Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

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Overview: Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director

The 106th Congress, which begins in January 1999, holds the promise of progress on a number of priority issues. It is becoming clear that something significant happened in November 1998, and that although the partisan balance shifted only slightly, the character of this Congress will be quite different from the last. While it is impossible to know how partisan the Republicans will be as they play out the aftermath of the impeachment vote, early evidence suggests an effort to couple pragmatism to their conservative orientation, thereby avoiding the type of legislative gridlock that characterized the 105th Congress.

The following agenda reflects the priority goals of the Reform Movement. They are, not surprisingly, very similar to our goals for the last Congress. That is both good news and bad news. The good news: we were able to beat back a number of troubling proposals - including the partial birth abortion ban and serious attempts to limit the rights of gays and lesbians (which we will undoubtedly see again in the 106th Congress). The bad news: we were not able to secure many of the important advances (a raise in the minimum wage, the Religious Liberty Protection Act, Campaign Finance Reform) which we sought.

There are, however, a number of new items on our agenda, and they, no doubt, will be amongst our highest priorities. We will support legislation to implement the Wye Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We will support reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the federal government's key education program. While recognizing the need to address problems with the current system, we will oppose attempts to undermine the federal guarantee of the Social Security system.

In the 106th Congress, the challenge of pursuing justice will be as urgent as ever, and perhaps even more challenging. We publish our agenda now, before the 106th Congress convenes, to help shape Congress' agenda and to allow activists to prepare for a critical legislative session. This Congress has the potential for progress; it is our responsibility, our task, to make it live up to that potential.

Issue Areas


Campaign Finance Reform

Children's Issues

Civil Rights/ Civil Liberties

Economic Justice



Foreign Aid

Hate Crimes

Health Care

International Affairs

Religious Liberties

Reproductive Rights/ Women's Issues


Guided by the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh, we must strive toward an achievable goal, to provide a quality of life that is at least tolerable for each one whose journey ends in pain and suffering.

URJ Resolution on "Compassionate and Comfort Care Decisions at the End of Life," 1995

We will monitor the bio-ethics debates, including those surrounding genetic science, physician-assisted suicide, and euthanasia. We will support proposals allowing for continued medical research -- including human somatic cell nuclear transfer technology -- while protecting against the misuse of technological advancements.


Campaign Finance Reform

The skyrocketing cost of election campaigns has favored the wealthy candidate and created an increasing dependency on PAC money.

URJ Resolution on "Congressional Campaign Finance Reform," 1984

The 1998 Congressional elections, were, by all accounts, the most expensive ever. The need for reform has never been clearer. We will support national legislation, such as the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (McCain/Feingold), and participate in state legislative battles that could set precedent for federal reform. In particular, we will advance a promising reform system, "Clean Money reform," which involves voluntary, full public financing of elections.


Children's Issues

>Although the resources to improve, protect and assure the well being of children are available, nevertheless a substantial proportion of the world's children face lives of desperation.

Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) Resolution on "Insuring the Future for Our Children," 1991

We will urge Congress to increase funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which gives money to states to improve the quality of child care and to help make care affordable for low-income families.

We will continue to express our concern about juvenile crime legislation. While we agree that the juvenile justice system is in need of reform, many of the leading proposals may do more harm than good. We will urge Congress to forge responsible legislation that includes funds for rehabilitation and crime prevention programs.

Civil Rights/ Civil Liberties

All people will benefit when the barriers to true equality are removed.

CCAR Resolution on "Affirmative Action," 1978

We will support the use of scientific sampling in the 2000 Census. The Census Bureau's plan for Census 2000 combines an aggressive enumeration effort with modern scientific sampling techniques to eliminate the pervasive undercount of children, people of color and the urban poor. We will work in coalition to convince Congress that scientific sampling is the best way to ensure a 2000 census in which everyone counts.

Affirmative action is increasingly under attack, both in Washington and on a state level. Several states, such as California and Washington, have already adopted state-wide elimination of affirmative action programs. We are committed to maintaining affirmative action programs, which have proved to be a successful vehicle aimed at correcting the past injustices of our nation. We will continue to defend affirmative action by focusing our attention on how to wage successful campaigns against those who would eliminate affirmative-action programs.

We will support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which prohibits workplace discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation. Unlike race and gender, it is currently legal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in 41 states.

As technology becomes more sophisticated and internet use grows exponentially, efforts to monitor the flow of information in cyberspace will become a major issue. We will closely monitor legislative proposals regarding internet censorship which may affect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech.

Economic Justice

Judaism teaches us that poverty is destructive of human dignity and that helping people in need is a matter of fundamental principle, not an act of charity.

