About the Author
Orelia Busch

A Prayer in Memoriam of Dr George Tiller

Yesterday, Dr. George Tiller was brutally murdered in his house of worship, the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. Dr. Tiller was a person of conscience and faith who provided abortion services for women facing some of the most difficult medical circumstances imaginable. He continued to do so despite frequent threats, lawsuits and violence. He was one of the very few doctors providing medically indicated late-term abortion services, and he did not waver from the provision of this service, although he was well aware he was never far from danger.

Our thoughts and prayers of deepest sympathy and solidarity are with his family, friends, and co-workers. We offer this prayer, an excerpt from the resources of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. May peace be with all those who mourn his loss.

We pray for an end to the rhetoric and violent acts that target health care providers, and pray for the day when health care providers, women and their families, can exercise their rights to reproductive choice in security and peace. Let us pause now for a moment of silence to remember all who have lost their lives, and for those who have been injured in attacks all across our country.

Help us, Gracious God, to stand together with these courageous and caring people who continue to do your holy work.


Pro-Faith, Pro-Choice

On May 13th through 15th, I attended the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) Spring Convening. About 30 organizational representatives, religious professionals and lay leaders came together as members of this pro-faith, pro-family, pro-choice coalition.

Those attending the conference represented some of the 14 religious denominations and 40 organizations that make up RCRC, including the Presbyterian Church, the Unitarian Univesalist Association, the United Church of Christ, Catholics for Choice, the Union for Reform Judaism, and many others. Unitarian Universalists shared our thoughts and values over the course of three days as small and large groups worked to help each other understand and shape the coalition’s strategies and working relationships.

One message I took home from the convening was that we need to be more visible as people of faith who support reproductive rights and justice. This includes not only advocating for all people’s access to safe and affordable reproductive health care, contraception and abortion, but also for the right to comprehensive, medically accurate sexuality education that equips everyone to make healthy sexual and reproductive choices throughout their lifetimes.

I hear from too many Congressional offices, even those that support comprehensive sex education and reproductive choice, that they receive an overwhelming number of calls from anti-choice religious people and groups and almost none from people of faith on the other side. It only takes a moment to look up the phone numbers for your own elected officials in the House and Senate and call to register your opinion on these issues or to thank them for supporting your values. Please do so, they need to know that you are out there. Check our website for tips and talking points if you need them.

After the conference, I had an appointment for an annual check-up at Planned Parenthood. When I told the midwife who was examining me that I had just come from conference of people who are pro choice because of our faiths, and not despite them, she was surprised to know that we exist. She said that she often imagines that the religious protesters, who show up outside of her clinic on days when they provide abortion services, are praying for the safety and well-being of the patients. What a great idea. Wouldn’t it be a change to see religious messages of love and compassion for all outside of a Women’s clinic rather than those of death and blame and hopelessness that seem to prevail in the public debate on these issues?

We encourage those of you who want to work for reproductive health, choice and justice to learn more about RCRC and how you can get involved.

Support Lt. Dan Choi

Embedded video from CNN Video

Lieutenant Dan Choi is being fired from the New York National Guard because of his sexual orientation. Lt. Choi acknowledges that he is just one of tens of thousands, but we recognize him as a symbol of everything that’s wrong with this policy of forced discrimination. A West Point grad, infantry officer, Arabic linguist, and Iraq vet – whose soldiers know he is gay, and support him – is being dismissed. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” deprives competent and dedicated service members of their right to employment.

You can speak out today! Ask President Obama not to fire Lt. Choi and to do everything in his power to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”.

Please call the White House Switchboard at 202-456-1111. Click here to learn more.

The 2009 Transgender Religious Summit

Yesterday I was privileged to co-lead a workshop for the National Center for Transgender Equality’s annual Religious Summit and Policy Conference at All Souls Church, Unitarian. This year, for the first time, the Religious Summit is being held in conjunction with the organization’s lobby days in Washington, DC. Adam Gerhardstein from the UUA Office for Advocacy, Steven Baines of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and I spent the morning with about 20 brave and dedicated transgender religious leaders, their family members and friends discussing the basics of lobbying and the important impact that people of faith can have on public policy.

Conference participants also attended the church service on Sunday at All Souls, and it felt wonderful to work with this group of passionate leaders and to welcome them into the sanctuary that I am learning to call a spiritual home. I feel deeply blessed that my congregation truly strives to be a place for all souls who seek refuge there.

During Sunday afternoon’s keynote address at the conference, Kate Bornstein spoke of the pain that arises when people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, particularly transgender people, are not seen as legitimate members of their own religions because their lives and appearances do not seem to match up with traditional religious expectations. Kate has coped with this exclusion by continuing to do the work that is required of all Jews: performing mitzvahs. According to Kate, a mitzvah is an act that fulfills the Jewish commandment to do God’s work by selflessly helping others who are different from you.

