Union for Reform Judaism and Jewish Reconstructionist Federation Letter to Congress Opposing the “High Risk Nonprofit Security Enhancement Act of 2004”
June 10, 2004
Dear Members of the 108th Congress:
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF), with over 100 congregations representing 60,000 Reconstructionist Jews, we ask you to oppose the “High Risk Nonprofit Security Enhancement Act of 2004” (S. 2275/H.R. 4108). The security needs of our nation’s high-risk non-profit institutions deserve the fullest attention of Congress, but not in a manner that dangerously threatens the wall separating church and state, which has been a bedrock of democracy and the foundation of religious liberty in our country for over two hundred years.
Terrorism is a threat to the very fabric of our country. Non-profit institutions, particularly religious organizations, and most particularly Jewish ones, are at great risk from these acts of violence and hatred. As organizations representing hundreds of Jewish congregations across America, we are well aware of the mounting costs of synagogue security in a post-9/11 world. We are actively striving to support our congregations in every way we can, through technical assistance and by supporting appropriate legislative enactments towards a more effective homeland security policy, including additional local police protection for the most likely targets.
While we have deep respect for the many non-profit, religious, and Jewish organizations that support this bill, our longstanding support for the separation of church and state requires that we oppose this legislation, and we urge you to do the same. We have several concerns with the bill as currently written:
• The legislation allows for the funding of pervasively sectarian institutions with government money, which the U.S. Supreme Court has never condoned.
• Though the funds are funneled through independent security contractors, in the end, government money will be directly making capital improvements to houses of worship in violation of fundamental principles of the First Amendment.
• The bill permits some services and improvements to religious organizations to be funded through federal loan guarantees that ensure below-market rates and longer repayment periods. While a less direct form of funding, these remain, effectively, government subsidies to religion.
• The limited funds allocated through the bill, together with the high cost of capital improvements, ensure that very few non-profit institutions will actually receive substantial aid, and far more effective uses could be made for these funds in strengthening security for our communities and institutions.
The separation of church and state in this country has allowed religion to flourish here unmatched among all democratic nations. This is one of America’s unique gifts to civilization and the chief guarantor of our religious liberty. Now, as we press forward in the fight against terror, we must not abandon the very ideals and freedoms for which our country stands. We urge you to oppose the “High Risk Nonprofit Security Enhancement Act of 2004” (S. 2275/H.R. 4108). This legislation, though earnest and compassionate in intent, seriously weakens the wall separating church and state, which is a vital protector of religious liberty for all Americans.
Rabbi David Saperstein
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Daniel G. Cedarbaum
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation