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Nation's Largest Jewish Organization Scores Extraneous, Unconstitutional Church-State Amendments to House Juvenile Justice Bill

SAPERSTEIN: "This is an insidious effort to erode the wall of separation between church and state. The fact that these assaults come under the guise of advancing protection for our children does not make them any less of a danger to that essential wall. Our Constitution, our country, and our children deserve far better."

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jeff Mandell, 202-387-2800

WASHINGTON, June 17, 1999 - In response to the House of Representatives passage of a series of amendments to the Juvenile Justice Bill today that would break down the wall between church and state in America's public schools, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

Today, the House has taken a bad Juvenile Justice Bill and made it worse by turning it into a vehicle to rewrite the First Amendment.

Representative DeMint's school prayer amendment, Representative Tancredo's amendment removing any limits on religious symbols and speech in government-sponsored memorials, and a "charitable choice" amendment sponsored by Representatives Souder and English, purport to help our children, but they are really just vehicles to erode the essential wall between church and state. Legislation designed to undermine the First Amendment is unacceptable; efforts to pass such legislation under the subterfuge of protecting our children are offensive.

Perhaps the most troubling of the amendments, however, is Representative Aderholt's amendment, which would allow public schools to post the Ten Commandments in their classrooms. Let us be clear: No one cherishes the Ten Commandments more dearly than the Jewish community. It is precisely for that reason that the specter of the United States government sanctioning the posting of one specific version of the Ten Commandments is so problematic, and so offensive.

Further, the casualness with which this was done is deeply troubling. After averting the process of hearings, committee votes, and public response, the Rules Committee decided in the middle of the night to allow only minutes of debate on these vital issues which would impact on our First Freedom by distorting the careful balance between church and state so ingeniously arrived at by our nation's Founders.

This is not about juvenile justice, it's not about memorials, and it's not about the Ten Commandments. Ultimately, the issue at hand is an insidious effort to erode the wall of separation between church and state. The fact that these assaults come under the guise of advancing protection for our children does not make them any less of a danger to that essential wall. Our Constitution, our country, and our children deserve far better.

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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 1,800 Reform rabbis in 875 congregations throughout North America.



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