Rabbi David Saperstein Confirmed as U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom

Photo via RNS

Rabbi David Saperstein preaches at a Washington, D.C., service in 2002. Photo via RNS

The Senate has confirmed Rabbi David Saperstein as the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, making him the first non-Christian to hold the job.

Saperstein, who led the Reform Jewish movement’s Washington office for 40 years, focusing on social justice and religious freedom issues, was nominated by President Obama in July and confirmed by a 62-35 vote on Dec. 12.

Saperstein takes a liberal bent on domestic issues, and all but one of the votes against him came from a Republican.

“Religious freedom faces daunting and alarming challenges worldwide,” Saperstein said at his confirmation hearing in September. “If confirmed, I will do everything within my abilities and influence to engage every sector of the State Department and the rest of the U.S. government to integrate religious freedom into our nation’s statecraft and foreign policies.”

Saperstein, named the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine in 2009, will head the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, where he will be tasked with monitoring religious freedom abuses around the world.

Unemployment, the Vote, and Hope

Lisa Sharon Harper/Sojourners

President Obama speaks after the Senate cleared a three-month extension of Unemployment benefits. Lisa Sharon Harper/Sojourners

I stood in line and waited until they called my number.

“Neeeext,” the woman behind the counter called!

The woman put out an energy that dared anyone to cross her, challenge her, even speak to her. She gave me a pile of papers to fill out “over there,” she waved her hands dismissively in the general direction of all the other losers sitting in rows of old school desks — the kind where the chair and the desk are attached. They were all fully engrossed in one task: filling out their unemployment insurance applications. I joined them.

Of course we weren’t losers, but it felt like we were. We were grown adults. We represented many races: white, black, Latino, and Asian. We represented a small fraction of the sea of people who were out of work at the height of the economic crisis. If you had come to us only weeks before we were school teachers and firemen, opera singers, Wall Street brokers, and justice advocates (like me). But now we were all numbers, experiencing the same humiliating moment together.

But, how much more humiliating it would have been to be thrown out of my apartment? How much more dehumanizing would it have been to become homeless or go without food?

Activists to Fast on Capitol Hill Until Congress Passes Immigration Reform

An altar set up in honor of immigrants, including those who have died on their journey to the U.S. Photo: Katherine Burgess/RNS

As an icy wind whipped the sides of a packed tent, five activists committed themselves Tuesday to fast from food and drink and to camp in front of the U.S. Capitol until Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform.

“I know that there are going to be difficult days ahead of me,” said Eliseo Medina from the Service Employees International Union. “I know that going without food will not be easy and I know that I will suffer physical hunger."

“But there is a deeper hunger within me, a hunger for an end to a system that creates such misery among those who come here to escape poverty and violence in search of the American dream.”

Religious and labor leaders joined immigration activists at the launch of the “Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship.” Many will participate as “solidarity fasters,” fasting for a shorter time.

Cutting Food Stamps is a Bad Way to Balance the Budget

The Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. Photo via RNS/courtesy Bread for the World

“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:11)

Many of us are blessed enough to not know what it is like to be hungry, to regularly miss meals, or to consume a diet void of essential nutrients for a healthy life. But now, millions of our brothers and sisters here in the United States may, sadly, be facing these situations because of a reduction in their food stamp benefits.

Starting Friday, all households receiving food stamp benefits will see their food budgets shrink as a temporary increase expires. A family of four could lose up to $36 a month in food stamps (also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP).

Partisan Fighting Spells Trouble for Church Insurance Under Obamacare

President Barack Obama signs the health insurance reform bill, March 23, 2010. P

President Barack Obama signs the health insurance reform bill, March 23, 2010. Photo via RNS.

An effort to tweak President Obama’s health care reform bill to fill a gap for church health insurance plans could fail because of Republicans’ insistence on repealing the law.

Without a fix, United Methodist Church leaders say some of their churches could drop current coverage for employees once “Obamacare” takes full effect next year, according to Colette Nies, spokeswoman for the UMC’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

Under Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act, more than 50 percent of UMC clergy would qualify for tax credits available to lower- and middle-class families to purchase insurance. But because of the way the law was written, those tax credits cannot be used toward insurance plans churches can offer through government-run exchanges.

John Boehner Ducks Taking Personal Stand on Immigration Citizenship Debate

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio said in an interview with CBS on Sunday that “immigration reform isn’t about him.” Denying CBS’s Bob Corner insight in to his own personal views on immigration, Boehner refused to share details about what parts of the immigration bill he feels should pass the House when it comes time for their final debates. Boehner, who is opposed to granting citizenship for illegal immigrants, claimed the bill which passed the Senate last month will “not pass the House.”

The Guardian reports:

The Senate has passed a sweeping, bipartisan immigration bill that includes a pathway to citizenship, which Republican opponents have called an "amnesty" that would reward lawbreakers and attract more illegal immigrants. Boehner said taking a personal stand on the issue would make it harder for him to find consensus on immigration in the House.

Read more here.

Senate Reaches Tentative Deal to Avert Filibuster Showdown

Following Monday’s three hour closed-door caucus, members of the Senate have begun the confirmation process of President Barack Obama’s executive branch nominees, avoiding what the Washington Post calls a "constitutional showdown.” The Washington Post reports:

Senate negotiators met until about midnight searching for a deal that would avert a showdown on the Senate floor. Rank-and-file senators came out of the meeting late Monday reporting progress on the confirmation prospects of Obama’s selections to head low-profile but influential agencies.

Read more here.


Hunger Games, U.S.A

The number of those who’ve benefitted from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has increased nearly seven percent from 8.7 in 2007 to 15.2 in its most recent study. Despite the economic challenges America has faced over the past several years, the Houses’ decision to do away with food stamps has not only caused controversy between the House and the Senate but has caused controversy between the government and the American people. The New York Times reports: 

Something terrible has happened to the soul of the Republican Party. We’ve gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We’ve even gone beyond selfishness and special interests. At this point we’re talking about a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable.

Read more here.

House Republicans Brace for Crazy-Making Intra-Party Immigration Fight

With only hours left until the Senate releases the final tally of those in favor of immigration reform, House Speaker John Boehner and others prepare as controversial issues are bound to arise at the July 10 “closed-door” conference. The Daily Beast reports:

The closed-door powwow promises to be an electrifying exercise in spleen venting, thrust upon them by their Senate brethren. At some point in the next day or two, the upper chamber is expected to pass its sprawling, blood-sweat-and-tears-drenched overhaul of our FUBAR immigration system. In the run-up to voting, Hill watchers have been aflutter over whether the bill can pull enough Republican support to hit 70 “yeas”—maybe even 71! A procedural test vote Monday topped out at a mildly disappointing 67 (including 15 Rs). But the last-minute horse-trading continues, and reform advocates remain optimistic that the final tally will be big and bipartisan enough to goose the House into passing something similarly sweeping.

Read more here.