URJ Resolution on "Our Economic Commitment to America's Poor," 1995

We will support the Fair Minimum Wage Act, introduced by Senator Kennedy (D-MA) and Representative Bonior (D-MI) last session. This proposal would raise the minimum wage by yearly increments of fifty cents over the next two years, with the minimum wage reaching $6.15 on January 1, 2000.

We will urge Congress and the Administration to restore food stamps to legal immigrants. While food stamps were restored to some segments of the immigrant community during the 105th Congress, there are still many legal immigrants, including all of those who arrived in the United States after August 22, 1996, who are ineligible to receive these critical benefits. In addition, we will support legislation that would assist families making the transition from welfare to work - in particular by making food stamps and Medicaid more accessible to individuals and families in need.

We will urge the President and Congress to consider reforms in the Social Security system that would maintain the system's guaranteed monthly benefits and would not threaten the dependability of Social Security's benefits. We will also urge Congress to "save Social Security first" and reject tax cuts that would limit the options in a reform of the Social Security system.

We will oppose attacks on theCommunity Reinvestment Act, which requires banks to invest in the communities from which they take deposits (including low-income communities). This vital legislation may be weakened as part of efforts to modernize financial laws. We will support an expansion of the low income housing tax credit and increased funding for rental assistance vouchers and the production of housing units.


The Commission on Social Action will continue to support public education by giving high priority to educating our nation's children and instilling a sense of urgency about the challenges facing public education in our synagogues, in the larger community, and among our elected officials.

Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, April, 1998

In the 106th Congress, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will be presented for reauthorization. First enacted in 1964, ESEA includes funding to help schools with a high number of students from low-income families. Chapter I of Title I of the ESEA is an $8.5 billion dollar program that serves close to 10.5 million students in 50,000 schools and employs approximately 190,000 teachers. We will support the inclusion of equal educational opportunities for individuals from low economic backgrounds, gender equity, bilingual and immigrant education, education for persons with disabilities, funding to support drug-free and safe schools, technology funding, and funding of school repair. In addition, the RAC will oppose any attempts to redirect ESEA funding to block-grants and school vouchers.

We will also focus on other initiatives to improve the quality of public education -- by supporting stricter and more comprehensive requirements for hiring teachers, higher standards for student achievement, limited school capacity, higher reading levels by the end of the third grade, and the creation of a teacher induction program that includes mentors for newly-hired teachers.

We will continue oppose voucher proposals, a form of government subsidy given to parents for use towards tuition and other school-related expenses in public, private and parochial schools. The constitutionality of voucher programs is often questionable -- many proposals have been found to amount to government funding of religious institutions, a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause - and they threaten to undermine the public school system.


To truly fulfill the obligations of our faith, we must act as stewards of Creation, making its care one of our core responsibilities.

CCAR Resolution on "Endangered Species," 1996

We will support ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the global climate change accord that was reached in December 1997. This Protocol calls on the U.S. to reduce carbon emissions to 7% below 1990 levels by 2010. We will also urge the Administration to continue its efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions immediately, without waiting for ratification by the Senate.

We will emphasize the need to protect endangered species by strengthening the existing Endangered Species Act with new legislative efforts. We will also urge Congress to continue its financial support for the Endangered Species Act. We will oppose riders and bills that threaten endangered species.

We will oppose "Takings" legislation, which elevates private property over the common good, and often favors wealthy developers over the homeowners.

We will oppose the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which would move nuclear waste from power plants across the country to an interim site until the suitability of storing waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is determined. If passed, this bill would curtail and pre-empt many environmental health and safety laws, quadruple allowable radiation standards for waste storage, and unnecessarily endanger the health of millions who live along the transportation routes.

Foreign Aid

The Reform Jewish Movement has long argued for a strong overall U.S. foreign aid program to affirm America's interest in providing humanitarian and developmental assistance and in promoting democracy across the world.

CSA Resolution on "Foreign Aid," 1994

We will support an economic aid package to facilitate the implementation of the Wye Agreement and the Middle East peace process. The Reform Movement will continue to express our support for the Administration's valuable contribution to negotiations in the Middle East.

We will urge Congress and the Administration to support measures to foster peace and security and to protect human rights in Africa by increasing economic aid. The Reform Movement encourages both sustainable growth and fair trade, but only through concurrent improvement in education and health conditions. We will work closely with our coalition partners to examine ways in which our efforts can best assist those nations in greatest need.

Hate Crimes

Crimes against individuals threaten a person's sense of security and make the victims feel violated and vulnerable. Crimes against individuals based on their membership in a particular group, however, threaten the civil liberties of all Americans and put us all in a vulnerable situation.