In my experience, Unitarian Universalism welcomes me as a whole person and a “real” member not just despite, but because of my queerness. I have been blessed and lucky to encounter others who see my unique existence and perspectives as cherished and sacred. People in my religious community have never made me feel less or wrong because of who and what I love or desire. I am also deeply aware that many of my fellow humans have not experienced the same welcome. I feel an obligation, as a member of a religion that claims to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, to work towards the day when our Unitarian Universalist institutions and congregations truly reflect our radically inclusive and justice-seeking values. We have worked hard, but much remains to be done.

I’ll step down off of that soapbox for the moment.

Today, the 150 or so participants in the Religious Summit and Policy Conference combined lobbied on Capitol Hill sharing their personal histories, stories, and their conviction that everyone deserves full and equal protection under the law in their communities and workplaces. They are asking their members of Congress to support the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLHCPA) and the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Take action today, and add your voice to theirs.

Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?

I do. I just returned from a week of dancing the night away to funk and zydeco, from eating my weight in gumbo, boiled crawfish and jambalaya, and from listening to some of the best jazz I’ve ever heard in my life. I just returned from a week of seeing entire neighborhoods still empty and destroyed nearly four years after the events that caused this damage. I just returned from a week of hard work and learning in communities that have been traumatized fragmented and displaced. My teachers were people who come from some of the oldest and most culturally rich neighborhoods in this country and who are committed to reconstructing their lives and their city. My teachers were the strong residents of New Orleans and those who are still working against many odds to help them come home.

The work of repairing damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita continues, even though it’s no longer in the media spotlight. I traveled with a group from All Souls Church, Unitarian that has worked for the past three years with local organizations, including the New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Center housed in the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans and the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. I heard from New Orleanians who appreciate knowing that the rest of their country has not forgotten about them. They wanted me to come home and tell everyone I know what I saw, and that at least, is something that I can do for them.

I started the week at a community center in Treme, one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans and the main neighborhood of free people of color during the antebellum period. Treme remains an important center of the city’s African-American and Créole culture, and many musicians live and work there. It was also the location of a large public housing development that was dismantled after Katrina, even though it was left undamaged by the storms. The people of Treme have not experienced the same level of media attention and support as those from the lower ninth ward, and many houses in the neighborhood, though still standing, are uninhabitable.

My crew worked to help paint a community center kitchen, and although our counterpart representing the local organization working on the center was pleased with our work, I couldn’t help but notice the mold and peeling water damaged walls that would not be remedied by a coat of paint. The community center in Treme is one of 20 damaged by Katrina. Three of those centers are currently functioning, but they have by no means resumed providing all of their pre-storm services. I watched dozens of people file in for the meal after a funeral, an almost daily occurrence according to neighborhood residents. Looking down from the second floor I saw the pool where area kids used to have swimming lessons waiting to be restored.

(All Souls Church Intern Minister Walter Leflore stands outside of the Treme Community Center)

The rest of my week was spent at a community garden that’s being built by a nonprofit called lowernine.org . In response to people’s expressed needs for fresh vegetables, (there are no grocery stores currently open in the lower ninth ward) lowernine has leased a plot of land where they plan to grow vegetables to be sold at a farmers market and distributed to community members in the neighborhood. As we worked to build a tool shed, planting and the irrigation setup were being finalized, and the garden should be producing food within a couple of months. You can learn more and stay updated about its progress on the garden’s blog and read more about what’s happening in Holy Cross, another neighborhood where some members of our group helped to rebuild homes.

The work is far from done and the devastation from the 2005 hurricane season continues to affect peoples’ lives in New Orleans and many other communities all over the Gulf Coast. Please follow the links in this post and sign up for Gulf Coast Updates, a joint project of Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalists (GNOUU), New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Center, Unitarian Universalist Association, and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, by clicking the link above, entering your information and checking the box next to Gulf Coast. We can all contribute to the work of Gulf Coast rebuilding and recovery.

Is this Heaven? No, It’s Iowa!

Congratulations to ALL citizens of Iowa! The State Supreme Court of Iowa ruled today that section 595.2 in the Iowa Code limiting civil marriage to a man and a woman is unconstitutional under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Iowa Constitution, and pending the period allowed for appeals, it ordered county recorders to begin processing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that request them.

All language in Iowa Code section 595.2 defining civil marriage as the union between only a man and a woman must be stricken from the statute, and the remaining statutory language must be interpreted and applied in a manner that allows same-sex couples full access to the institution of civil marriage. (Read the full decision here)

This morning’s announcement brought to mind that lovely scene in “Field of Dreams”:

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella
: It’s Iowa.
John Kinsella
: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
Ray Kinsella
: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella
: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.
Ray Kinsella
: Maybe this is heaven.

Read more here:
An article in today’s Wall Street Journal.
A joint statement on the decision from Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy.
UUA President William G. Sinkford’s statement celebrating this remarkable victory.

Repeal "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" Now!

On Friday March 13th, Unitarian Universalists joined with hundreds of other Americans at a “Freedom to Serve” rally on Capitol Hill. People from all across the country – military, retired military, federal workers, and civilians – gathered to raise their voices for equality and call upon Congress and President Obama to take action to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” (DADT) the policy which requires the military to fire people if they are discovered to have same sex partners. The message was clear: The time to stop unjust discrimination against gay, lesbian, and bisexual members of the military is now. Guest speakers included Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett, US Navy (Ret) from the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church.

