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Reform Jewish Leader Blasts New York Officials for Arresting Clergy for Performing a Religious Act

Saperstein: These laws need to change. That day is coming. We hope, we pray, soon.

WASHINGTON, March 15, 2004 - Today the State of New York brought charges against two Unitarian Universalist ministers for marrying 13 same-sex couples.
Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, representing the Union for Reform Judaism and Central Conference of American Rabbis, issued the following statement:

    Not all the facts around the ceremonies and the arrests are yet known, but the willingness of the state to arrest clergy for engaging in religious ceremonies requires an immediate response. These arrests raise at least three serious concerns for Americans who cherish religious freedom.

    First, the Constitution's promise of religious freedom, and the doctrine of "church autonomy" (that rests in both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause), should permit clergy to officiate at religious ceremonies without state interference. To do otherwise - to allow the state to set the terms under which members of clergy religiously solemnize relationships - would stand the First Amendment on its head.

    Second, although the clergy may have committed a technical violation of state law, the charges were brought under a law that is almost never enforced. This selective enforcement is both morally problematic and legally questionable.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly in the long run, though these arrests, depending on the facts, may raise issues of violating civil authority, even in that case we respect the ministers' actions as a form of civil disobedience. These laws need to change. That day is coming. We hope, we pray, soon.


Note: Saperstein is a rabbi and attorney and has served on the faculty of Georgetown University Law School for 25 years, where he teaches seminars in church-state law and Jewish law.

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(CCAR) whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis.

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