Press Release, "Reform Jewish Movement Calls for Support of New Hate Crimes Legislation", 1998

We will support the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which will improve existing hate crimes statutes in two ways. First, the HCPA will expand federal authority to prosecute hate crimes which are committed on the basis of the victim's real or perceived sexual orientation, gender or disability. Second, it would remove obstacles faced by federal law enforcement officers by permitting federal prosecutions without having to prove that the victim was attacked because he/she was engaged in a federally-protected activity. In light of the tragic hate-motivated murders of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and James Byrd in Jasper, Texas, we hope that Congress will move towards timely passage of this legislation.

Health Care

When members of a society at large are ill, our responsibility - not only of the medical profession but of all of us - expands to ensure that medical resources are available at an affordable cost to those who need them.

URJ Resolution on "Reform of the Heath Care System", 1993

We will urge the House and Senate to pass a meaningful Patients' Bill of Rights. Such a bill would ensure patients full emergency room access, open medical communications without "gags," a health insurance plan with greater consumer involvement and increased access to specialty services, and the right to a fair appeals process.

We will work to increase the level of HIV/AIDS funding for research and care, and to obtain reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act. We will also be active in pursuing health care reform legislation, including health care access, managed care reform, and medical records confidentiality protections, which will benefit those living with HIV/AIDS. We will continue work with the National Organizations Responding to AIDS (NORA), and other coalition partners, to secure better quality care and treatment for those living with HIV/AIDS.

International Affairs

American participation, either direct or indirect, in the improvement of conditions in foreign countries, manifests American faith in the unity of mankind and contributes to the eventual establishment of a peaceful world.

URJ Resolution on "Foreign Aid," 1963

We will urge Congress and the Administration to continue its leadership role in the United Nations: first, by paying arrears owed to the U.N., and secondly, by developing a foreign policy that recognizes the role of the U.N. The Reform movement will support an increase in the U.N.'s involvement overseas by promoting its work in human rights, hunger and poverty relief, and combating religious persecution.

We will urge the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The treaty, which is supported by four former Joint Chiefs of Staff, would ban all nuclear explosions world-wide, thereby curbing the spread of nuclear weapons to other countries and protecting the environment from radioactive fallout. The United States' ratification is necessary for the treaty to go into effect.

We will support the Cuban Humanitarian Act, which responds to the suffering of Cuban citizens by lifting the embargo on food and medicine in Cuba. A recent report by the American Association of World Health reiterated that the embargo has resulted in "unnecessary suffering and death" by severely restricting Cuba's access to necessary medicines and medical supplies.

Religious Liberties

We oppose any government role in the sponsorship of prayer, and vigorously oppose weakening the guarantee of religious freedom in the First Amendment.

URJ Resolution on "First Amendment Rights," 1995

We will support the Religious Liberty Protection Act (RLPA), which would require the government to demonstrate a "compelling state interest" in any rule or practice which burdens the practice of religion. The legislation is a response to the 1997 Supreme Court decision in Boerne v. Flores which struck down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as it applied to the states. We will oppose any attempt to add exemptions to RLPA. While fighting for passage of RLPA on the federal level, we will offer our resources to states working toward passage of state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.

We will oppose the "Charitable Choice" provisions advanced by Senator John Ashcroft (R-MO) and others. These provisions would provide for virtually unchecked government funding of sectarian institutions. Ashcroft's proposals and other "charitable choice" plans, including school vouchers, would undermine the wall of separation between church and state by allowing public funding of religious activities.

Reproductive Rights/ Women's Issues

We affirm the legal right of a family or women to determine on the basis of is its or her own religious moral values whether or not to terminate a particular pregnancy.

CCAR Resolution on "Abortion," 1975

We will continue to urge the House and Senate to reject the Child Custody Protection Act which would make it illegal to transport a minor across State lines to obtain an abortion if that minor has not met the requirements for parental involvement in her state of residence. (The "Child Custody Protection Act" passed in the House of Representatives in the 105th Congress, but it died in a Senate filibuster).

We will work to defeat the so-called "Partial Birth Abortion" Ban Act which would effectively prohibit doctors from providing the best treatment for their patients and further erode a woman's constitutional right to choose.

We will support the Violence Against Women Act of 1998 (VAWA II). This comprehensive bill would build on a 1994 statute act by providing additional funding for anti-violence initiatives and setting tougher penalties for certain crimes against women. Its provisions will limit the effects of violence on children, provide funding for the prevention of sexual assaults, and provide funding and assistance for victims of domestic violence.

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Upcoming Conferences and Events

Bernard and Audre Rapoport
L'Taken Social Justice Seminars

for High School Students

Social Justice Summer in DC:
Machon Kaplan

June 23 - July 25, 2010

Save the Date!
Consultation on Conscience
May 1 -3, 2011


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