Reform Jewish Movement Urges House Members to Keep Partisan Politics out of Houses of Worship
Contact:Alexis Rice or Randi Levine
WASHINGTON, September 27, 2002- In a letter today to the House of Representatives, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, urged Representatives to oppose the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act, H.R. 2357, noting that the legislation, "packaged as an effort to protect houses of worship, would, in fact, remove important safeguards that protect the integrity of religious institutions and the political process."
The complete letter follows:
On behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), representing 1.5 million Reform Jews in 900 congregations, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), representing 1,800 Reform rabbis across North America, I strongly urge you to oppose the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act (H.R. 2357), introduced by Rep. Walter Jones.
H.R. 2357 would amend the tax code to permit houses of worship to engage directly in political campaigns, allowing houses of worship to endorse or oppose candidates for public office and even contribute money and resources to activities benefiting candidates and political parties-all while maintaining their status as tax-exempt organizations. Packaged as an effort to protect houses of worship, this bill would, in fact, remove important safeguards that protect the integrity of religious institutions and the political process.
Under current law, religious leaders are, of course, free to address any political, ethical, or social issue. Throughout America's history, houses of worship have exercised their absolute right to contribute to our nation's moral thinking. However, H.R. 2357 would allow tax-exempt houses of worship to engage in electioneering-transforming sanctuaries into political campaign headquarters and blurring the line between church and state. H.R. 2357 would also open a major loophole in our nation's campaign finance laws since donations to houses of worship are tax-deductible while contributions to political candidates are not.
As Jewish Americans, members of a religious minority, we strive to protect our religious liberty through effective prohibitions on the establishment of religion. The wall of separation between church and state, ingeniously conceived by our nation's founders, has allowed religion to flourish in America as it has nowhere else. We have cherished, and fought for, the right of religious institutions to function free from the heavy hand of government. While H.R. 2357 is being advanced under the guise of providing protection for religious organizations, the erosion of constitutional safeguards is dangerous for everyone, especially for houses of worship. There is nothing dishonorable about partisan politics-but it should not be done under the cloak of religious authority underwritten by a tax exemption.
Religious leaders realize the harmful effects that this bill could have on their churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship. According to a 2001 Gallup poll, 77 percent of clergy believe that houses of worship should not endorse political candidates. A poll conducted by The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 70 percent of Americans feel that houses of worship should not endorse one candidate over another during political elections. These polls reflect the fact that linking churches to partisan political activity would be a highly divisive measure that would demean the institutions from which so many believers expect absolute decency.
On behalf of the Reform Jewish Movement, I urge you to vote against H.R. 2357.
Rabbi David Saperstein
Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
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 .