The United Church of Christ and its ecumenical partners have welcomed several policy and legislative decisions in support of justice issues made by US President Obama and his administration in his first weeks since taking office.
Gregg Brekke writes: Obama, a long-term UCC member now attending St John's Episcopal Church in Washington DC, has signed a record number of executive orders - eight in his first 11 days in office. Executive orders allow for quick progress on issues that would have taken much longer if congress had processed legislation through both houses.
Michael Neuroth, the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries policy advocate for international issues, says:"While many of these orders were called for and applauded by members of the faith community, we are beginning to see that some of these provisions may not go far enough."
Orders issued on Obama's first day in office, to close the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and the ban against the use of torture, were welcome signs to faith advocates.
Neuroth hopes these rapid moves suggest that human rights will be given greater consideration by this administration in its efforts to ensure the security of the United States. In the weeks and months leading up to these orders, members of the UCC, including general ministrer and president, the Rev. John H Thomas, had weighed in publicly on these issues.
Subsequent to these orders, action was taken on policy issues reversing the "global gag rule," also known as the "Mexico City Policy." This order was part of a Presidential memorandum reversing a policy of previous administration that denied the full range of reproductive health services, including family planning, to those receiving funding from international U.S. non-governmental agencies.
The president also signed the congressionally passed Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The act addresses wage discrimination against women in the workplace and reverses a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that narrowed the time for a woman to file a wage discrimination complaint to 180 days after the discriminatory event.
This measure was particularly important and welcomed by faith advocates in the current context of economic downturn, as many families are relying on the wage earnings of women to make ends meet.
Additionally, Obama signed legislation on 4 February 2009 extending the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIP), which renews and expands the plan from 7 million children affected to
Although these and other actions taken by the new administration are promising changes for justice advocates, Neuroth notes there is concern about the existence of several loop holes in some of these measures.
In particular, concerns have been raised about President Obama's decision to establish a task force on US detainees which some see as a work-around which could allow for the CIA to continue the use of rendition (the transfer of detainees to specific prisons or states.)
Neuroth says, "These worries persist, despite the administration's claim that the task force would not be used for the purposes of moving prisoners to sites in order to be tortured."
Advocates insist that further clarification on the issue of detainee movement is needed and any techniques recommended by the Special Task Force should comply with the principle of the "Golden Rule" - that the US should only authorize interrogation techniques that would be considered moral and legal if used upon a captured American.
"A clear message needs to be sent to the administration both to congratulate it on the progress made, but also for the need to ensure that these and future orders attain for the highest moral ground," says Neuroth. "There remains an ongoing need to put several of the executive orders into law to keep them from being reversed by future administrations."