“Are Rights a Reality?” If you’re a Christian nationalist, yes.

On November 2, I attended the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights briefing Are Rights a Reality? Evaluating Federal Civil Rights Enforcement and had the opportunity to make a public comment (if you watch the video, I’m at the 57:00 mark). In an administration hostile to nearly everything we hold dear, the Commission is a bright spot. It was created by the 1957 Civil Rights Act as an independent, bipartisan agency which holds briefings and issues reports on diverse topics under the umbrella of civil rights: environmental justice, voting rights, discrimination, hate crimes and more.

NCJW will submit a formal written comment (and so can you, until December 17!), but it will follow the theme laid out in my public comment last week — religious liberty. As anyone paying attention can attest, the administration is attempting to redefine religious freedom as a way to harm religious minorities, women, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized communities. Just this week, the administration released its final rules for the religious and moral exemptions to birth control coverage, which will allow employers to deny birth control to their employees under nearly any pretext — regardless of the religious or moral beliefs of the employees themselves.

This effort is driven by a narrow interpretation of evangelical Christianity, and is from the playbook of Christian nationalists. It’s critical that progressives, in particular progressives of faith, pay attention to these efforts and commit to pushing back.

My comments:

“Hello. My name is Faith Williams and I’m the senior manager of government relations at the National Council of Jewish Women, known as NCJW. NCJW is a grassroots organization with members across the country devoted to improving the lives of women, children, and families and safeguarding individual rights and freedoms. We turned 125 this year.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. We will submit more detailed statement for the record.

There is no shortage of the ways this administration has rolled back and undermined civil rights. You’ve heard so many of them from our partners here today. Rather than reiterate the list, I want to focus on a broader push from this administration to make policies and interpret law based on a narrow interpretation of evangelical Christianity.

NCJW supports comprehensive, accessible, and affordable health care for all, including access to abortion. We believe women have the right to make their own reproductive and child bearing decisions. We work for programs and policies that protect all people from discrimination and bias, regardless of their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, immigration status, ability, and beyond. Why do I list just some (of many) of our principles? Because these beliefs are based on our Jewish values, not in spite of them.

As Jews, we know that gender is a spectrum, a concept rooted in traditional Jewish texts. We’re taught that protecting an existing life is of paramount importance. We believe in kavod habriot — respect and dignity for all people, b’ztelem Elohim — we are all made in the image of god, and tzedek, tzedek, tirdof, the pursuit of justice — always.

When the administration makes policy to align with one interpretation of one religion, or when they allow employers, health plans, & business owners to use their religious beliefs to thwart our laws, it threatens the religious liberty of all people. We depend on religious liberty to be a protective shield, not a weapon to harm and demean others.

Thank you for your time.”