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Statement Of Mark J. Pelavin At Coalition To Preserve Religious Liberty Press Conference On Rep. Istook's Proposed Constitutional Amendment

March 24, 1997- Good afternoon. I am Mark Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and I am here today on behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. These two organizations represent 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1800 Reform rabbis throughout North America. We are here today, as part of this broad-based coalition, because the proposed "religious freedom" constitutional amendment which Congressman Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) unveiled this morning is unnecessary, divisive and disingenuous. But more than that, while claiming to protect the religious rights of all Americans, it would in fact, greatly reduce the religious liberty we now possess.

Such a constitutional amendment is unnecessary because we already have a religious freedom amendment - it is called the First Amendment, and it has helped create a nation steeped in a diverse and vibrant religious tradition, where a powerful and inspirational variety of religions of all credos and origins have been able to grow and prosper.

Such an amendment is divisive because it sows the seeds of combat between faiths for scarce government funds and invites competition between faiths in our nation's public schools.

Such a constitutional amendment is disingenuous because so many of the wrongs the sponsors claim to be righting could be addressed with proper application of current law. Let me repeat, proper application of current law would address nearly all claims purported to necessitate this specious legislation. If somewhere in this nation a child is being told by her teacher or principal that she cannot say grace over her lunch, then the answer is to educate the teacher or the administrator - not to amend the Constitution.

Lastly, such an amendment would actually reduce religious freedom by lowering the wall of separation between church and state, allowing the long arm of government to reach into our churches and synagogues across the nation. The cause of religious freedom, our first freedom, is not advanced by blurring the line between the proper roles of government and religion.

As you can see by the breadth of this coalition, the debate is not between people who care about religion on the one hand, and people who don't on the other. We are people who care deeply about religion, and we are here today to say, that working together with virtually the entire mainstream of America's religious community, that we will make defeat of this amendment our foremost legislative priority.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1800 Reform rabbis in more than 850 congregations throughout North America.

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