Statement by Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Welcoming the Introduction of the
September 24, 2003
Contact:Alexis Rice or David Segal 202-387-2800
Good afternoon. I am Mark Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. On behalf of the nearly 1,000 congregations of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the 1,800 rabbis of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, I am pleased to join Representative Kucinich and these other distinguished Members of Congress and guests as they introduce important new legislation aimed at protecting some of our most cherished freedoms.
There is a war being waged in America - and rightfully so - against terrorism both at home and abroad. As Americans, concerned for the lives and safety of our fellow citizens, we applaud the Administration's efforts to protect our country and her people. We must stand together in support of all legitimate efforts to increase the effectiveness of our law enforcement and criminal justice systems in fighting the deadly scourge of terrorism.
But there is another struggle we face - to ensure that our battle against terrorism does not come at the price of the rights and freedoms that we Americans hold so dear. In its efforts to bring terrorists to justice and to prevent future terrorist acts, Congress and the Administration acted swiftly in the wake of September 11th to pass sweeping new legislation - the USA PATRIOT Act. Across America, concerned citizens - Democrats and Republicans, African-Americans and Whites, Christians, Jews and Muslims - have raised their voices against the broad new powers granted to the Department of Justice by this law. Some 170 cities and three states have passed resolutions condemning the PATRIOT Act for its infringement on the civil liberties of their citizens. Republican and Democratic Members of the Senate and House have expressed growing concern. The message is clear - the PATRIOT Act overstepped the bounds of reasonableness and encroaches upon our beloved freedoms.
The Reform Jewish Movement has cautioned against overzealous anti-terrorism legislation since September 11th. Even before that day, we raised our voices in support of effective criminal justice practices that are not at odds with fundamental freedoms. Speaking from thousands of years of Jewish legal tradition, we continue to seek a balance between preserving liberty and maintaining security. Jewish law has always mandated the protection of individual privacy. While condemning eavesdropping and the unauthorized disclosure of confidential information, our tradition also recognizes a vital exception to that mandate: when lives are at stake. The Talmud explained that we are permitted - even obligated - to intrude on individual freedoms when that intrusion was necessary to prevent a loss of life or when the survival of the community was at stake. But those intrusions needed to be as limited as possible. So too today. We must be vigilant in ensuring that our effort to destroy terrorism does not undermine the very liberties that make this country worth celebrating and protecting.
In the face of bipartisan opposition, the Administration and its supporters in Congress now are preparing even greater intrusions on our civil liberties. Rather than proceeding with caution, they are attempting to further sacrifice civil liberties in the name of some limited amount of national security. As the Attorney General's promotional tour in support of the USA PATRIOT Act came to a close, President Bush urged Congress to "untie the hands of law enforcement officials" in dealing with terrorism.
Today we welcome the introduction of the True Patriot Act. While we have not yet had the opportunity to review this legislation thoroughly and therefore do not yet have a position on it, it addresses a number of concerns the Reform Movement has raised since the PATRIOT Act was first enacted - and it will therefore play a vital role in stimulating the national debate we so urgently need on these issues. Among those concerns are secret sneak and peek searches, secret access to personal and educational records, the unwarranted expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and mandatory detention of immigrants. The True Patriot Act will also narrow the excessively broad definition of "domestic terrorism" set forth in the original PATRIOT Act.
In the war on terror, we must be careful to preserve and protect the constitutional rights of all Americans. To build a safer America, a land where freedom truly rings, we must work together to increase the effectiveness of our law enforcement authorities, not encourage the excessive expansion of their power.
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 .