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Reform Jewish Movement Welcomes House Defeat of the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act

Contact:Alexis Rice or Randi Levine at 202-387-2800

WASHINGTON, October 2, 2002 - Responding to the House of Representatives defeat of the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act (H.R. 2357), today, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

Today, the House of Representatives wisely voted down a bill that would have jeopardized the integrity of religion and the political process. We welcome the defeat of the so-called Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act (H.R. 2357), a bill that would have permitted houses of worship to endorse or oppose candidates for public office and even contribute resources and money to partisan political campaigns-all while maintaining their privileged status as tax-exempt organizations.

The U.S. Congress today spared America's houses of worship from legislation that posed a real threat to the integrity of churches, synagogues, religion, good government, and to America. It would have embroiled houses of worship in divisive battles as to which candidates to support or oppose, undercut campaign finance laws, and led to extensive government monitoring of church political activities. We shudder at the thought of our sanctuaries transforming into political headquarters. The Reform Jewish Movement has long fought to keep religion and partisan politics distinct, recognizing that religion flourishes best when there is a strong wall between church and state.

This troublesome bill would have opened a dramatic loophole in our nation's campaign finance laws, which many in the religious community fought so hard to enact. Under current law, donations to houses of worship are tax-deductible; contributions to political candidates are not. H.R. 2357 would have permitted tax-deductible contributions to be funneled to partisan purposes such as the purchase of "issue advocacy" attack ads. Houses of worship would have been able to give tax-deductible funds to partisan campaigns regardless of the donor's political views.

It is not surprising that a wide range of religious organizations across the theological spectrum opposed this bill. The clergy and people of faith who affiliated with these organizations know that this measure would have been highly divisive, pitting congregant against congregant and congregant against clergy. How would each house of worship decide which candidate to endorse or oppose? How would a candidate for public office [perhaps a member of the congregation] react to not receiving the divine endorsement or sacred funds of a religious denomination? While purporting to protect houses of worship, H.R. 2357 would have provoked sharp divisions within them.

We are also encouraged that Members of Congress did not accept false arguments made for this bill, such as the need religious entities have to speak out and teach about and advocate on social issues. Under current law, our American synagogues, churches, and mosques not only have the absolute right, but also the responsibility to teach about social issues in our communities, our nation, and our world. For many religious organizations, public policy advocacy is an appropriate and important element of their prophetic mission. Houses of worship should inform people of faith about election issues that affect the well being of humanity. However, partisan politics should not exist under the cloak of religious authority underwritten by a tax exemption.

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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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