home, on a street, in a car or in a bar. In Florida, people who feel they are in imminent danger need not retreat, even if it would seem reasonable to do so; they have the right to “stand their ground” and protect themselves.

“Trayvon was our hero. At the age 9, Trayvon pulled his father from a burning kitchen, saving his life. He loved sports and horseback riding. At only 17 he had a bright future ahead of him with dreams of attending college and becoming an aviation mechanic. Now that’s all gone.”

This is a story that changed quickly after Trayvon’s parents posted their petition on As many as 50,000 people signed every hour. By March 18, the United States Justice Department announced that its civil rights division and the FBI would investigate the killing. These investigations will run parallel with one announced on March 19 by the state attorney in Florida’s Seminole County. On March 21, the Sanford City Commission voted that they had no confidence in the city’s police chief. In Miami and New York City on March 22, demonstrators chanted “I Am Trayvon Martin” in Million Hoodie rallies. Why “hoodie”? Because that’s what Trayvon, an African-American youth, wore that made him look so suspicious.

Here in New York City, the legal vehicle for racial profiling is the Police Department’s “stop, question and frisk” policy. Black and Hispanic people generally represent more than 85 percent of those stopped by the police, though their combined populations make up around half of citywide residency. About 10 percent of the stops led to arrests or summonses and 1 percent to the recovery of a weapon, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights which has examined police data and challenged the policy in court.

Early in February, an 18-year old was killed by a police officer in the Bronx. Ramarley Graham, like Trayvon, was returning home from a convenience store. When he failed to stop, the officer pursued him into his home and shot him in the bathroom.

We must not allow our children of color to be chased and killed. They have every right to walk the streets and enter their homes freely and safely. It is our responsibility to protect them and speak up for them. Raise your voices in protest against the racism that continues to plague law enforcement and ignorant people.

From “ A Litany For Children Slain By Violence” (Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference , 2012):
“A sound is heard in every city. Communities are weeping for their children. Children like Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin who go out to get candy, never again to return to the sweetness of home life.
“Let us rise up and interrupt these rushing waters of violence that leave children wounded and paralyzed. Let us rise up and demand abolishment of laws that are rooted in militarism, fueled by capitalism and justified by racism.”