Nation's Largest Jewish Organization Expresses Concern Over President's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives
Contact: Jeff Mandell (202) 387-2800
WASHINGTON, January 29, 2001 — In response to President George W. Bush's announcement of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives today, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, released the following statement:
We are deeply concerned by President Bush's announcement of the organization of the White House Office on Faith-Based Initiatives. While constitutionally permissible in theory, in practice this office is woefully unwise. It signifies unprecedented government endorsement of religion. It will give the administration's sanction to direct funding of pervasively sectarian institutions, something the Supreme Court has never upheld. It will likely result in infringement on the religious liberty of welfare recipients, and will permit either government sponsored discrimination or government restriction of the religious conscience and freedom of the institutions receiving the money. Finally, in so many other nations where religion relies son government support, it has gravely weakened the religious community's self-reliance and strength.
While those he has tapped to lead this office are capable and respected, if, as frequently discussed by President Bush, this office's core focus is to provide government money directly to religious institutions providing social services (so-called "charitable choice"), it will inevitably encourage actions that are religiously divisive and will breach the wall of separation, which until now has prohibited government interference in private, sectarian affairs. And the idea of America's religious groups fighting over the limited public money to be made available takes us down the road towards the kind of sectarian competition that has torn so many nations apart, and which our separation of church and state has spared us.
But the danger is not only to the government and the public weal. America's religious organizations must realize that with government money come government rules and regulations, regulations that will entice religious groups to compromise their consciences for the sake of the public dole and will result in government intrusions.
Furthermore, there are many religious institutions that in carrying out their private charitable work discriminate in who they hire and who they serve on religious grounds, on grounds of adhering to the religious values of the institution (such as institutions that won't hire women for certain roles, won't hire single pregnant women because they engaged in sex outside of marriage, won't hire gays and lesbians etc.). As private entities they have the right to do what they want. But government money should never be used to discriminate. The programs that will likely be at the core of this office's work will often do so — but now with the stamp of approval of the president of the United States.
There is a positive and very significant role for our religious institutions to play in our national life, hand in hand with the government. We are ready to work with President Bush and his team on partnerships that are cooperative, constructive and — both by letter and by spirit — constitutional.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) whose membership includes over 1700 Reform rabbis.