Reform Movement Submits Testimony Outlining Church-State Concerns in Energy Bill
Rabbi Saperstein: “The Reform Movement is deeply committed to putting our nation and our world on the path to a clean, sustainable, and equitable climate and energy future. In doing so, however, we must not compromise the wall separating church and state, which has been a bedrock of democracy and the foundation of religious liberty in our country for over two hundred years.”
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WASHINGTON, D.C., July 11, 2013 — The Senate is currently considering the Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act, which would allow the government to fund the retrofitting or “greening” of nonprofit buildings. Although we support the goal of making nonprofit buildings more environmentally-friendly, we are deeply concerned that as currently written, the bill would allow direct government funding of houses of worship. Urging a change to this problematic language, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, submitted the following written testimony to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs:
“On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes over 2000 Reform Rabbis, I write to express our concerns about the Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act (S. 717) as it is currently written. In its current form, the Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act threatens our nation’s founding principle of separation of church and state. We are asking that “houses of worship” be struck from section (3)(B) and that protective language be added clarifying prohibited uses of the funds. Leaving this section as is not only begs a lawsuit if that provision remains in the enacted bill, but can hurt support for the bill and make it needlessly controversial.
We believe that retrofitting buildings for increased efficiency is one important way to meet emissions reductions targets. However, we are deeply troubled by the language that explicitly makes houses of worship eligible to receive funding for building retrofits. The Reform Jewish Movement has a long history of strong opposition to government funds flowing directly to houses of worship as it is both unconstitutional and bad public policy (raising serious concerns for “church autonomy” and religious liberty). Indeed, direct cash funding of houses of worship has never been upheld by the Supreme Court.
We are inspired by our tradition to fight for a climate and energy future that protects our earth and all of its inhabitants. The Book of Genesis tells us that God placed men and women on earth to till and tend creation, and our sages remind us to “Take care, lest you spoil and destroy my world, because if you do, there is no one after you to make it right again.” (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13). As people of faith, we are responsible for seeking justice as we work for a healthier and safer environment for all. At the same time, we remain committed to our long-established position that the principle of separation of church and state is best for both church and state and is indispensable for the preservation of that spirit of religious liberty which is a unique blessing of American democracy.
The Supreme Court (in Tilton v. Richardson and Committee for Public Education v. Nyquist, among other cases) has long held that taxpayer dollars cannot go to construct, rebuild or repair buildings used for religious activities. As written, without language prohibiting use of these funds in sectarian settings, this bill would allow government money to do just that. No taxpayer should be forced to support a faith in which he or she does not believe. In addition, these funds would risk government entanglement with religion, from which neither party benefits. With government money come government rules and regulations, which threaten the prophetic voice and autonomy that are central to our country’s diverse religious institutions.
The Reform Movement is deeply committed to putting our nation and our world on the path to a clean, sustainable, and equitable climate and energy future. In doing so, however, we must not compromise the wall separating church and state, which has been a bedrock of democracy and the foundation of religious liberty in our country for over two hundred years.”
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis. Visit www.rac.org for more.