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As New Constitutional Amendment Is Introduced In Congress, Reform Jewish Movement Calls Defeat Of 'Noxious' Istook Amendment Foremost Priority

WASHINGTON, May 8, 1997 - The Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis throughout North America, reaffirmed their staunch opposition to Rep. Ernest Istook's (R-OK) latest effort to weaken the religious liberties of all Americans. Rep. Istook today introduced a constitutional amendment which would allow taxpayer funding of a wide array of religious practices, including government-sponsored prayer in public schools.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement in response to Istook's proposed constitutional amendment:

The Constitutional Amendment proposed today by Representative Ernest Istook (R- OK) would deal a devastating blow to religious freedom and religious tolerance in America.

The dangers of this disingenuous initiative are stark:

  • In the name of "religious freedom," Rep. Istook and his Religious Right supporters would undermine true religious liberty;

  • Claiming to protect religion, they would jeopardize religion's preferred place in our constitutional hierarchy; and

  • Boasting of championing religion, they would threaten our religious liberties by lowering the wall protecting religion from the heavy hand of government.

All religions would suffer; minority religions would be particularly disadvantaged.

As American Jews, we strive to protect our religious liberty through effective prohibitions on the establishment of religion. We remember, all too painfully, what it was like to have strayed from that vision. We remember the exclusion and harassment that resulted when we remained silent or got up to leave the room as our classmates recited Christian prayers.

For more than 200 years, this nation has sheltered our flames of faith from the winds of coercion, politicization and intolerance, allowing all those flames to shine as a bright beacon to the world. We have shown the rest of the world how to create a nation in which religious faith can build rather than destroy, can unite rather than divide, can drive movements for social good rather than movements for social decay. This proposed amendment is an insult to that proud history.

Moreover, such an amendment is divisive and disingenuous. It is divisive because it sows the seeds of political combat between faiths, forcing a multitude of faiths to compete for scarce government funds and for presentation of its religious symbols and prayers in prominent government forums. It is disingenuous because so many of the wrongs the proponents claim to be righting could simply be resolved through proper application of current law.

As of today, our religious freedom - our first freedom - is on the line. We will make defeat of this noxious amendment our foremost 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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