About the Author
Rob Keithan

“We Don’t Do Fair Trade”

As part of the 40/40/40 for the Earth campaign, I’ve resolved to drink only fairly traded coffee for 40 days. Admittedly, I knew it would not a be huge stretch since most of the places I frequently drink coffee already use or offer fair trade options:  the office (we use Equal Exchange) , my school (Wesley Theological Seminary’s Dining Services Company, Meriwether-Godsey, has great fair/local/green commitments), and my home (we buy from Zeke’s, a Baltimore-based company owned by an old family friend that produces amazing coffee).

My Coffee Cup (a lovely gift from my friend Jen)

Feeling adventuresome,  I took my ceramic, it’s-reusable-but-it-looks-like-a-to-go cup for a survey tour of the four coffee shops within one block of our office. None of the options (two national chains, one regional chain, and one independent shop) sold cups of fair trade coffee, although Starbucks sold bags of fairly-traded beans.  Disappointing, but not surprising.

The real challenge for me has come whilst eating breakfast in cafes and diners, which happens to be one of the things I enjoy most in this world.  The two places I go regularly are small, independent restaurants staffed by friendly people. I was not looking forward to the dynamic of being “that guy” who asks about the coffee. Nonetheless, I wanted to make good on my pledge–and I wanted caffeine–so I asked one of the cafe’s co-owners about their coffee.  ”Our coffee is 100% Columbian” he responded. “We don’t do fair trade.”

I could have entered my lobbying phase, but I chose to leave it at that.  My sense is that the question expressed my desire well enough, and that any additional advocacy would simply have been annoying. Maybe I’ll bring it up again in the future, after we’ve both had time to think about it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did drink a cup of their coffee that morning–but it was the small cup of hot coffee that came free with my meal, rather than the large iced coffee I actually wanted.  Since it was already an extremely hot and humid day, the hot cup did feel like somewhat of a penalty.  For the rest of my 40 days, however, I will not buy or drink any java there. Even if they decide to give away large iced coffees. –Rob

Sex Ed Training Pays Off!

A small group on the steps of the Religious Action of Reform Judaism during an exercise on storytelling/messaging

As far as we know, our Sexuality Education Advocacy Training (SEAT) is the only national, multigenerational interfaith advocacy training focused on supporting comprehensive sexuality education. It started in 2006 as a partnership between the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and Advocates for Youth. Currently the United Church of Christ, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice are also cosponsors. The great news is that SEAT is paying off! Here are some highlights:

First, many of the Congressional Offices visited by 2010 participants remembered SEAT visits from previous years—and had positive things to say about them. This recognition is incredibly important, because even if they don’t agree with our position they know who we are, and that we’re strong advocates for what we believe. Thanks to our SEAT lobby visits–and there were over 60 this year alone–not a single one of those offices can say that they “never hear from religious people who support comprehensive sexuality education.”

Second, one office reported that their boss—a member of the House—decided to become a REAL Act cosponsor as a direct result of last year’s SEAT lobby visit. Even better, I just heard—literally as I was writing this blog—that another Representative decided to cosponsor as a result of this year’s visit!

Third, more than one lobby team reported that, as they were sitting an office lobby waiting for their visit, calls were coming from folks back home participating in the Sex Ed Call-in Day! This combination of in-person and grassroots action is exactly what we hope for, so many, many thanks to everyone who made a call!

We usually stop at three in stories like this, but one more point is necessary. For SEAT to be properly called a success, it must also help participants spread the word outside of Washington, DC. Hence this final highlight:

Fourth, during an expected (and quite long) layover in Denver, a SEAT team from the Seattle area shared their stories and passion with other passengers in the waiting area! Amy talked to a young mother of three who had never heard of comprehensive sexuality education but liked it so much that she immediately started tweeting about it. Sierra, Carolyn, and Sam struck up conversations with nearby passengers and informed them of the whole experience, including—get this—giving out the handouts from their packets! Nice work y’all!

At this point, we’re hoping to have a 7th annual SEAT next year. Look for an announcement in the fall!

Comprehensive Immigration Reform…ASAP!

Here’s the thing about comprehensive immigration reform (CIR): it’s in the best interest of just about every single person in this country, whether you’re an undocumented immigrant trying to earn fair wages and keep your family secure or you’re a long-time citizen who’s trying to….well, earn fair wages and keep your family secure.  The group that stands to lose mightily, of course, are those businesses which exploit undocumented workers through wage theft, horrendous working conditions, and immigration-status related threats.  Of course, it’s precisely these practices which drive down wages and benefits for American workers. Greed, it turns out, is not only unethical, it’s also unpatriotic.

On the other hand, a report from the libertarian CATO Institute released last August found that legalizing the 8 million undocumented workers in the US would have a net benefit to the economy of $180 BILLION DOLLARS over 10 years. Notably, this study also finds that increased enforcement and reduced low-skilled immigration–the solutions advocated by CIR opponents– “have a significant negative impact on the income of U.S. households.”

The UUA is supporting the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, H.R. 4321, introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez. For more info on the bill, visit our coalition partner the National Immigration Forum. The well-named CIR-ASAP Act has garnered widespread support because it provides a path to legal status, supports due process for all, protects workers, promotes family unity, and offers more educational opportunities for youth.

Please send a message to your Members of Congress  in support of the CIR ASAP Act!

Working for Justice, Making a Point, and Being Funny

Working for justice is long, hard work, so I’m grateful for opportunities to laugh along the way. It’s especially rewarding when humor also makes an important point.

On that note, here’s to Mike Brown from the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Springfield, MO, for his letter published in the “Roses & Thorns” section of the Springfield News-Leader. His piece calls out unacceptable behavior, lifts up justice work as central to Unitarian Universalism, and it made me laugh. Thanks Mike! May you and First UU keep up the good work.

Mike Brown’s August 13 Post on Roses & Thorns

Super Tuesdays and Religious Tests

As I read Super Tuesday coverage this morning, I was struck by a short piece in The Washington Post (“Dirty Tricks, Version 2.0: E-Mail Sent to Friends“) that examines the relatively new practice of sending misleading, smear-based emails shortly before a vote. Sadly—but not surprisingly—many of these attacks have strongly religious themes. I decided to use this as an opportunity for Constitutional reflection.

Article VI of our US Constitution is an interesting one. The first two (of three total) clauses establish the authority of the new federal government and Constitution as “the supreme Law of the Land.” The third clause, though it seems to address a different issue entirely, contains three very important words:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

No religious test. According to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, although the “no religious test” clause was “a dramatic departure from prevailing state governmental restrictions,” [it] was adopted with relatively little debate” (link to blog) at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. I’ve read through various legal and historical analysis of the clause, and one thing stands out: while it proscribes formal religious tests, as might be applied by a government body such as a legislature or court, there’s no legal or practical way to make it binding on individual voters. And so I ask: even without legal authority, should not applying a religious test be a widely-accepted social norm among voters? If so, what are we doing to make it so?

I’d like to suggest that we start with personal reflection. Consider: If I were running for office, how would I explain how my religious values relate to my political and policy views? How might a religious fundamentalist answer this question differently, and what’s the significance of those differences to me? Does it matter, for example, if a candidate cites a religious text as a source? Why or why not?

I will wrestle with these questions myself in the coming weeks. As we develop answers, I think we’ll have a better sense of both what it’s like to be a candidate and how we can talk to family, friends, and colleagues about the role of religion—and religious tests—in elections.

In faith,

Rob Keithan

PS: In February the Unitarian Universalist Association will release updated election-year resources, including information on relevant IRS guidelines and how to mobilize your congregation to register, educate, and get out the vote.