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Saperstein’s Letter to Obama Addresses an Era of Great Challenge and Opportunity

 “In this time of economic upheaval and military challenges, the pursuit of justice is more urgent than ever.”

Contact: Kate Bigam
202.387.2800 | news@rac.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 26, 2009 – Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, today sent a letter to President Barack Obama outlining the Reform Jewish Movement’s priority policy objectives for the coming year. Text of the letter follows:

Dear President Obama:

On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America include 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis, I write to congratulate you on your historic inauguration and to share with you our priority policy objectives for the coming year.  

In this time of economic upheaval and military challenges, the pursuit of justice is more urgent than ever. We look to you with hope that you will help usher in a new era defined by the prioritization of the needs of the most vulnerable among us.

Restore and ensure economic security
As unemployment levels rise and the health of our economy generally continues to decline, it is imperative that the government enact a robust economic recovery package that creates jobs and provides funding for government programs that will help lift those most affected by the recession out of crisis. This includes:

  • Adopting unemployment insurance modernization to help states expand coverage;
  • Increasing the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) to assist states struggling with higher health care costs and with the growing demand for services;
  • Supporting investments in “green jobs” for low-income workers to help revive our economy while making our homes and schools more energy efficient;
  • Temporarily increasing funding for the administration of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, as well as other nutrition programs; and
  • Providing funding for the National Housing Trust Fund, Housing Vouchers and homelessness prevention programs.

Ensure universal access to affordable and quality health care
As 47 million Americans struggle without health insurance, the need for a comprehensive response to this crisis has never been clearer.  All Americans, whether or not they are able to provide for themselves, should be guaranteed essential health care coverage.  Throughout your presidential campaign and the transition period, you made clear your desire to remedy this blight on our nation that has left us as the only Western, advanced country that does not ensure health care for all.  Solving our nation’s health care crisis is inextricably related to solving our economic problems, and we look forward to working with you to achieve this essential goal.

Support religious liberty
The Reform Jewish Movement has long held that the principle of separation of church and state is indispensable for the preservation of that spirit of religious liberty which is a unique blessing of American democracy. To maintain this balance, it is vital that taxpayer dollars are not used for programs that discriminate on the basis of religion (or otherwise). Religious institutions relying on their own private sources of funding may choose to hire only coreligionists and to infuse their good work with religious themes and practices.  But Americans of varying faiths and no faiths should not have their money used, directly or indirectly, by the government for such purposes.

Maintain strong support for Israel and the Middle East peace process
At a time of increased instability in the Middle East, the need for a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is clearer than ever.  It is imperative that the United States government continues to support Israel’s right to defend itself.  The U.S. also has a vital role to play facilitating the conditions that will allow Israel and the Palestinians to reach a negotiated agreement that brings about a two-state solution, providing for mutual recognition and security for both sides.

Enact progressive climate and energy legislation
It is past time for the United States to take the lead in confronting the climate and energy crisis that challenges our nation and our globe. By investing in clean energy, the United States can cut its dependence on foreign oil and greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Investing in technology powered by solar, wind, and geothermal resources can also create jobs in the hard-hit construction and manufacturing sectors and create pathways out of poverty for the communities most affected by the economic downturn. We urge your Administration to act quickly to ensure the future of our planet, and of generations to come, by implementing a comprehensive clean energy agenda that will:

  • Move America toward a clean energy future by maximizing energy efficiency and greatly expanding power generated from renewable energy resources;
  • Provide assistance to low-income families to cover energy costs and make homes more energy efficient;
  • Meet emissions reductions targets as encouraged by the UN International Panel on Climate Change to avoid the worst consequences of climate change;
  • Ensure that the EPA waives its opposition to California’s effort to set its own standards on air pollutants; and
  • Reinstate the moratorium on oil drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf.

Engage in international efforts for human rights and economic justice
In our interconnected world, the Reform Jewish Movement’s longtime commitment to advancing human rights globally has never been more relevant.  We know that you share our understanding of the importance of global engagement.  To that end, we urge you to use your leadership to:

  • Bring a peaceful, just end to genocide in Darfur;
  • Pursue a nuclear-weapons-free world by seeking ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, negotiating new arms reduction agreements, and preventing and reversing nuclear proliferation;
  • Elevate foreign aid to help reach the Millennium Development Goals;
  • Engage in ending human rights crises throughout the world, including the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and
  • Swiftly and responsibly end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Advancing these goals will not only bring about a better world, but will strengthen our international partnerships, economy and security. 

Focus on judicial nominations
The preservation of the rule of law rests on the independence and fairness of our courts. Judges at all levels must be committed to defending the Constitution, and the Reform Jewish Movement is deeply committed to ensuring that fair-minded and impartial judges are nominated to the federal judiciary. As such, we encourage you to nominate judges who meet the highest standards.  As one of the few organizations in the faith community that speaks out on the critical issue of judicial nominations, we look forward to ensuring that the men and women appointed to the federal bench are committed to the protection of the most fundamental rights which our Movement supports (including, but not limited to, the separation of church and state, protection of civil rights and civil liberties, women’s reproductive freedom, same-sex marriage equality and protection of the environment).  More information on the Reform Jewish Movement’s position on all of these issues is available on our Web site at www.rac.org.

The aforementioned issues are not, of course, our only areas of concern. We look forward to working with you and your Administration to enact progressive legislation on a host of other issues about which we care deeply, including reproductive rights and health, equal rights for gays and lesbians (as demonstrated through enactment of the Employment Non Discrimination Act and the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act), international religious freedom, gun control, civil rights and more. We also applaud your recent executive orders to close Guantanamo Bay, stop U.S- sponsored torture, and lift the global gag rule, all of which give us hope that we are on a path to restoring principles of justice that have been set aside for far too long. Your Administration has the potential to ensure that our nation abides by the ideals upon which it was founded. We look forward to working with you toward that goal.


Sincerely,

/s/

Rabbi David Saperstein
Director and Counsel

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis.



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