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Reform Jewish Movement Urges Congress To Oppose Flag Burning Ban Constitutional Amendment

Pelavin: Let us not degrade this symbol by prohibiting a cherished national right - freedom of expression.


Contact:
Alexis Rice or Becca Nagorsky 202-387-2800

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2003 - In a letter sent Monday in anticipation of today's House Judiciary Committee mark-up of H.J. 4, the flag burning ban amendment, Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism urged Congress to oppose the amendment, noting "we believe that a ban on flag burning would undermine the principle of free expression intended by our founding fathers and represented by the flag."

The complete letter follows:

Dear Members of the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees:
Dear Members of the House Judiciary Committee:

On behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose over 900 congregations encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), representing 1800 Reform rabbis, we write to express our staunch opposition to the so-called "flag protection" Constitutional amendment (H. J. Res. 4), introduced by Representative Randy (Duke) Cunningham (R-CA) and approved May 7 by the Constitution Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee. The Reform Jewish Movement takes great pride in the American flag and in the freedoms it represents. Ultimately, however, we believe that a ban on flag burning would undermine the principle of free expression intended by our founding fathers and represented by the flag.

It is not an understatement to say that the principles reflected in the First Amendment made the United States a crucial place of refuge for Jews, and for other immigrants fleeing persecution and oppression. As members of a religious minority, we are particularly sensitive to efforts that weaken the safeguards of pluralism and free expression. While we appreciate and respect the flag itself, we are even more committed to protecting the fundamental freedom symbolized by the flag.

The Supreme Court has maintained that free speech, including the right to flag burning, is a "bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment…that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive and disagreeable." The First Amendment is designed precisely to protect unpopular statements like flag burning, which deserves the same Constitutional protection as other criticisms of government policy.
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The American flag is a cherished national symbol. Let us not degrade this symbol by prohibiting a cherished national right - freedom of expression. With deep reverence and respect for the American flag, we believe that if the rights of all are not safe, then the rights of none are safe. To this end, we urge you to oppose H.J. Res. 4.


Respectfully,
/s/
Mark J. Pelavin
Associate Director, Religious Action Center

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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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