UUs can have a significant impact on this issue. If each and every UU would reach out to his or her Senator and Representative by e-mail, phone, fax and/or letter and encourage them to support the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (HR 1283) repealing DADT and replacing it with a policy of non-discrimination, DADT could be repealed during this Congress. Our UU voices can give Congress and our President the courage they need to move this legislation forward. Click here to learn more and take action today.

La Journee Internationale de La Femme (International Women’s Day)

Until a couple of years ago, I was virtually unaware of the fact that March 8th marked the celebration of International Women’s Day in many countries around the world. The holiday reminded me of learning about women in history classes during “Women’s History Month” every March in school. I didn’t really see how women being featured but not integrated into the fabric of the stories in my textbook was going to change the world. I still don’t think that celebrations such as Women’s Day are sufficient to bring about social change on their own, but after participating in a festival during my Peace Corps service in West Africa, I see how they might help advance the work of those who are already struggling to improve women’s lives

International Women’s Day has roots in the struggles for fair pay and humane working hours for women who worked in factories and the movements for women’s suffrage in the U.S. and Europe. Marches, momentum and labor organizing worldwide between the 1850s and 1908 led to the first International Women’s Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1910. The widespread celebration of International Women’s Day emerged from this conference, and the date of March 8th was set in 1914 as women around the world rallied for peace on the eve of the First World War. Today, International Women’s Day is recognized as an official state holiday in 30 countries, including Burkina Faso.

From 2006 to 2008, I lived and worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in the village of Diapangou in the Eastern Region of Burkina Faso. I had the privilege of working with many talented and charismatic community leaders. In 2007, my community was among those selected to receive government funding for its Women’s Day celebrations, and I offered my help in organizing a short play about girls’ education. The celebrations that day included a bicycle race for women at dawn, parades, speeches, and our theater piece about a girl who has trouble succeeding in school because she has too many chores at home and whose parents would rather marry her off than keep spending money on her schooling. We presented our skit to over 300 villagers that had come from the 30 or so surrounding villages. My Peace Corps colleagues held similar events in their own communities, taught high school girls about the community and political leadership of West African women, and one dressed in a women’s wrap skirt and pumped water for women in his village all day. A teacher at my village high school made a point of cooking for his wife all day – no small feat when cooking involves tending an outdoor fire for hours, preparing ingredients from the market, and cleaning a freshly killed chicken. People ranging from dignitaries to village elders had outfits or shirts made from the special print of fabric that commemorates the 8th of March each year.

Many people question the effectiveness of International Women’s Day Celebrations. Devoting one day a year to awareness of women’s work, health, and struggles for equality in cultures where gender-based violence and oppression is widespread (including the U.S.A) is clearly not enough to change structures of power and privilege. However, I found that after the theater production, people in my village understood better why I was there. Villagers continued to talk about the event for months afterwards, always thanking me for my involvement in helping to start converstaions about girls’ education. These conversations were an important part of how the community came to trust me and my counterparts. The celebration opened doors for discussions about women’s roles in our community, education, health and nutrition, and as a result, I was able to educate girls and women about reproductive health and family planning and help form a grassroots organization to support widows and orphans in my village. International Women’s Day won’t change the world, but it offers many of us a place from which to start.

California Supreme Court Case on Marriage Equality

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court began hearing arguments in the case challenging Proposition 8, which was passed by a majority of California voters in the November elections. The case was brought by two groups of same-sex couples and by a group of local governments including San Francisco. It centers on the idea that although the measure was drafted as a constitutional amendment, it actually goes beyond the rights of voters by denying a fundamental right granted by the court to a traditionally marginalized group.

The plaintiffs contend that Prop 8 not only changes the California State Constitution, but violates its core principle of equality and thus constitutes a revision to the constitution rather than an amendment. In order to revise the constitution, California requires a two-thirds vote of the State Legislature or the approval of delegates to a constitutional convention. The outcome of the case will also determine the fate of 18,000 same sex marriages that occurred legally between May and November of 2008.

So far, according to an article from the San Francisco Chronicle, the court seems likely to uphold Proposition 8 but also to specify that couples who were legally married before the passage of Prop 8 will remain so. As quoted by the Chronicle, Therese Stewart, the chief deputy city attorney in San Francisco states, “A guarantee of equality that is subject to exceptions by the majority is no guarantee at all”.

The Unitarian Universalist Association filed an amicus curiae brief (PDF, 56 pages) with the California Supreme Court on January 14, 2009, asking the court to invalidate Proposition 8 as it poses a severe threat to the guarantee of equal protection for all and was not enacted through the constitutionally required process for such a dramatic change to the California Constitution. Click here to read more about Unitarian Universalist advocacy for marriage equality

The Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Califorina continues to have a huge impact in the state’s struggle for marriage equality. The court’s ruling is due within 90 days, which coincides with many Gay Pride celebrations across the U.S. and worldwide. We hope that same sex couples and advocates of marriage equality will indeed have something to celebrate.