Reform Jewish Movement Laments House Bill Surreptitiously Tearing Down Religious Protections
Pelavin: "As Jews, we have learned from sometimes-hard history that both religion and the state function best when each is free to flourish in its own sphere."
Contact: Jeff Mandell, (202) 387-2800
WASHINGTON, November 11 — In response to yesterday's House of Representatives passage of the "Fathers Count Act" (H.R. 3073), Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, released the following statement:
Yesterday, another brick was knocked out of the wall separating church and state. The "Fatherhood Counts Act" (H.R. 3073), passed by The House of Representatives, includes a so-called "Charitable Choice" provision allowing taxpayer funds to be used by religious institutions for religious purposes. This scheme violates the first principle of the First Amendment, and does so, ominously, with little public debate or discussion. Brick by brick, our elected officials are surreptitiously tearing down the very bulwark that has allowed religion to flourish in America unlike any other country in the world.
As Jews, we have learned from sometimes-hard history that both religion and the state function best when each is free to flourish in its own sphere. While government funding of religious social service providers, or "Charitable Choice," may appear to benefit religious organizations, the erosion of our constitutional safeguards is dangerous for everyone involved, especially those religious organizations funded by such programs. "Charitable Choice" will adversely effect the religious mission of houses of worship by funding social services that may already be performed with voluntary contributions. Such contributions will inevitably diminish if the religious institution can receive public dollars to provide the service. This would make the religious institution dependent on the government for money. "Charitable Choice" will also permit religious institutions that receive government funds to discriminate in their employment decisions on the basis of religion. This amounts to federally-funded employment discrimination, and allows religious organizations to exclude people of different faiths from government-funded employment
We commend Representative Chet Edwards (D-TX) for his leadership in advancing an amendment to ameliorate the most significant constitutional concerns. While the intentions behind this bill might be well placed, the inclusion of "Charitable Choice" makes it a dangerous bill for religious liberty. Representative Edwards' amendment was a principled and constructive attempt to reconcile this bill with the Constitution and to advance substantive legislation without sacrificing religious liberty. Even though his attempt to protect our nation's religious institutions did not succeed, his leadership is necessary and laudable.
Unfortunately, a majority of House members voted against religious liberty -- abdicating both their obligations to protect the Constitution and the government's obligations to help the less fortunate -- and for the "Fathers Count Act." This Congress deserves a better legacy; our Constitution deserves better protection; the American people deserve a better vision.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis in 875 congregations throughout North America.