By a vote of 3-1 The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors (BOS) at its September 28, 2022, meeting, approved a Reproductive Rights Resolution, which may be the first such resolution passed by a Bucks County Township. Voting in favor were Elen Snyder (who put forward the resolution), Dennis Fisher, and Phil Calabro. Voting against was Kyle Davis. I was absent and missed the 3+ hours of comments due to a second bout with the COVID virus.
The Resolution states “the Board of Supervisors of Newtown Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania hereby affirms and commits to supporting access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion, and condemning any act by the Pennsylvania General Assembly or Congress of the United States to restricting access to that care.”
American Freedom & Tolerance
For the second time many residents filled the meeting room and made comments in favor and against the Resolution (the first time was at the September 14, 2022, BOS meeting).
Many comments against the Resolution were made by Christians who believe every “procured abortion is a moral evil.” However, other residents with different beliefs spoke out in favor of the Resolution.
Long-time Newtown Township resident Steve Cickay and Rabbi Aaron Garber, of the Congregation Brothers of Israel, spoke about the need for tolerance in these divisive times. Below is the text of Mr. Cickay’s unedited comments:
I am an American speaking these words to fellow-Americans.
These are divisive times. The issue of the freedom of women to make decisions about their own bodies is an issue that adds to this divisive atmosphere that is filled with strong emotion and conviction and is sadly tearing our nation apart.
But I would like to offer up some common ground for fellow-Americans to stand on so we can come together, despite our diversity of viewpoints, and allow our shared value of freedom to guide us tonight to passing this resolution (“A Resolution Of The Township Of Newtown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania Affirming The Newtown Township Board Of Supervisors Commitment To Valuing Reproductive Rights And Supporting Access To Abortion”) together as one unified American community.
First let me remind you of some facts. There is no consensus among philosophers and theologians of diverse faiths as to when human life begins. Yet I do not disrespect any such belief any individual holds and fully support every person’s right to act with respect to their own lives in accordance with those beliefs.
It is a fact that hundreds of years ago, people flocked to our shores due to religious persecution. The Old World was denying freedom to individuals to practice their religious faiths. Immigrants saw in the New World an opportunity to freely practice their religious faiths without interference from other citizens or the government. Religious freedom is therefore a defining essence of the American character. Look around Newtown, present at our founding, and see today how many houses of worship there are. American religious freedom thrives as it should.
It is a fact that in 1776 Americans started a revolution in great part to throw off the onerous yoke of a king and instead, founded a new government whereby the freedom of individuals was paramount. (Unfortunately, the freedom of Blacks and women took many decades to be actualized, but the ideal of American freedom was that guiding light that inspired and actualized their eventual freedom).
For over fifty years, American women had reproductive freedom enshrined in a Supreme Court interpretation of our Constitution. Now that freedom is being eroded and the just fight to restore that freedom has begun throughout our country. As a Newtown resident, I am therefore proud that the resolution before us is a strong local defense of the fundamental American value of freedom for all its citizens. I compliment the supervisors who have taken the time to draft, and then hopefully enact it tonight. The resolution is consistent with the two facts I mentioned above: the American value of religious freedom and the American value of individual freedom unfettered by the arbitrary rule of a despotic government.
In accordance with our shared American values of religious and individual freedom, I would never support any infringement on anyone’s religious liberty. I, and I expect you as well, would want to be free to make personal choices about reproductive issues in accordance with your own religious beliefs and principles. If you want to encourage within your religious group any kind of restrictions on abortion, I, as an American who loves liberty, will adamantly defend that right for you. But on the other hand, I do not expect, and will fight just as vigorously against, any challenge to the exercise of my religious beliefs and principles. If my religious beliefs demand the reproductive freedom of women, I expect America, the land of liberty, to uphold that freedom for my group.
In a well-educated democracy, I expect a robust, intelligent, passionate and civil debate about political issues. We are trying to have that discussion here tonight. One result of such conversations which truly seek common ground and not simply loud noises could be initiatives that remove economic barriers from families which are overwhelmed with the thought of caring for another child or initiatives that fund robust adoption services. The existence and funding of such institutions might influence personal reproductive decisions. But participation in these initiatives must be freely chosen by the individuals involved and not mandated by an all-powerful government because then the fundamental shared American value of individual freedom would be crushed. And personally, I do not feel any amount of discussion or institutional support would lead me to accept a government mandate to complete a pregnancy by a woman who has suffered incest or rape. To me that smacks of an ideology of misogyny and totalitarian religious zealotry so antithetical to the American essence.
I therefore vehemently support the adoption of this resolution in the name of the fundamental American values of religious and individual freedom, common ground upon which all Americans should proudly stand.
Jewish Understanding of Religious Freedom and Tolerance
Despite the Jewish holidays, two Newtown Township Rabbis made comments espousing religious tolerance and reminding attendees that Jewish law does not share the belief common among abortion opponents that life begins at conception, nor does it legally consider the fetus to be a full person. In the video below, for example, you can what Rabbi Aaron Gaber, of the Congregation Brothers of Israel, had to say...
Some excerpts from Rabbi Gaber’s comments:
As my colleague Rabbi Gerson gave to you and shared with you a history of where life begins according to Judaism [at birth], I would like to share with you my understanding and the Jewish understanding of religious freedom.
I will absolutely fight with every breath that my colleagues who believe life begins at conception will be able to enact their views for themselves and for their communities and for their people.
I would expect the same for them to act with every breath and every part of their lives to respect my Jewish belief and our religious freedom and understand that we come from different perspectives but we all believe in the same: sanctity of life and what that means for each of our traditions.
So I invite you and hope that you will support this amendment and stand up as a community to say that while there are differences of beliefs and understandings about this issue, this ensures that every individual has the ability to make their own religious and faith-based decisions.
Not Everyone Is Tolerant
While residents who made comments in person at the meeting made their comments without name calling or making hateful comments directed against Supervisors, at least one Newtown resident submitted a hate-filled email to Supervisors after the meeting.
“Dear BOS, Well, you did it!,” said a resident, “you divided our town and caused hate. …YOUR STUNT ONLY SERVCED (sic) TO SPREAD HATRED!”
The writer of the email went on to make several hateful comments herself:
“Phil, you know better and you're weak. Hold that eyebrowless bald head of yours low when you walk in public.”
“Elen, be proud that so many people in Newtown are now angry and disgusted with you and your ilk [emphasis added]. Also, great bashing of Christians at the end of the last meeting. Clearly you have a real problem with them. Watch the video of yourself*—confused and angry and your hatred towards Christians popped out.”
*You can hear Ms. Snyder’s comments at the end of the September 14, 2022, BOS meeting and judge for yourself if she “bashed” Christians:
The writer also had some hateful comments aimed at me, even though I wasn’t at the meeting:
“John Mack seems to live only to cause harm and division. I secretly suspect that when he sees people angry or divided, that it ‘excites him’. Watch the creepy look on his face when division is happening.”
To which I can only say that as an elected township leader, I look upon all our residents, not with "creepiness," but with respect as valued American citizens whom I have the honor to serve.
Posted on 01 Oct 2022, 01:08 - Category: Resolutions