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Reform Jewish Leader Calls for Fair Financial Aid System

Saperstein: Rejecting the educational financial aid applications of drug offenders across the board is an arbitrary punishment that violates moral principles of rehabilitation, fairness and proportion and exacerbates institutionalized racism in the criminal justice system.


Contact: Alexis Rice or Michael Weiner 202-387-2800

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2002 - Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement calling on Congress to repeal the law denying federal financial aid to students with drug convictions.

The complete statement follows:

The Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, the public policy body of North America's largest organized Jewish community, is pleased to join with a broad coalition of education, civil rights, substance abuse, religious and other organizations in opposing a provision of the Higher Education Act denying federal financial aid to students solely on the basis of drug convictions. We urge Members of the House to support H.R. 786, a bill introduced by Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) that would overturn the provision.

Jewish tradition recognizes that those who do wrong should be punished, but they should also be encouraged to repent and improve themselves and their lives. As the prophet Ezekiel asserted, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his ways and live" (Ezekiel 33:11). Denying an education to past drug offenders who seek to become productive members of society is both cruel and illogical. The appropriate venues for meting out punishment are not classrooms, but courtrooms.

Rejecting the educational financial aid applications of drug offenders across the board is an arbitrary punishment that violates moral principles of rehabilitation, fairness and proportion and exacerbates institutionalized racism in the criminal justice system. The ratio of those prosecuted for drug offenses who are people of color is already much higher than the actual percentage of drug offenders among minority populations. The provision extends this discrepancy into the arena of higher education. Likewise, the provision discriminates on the basis of class, preventing poor offenders from attaining an education when those with financial resources suffer no additional punishment.

In a society committed to equal justice under the law, we can no longer allow these inequities to continue. We urge the House to approve H.R. 786 or equivalent legislation as soon as possible.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .



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