Learn more about the position of the Reform Movement and what Jewish values teach us about this issue.
Neither biblical mandates nor rabbinic rulings completely explain the Jewish community's strong commitment to religious freedom and the separation of church and state. It is, rather, historical experience which demonstrates that the Jewish people have suffered religious persecution when the state was controlled by a particular religion. The First Amendment made the United States the refuge of choice for Jews and others throughout the world when faced with persecution and oppression in countries without equivalent guarantees. American Jews have enjoyed the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom to exercise religion and to organize communal lives under the equal protection of the law. Therefore, the Jewish community has a deep stake in the preservation of the separation of church and state. As members of a religious minority whose history is so dominated by oppression, we are especially sensitive to any effort to weaken the safeguards of pluralism and minority expression and are keenly aware of the dangers of a partnership between government and religion.
Position of the Reform Movement
The Reform Jewish Movement has long supported the separation of church and state -- the "cornerstone of American democracy" -- as integral to protecting the religious freedom of all Americans. The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) has expressed its belief that "the principle of separation of church and state is best both for church and state and is indispensable for the preservation of that spirit of religious liberty which is a unique blessing of American democracy." In his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Rabbi David Saperstein noted that "It is precisely this wall separating church and state which has allowed religion to flourish in America with a diversity and strength unmatched anywhere in the Western world."
The URJ and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) have both passed resolutions opposing a prayer amendment to the Constitution. The URJ "cherishes the conviction that the maintenance and furtherance of religion are the responsibility of the synagogue, the church and the home, and not any agency of the government, including the public schools" (Resolution on Religion in Public Education, 1961)
The CCAR "confirms its long-standing commitment to the principle of the separation of church and state, as historically understood by the First Amendment to the Constitution...and deplores these attempts to compromise a basic principle that has served for over two centuries as the cornerstone of religious liberty" (Resolution on Religion in the Public Schools, 1984).
Furthermore, while the URJ and the CCAR decry the absence of prayer and the absence of religious values, they "oppose all attempts to amend the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States or to erode by legislation the protections it provides" (Resolution on First Amendment Rights).
For a complete overview of the Reform Movement's position on religion in public schools please review "Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law".