Reform Jewish Rabbis Join Clergy Urging Bush, Congress to Reject 'Faith-Based' Funding Proposals
Read an Open Letter to President Bush and Congress from America's Clergy
Rabbi Schwartzman:" The dangers posed by the President's faith-based initiative are serious and far-reaching. The damage to our nation-and its religious institutions in particular-could be profound. As their leaders, we cannot stand idly by as members of Congress and the current administration threaten to undermine our self-reliance and strength and divide us along religious lines."
Contact: Alexis Rice or Evan Moffic(202) 387-2800
WASHINGTON, April 24, 2001 - The Reform Movement today joined a broad coalition of religious leaders with the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination urging President George W. Bush and Congress opposing the "charitable choice" provisions of the "faith-based" initiative.
The complete text of Rabbi Schwartzman's statement follows:
My name is Amy Schwartzman, and I am the senior rabbi of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia. I am here today representing the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes 1800 rabbis throughout North America. I am here today because we believe attempts to channel taxation dollars to religious institutions is dangerous not only for the nation as a whole, but also for congregations and religious communities.
We are proud that religious institutions play a critical role in serving the least fortunate among us. Everyday, men and women of faith selflessly care for our children, serve the elderly, heal the sick, lift up the poor, and cure the addicted. The members of my own congregation operate a transitional housing unit in which homeless men and women work with a social worker to find and prepare for permanent residency.
In so doing, we express our commitment to bringing Jewish values to bear on the world around us. In so doing, we strive to realize the vision of our prophets, who taught us to "speak up, judge righteously, [and] champion the poor and the needy". In so doing, we bring the ethical teachings of our tradition into the lives of our members, thereby linking the Jewish past to the Jewish present.
It is out of my commitment to the success of such programs that I join my fellow members of the clergy here today in urging Congress and President Bush to reject plans to inject government funds into religious institutions. While the goals of the proponents of so-called "charitable choice" may be laudable, their policy proposals are dangerous, divisive, and uncharitable.
What makes charitable choice dangerous? Religion, like anything else, is not inclined to bite the hand that feeds it. Charitable choice supporters argue that religious groups can effectively fulfill our nation's obligation to the poor, and others who need a helping hand. Yet once religious institutions are working in tandem with the federal government and receiving tax dollars to provide services, members may be less inclined to "dig a little deeper" to help with their time and expenses. Making religious institutions dependent on the government for money will only harm these institutions and their vitality in the long run. As Martin Luther King once pointed out, "The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool."
What makes charitable choice divisive? In the past two months, Reverend Jerry Falwell has suggested that Islamic organizations should never be eligible for funding, because "the Muslim faith teaches hate." Reverend Eugene Rivers has argued that opponents of charitable choice are racially motivated, and Pat Robertson has insisted that no money go to the Hare Krishnas, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church and the Church of Scientology. With less than three months having passed by since the President announced his "faith-based initiative," and before there is any money on the table, these examples are only the tip of the iceberg of sectarian strife lurking below the surface. Imagine the possibility for divisiveness when different faiths start competing against one another for funding.
Why is "charitable choice," in fact, uncharitable? Neither President Bush's budget nor the recently introduced Watts/Hall "Community Solutions Act" add a single dime to the government's commitment to end poverty. All they do is provide more competition for existing dollars and, thereby, divert money from today's most effective social service programs.
The dangers posed by the President's faith-based initiative are serious and far-reaching. The damage to our nation-and its religious institutions in particular-could be profound. As their leaders, we cannot stand idly by as members of Congress and the current administration threaten to undermine our self-reliance and strength and divide us along religious lines.
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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.