Dena Sher

  • February 13, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Dena Sher, ACLU Washington Legislative Office & Tyler Ray, ACLU Washington Legislative Office. This piece is crossposted at the ACLU’s Washington Markup blog.

    The impact Superstorm Sandy had on homes, businesses, nonprofits, and houses of worship across the Northeast was devastating. And still, in the wake of the storm, these institutions reached out to their communities to provide the help they could. At the same time, they began the process of their own rebuilding; for congregations, this meant repairing their sanctuaries and sacred spaces.

    After a disaster, businesses and nonprofits often look to government assistance to help rebuild damaged property. Despite the talk in the past couple of months about how these government assistance programs discriminate against houses of worship, they don't. All nonprofit organizations (including houses of worship) and for-profit businesses can get low-interest, long-term, government-secured loans -- up to $2 million -- for losses not fully covered by insurance. Direct FEMA grants of taxpayer funds, however, are intended to serve a certain purpose—those grants are for nonprofits with facilities used for emergency, essential, and government-like activities to the community at large. Houses of worship, just like the many other nonprofit facilities, aren't then eligible to receive FEMA grants. Today, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 592, the so-called Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013, a bill that would upend this well-established policy to explicitly permit FEMA to funnel taxpayer funds to houses of worship.

    FEMA's policy not only ensures that FEMA grants are used to rebuild facilities that provide the most critical services to the entire community, but also reflects an important constitutional principle. Religious liberty is one of our nation's most fundamental values and it starts from the precept that religion and religious institutions thrive when both religion and government are safeguarded from the undue influences of the other.

  • June 14, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Ian S. Thompson, Washington Legislative Office & Dena Sher, Washington Legislative Office. This analysis is cross-posted at the ACLU blog Washington Markup.


    On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held an important hearing on workplace discrimination experienced by those who are or perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). The hearing addressed the need for federal legislation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), to create uniform protections for LGBT people in the workplace.   The sad reality remains that it is legal to fire or refuse to hire workers based on sexual orientation in 29 states and gender identity in 34 states.

    The ACLU has long championed ENDA: American workers – who stand side-by-side in the workplace and contribute with equal measure in their jobs – should be able to stand on equal footing under the law. While our support for this essential legislation remains unchanged, we voiced concerns about two provisions. Things have changed in the nearly two decades since ENDA was first introduced and we believe the bill should be updated to reflect this reality.