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Supreme Court Decision Undermines Separation of Church and State

Supreme Court Decision Undermines Separation of Church and State

For Immediate Release
June 26, 2017

Contact: Max Rosenblum
202.387.2800 | news@rac.org

Press Release from the Religious Action Center

WASHINGTON – In response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer to allow taxpayer dollars to flow directly to houses of worship, undermining the separation of church and state, Barbara Weinstein, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis and wider Reform Movement:

The Supreme Court’s (7-2) ruling today undermines core constitutional principles. In ruling for the first time that taxpayer dollars can be granted directly to a house of worship (in this case, for the purpose of playground resurfacing), the Supreme Court has weakened the separation of church and state. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment has long been interpreted to bar direct government funding to houses of worship, with the understanding that such support amounts to government endorsement both of religion in general, and of specific religious traditions, denominations or communities.

The Reform Movement has long opposed direct government funding for houses of worship because we understand that a strong separation between church and state enhances religious freedom, and is protective of both religion and government. For this reason, we were pleased to join a faith-community amicus brief in this case organized by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Religious communities will be constrained in fulfilling their prophetic mission and living openly and freely without fear of government infringement if they are competing against each other for government grants. Further, with government monies comes government rules, regulations and oversight as the government exercises its right to review the use of public funds.

While there is disagreement from the justices in the majority on how broadly the ruling should apply to the issue of direct funding, this decision has opened the door for a major shift in the relationship between houses of worship and the government that would weaken both. The logic underlying this decision – that houses of worship should be treated the same as other eligible entities receiving government funds – threatens the special protections and exemptions that religious organizations have enjoyed under the First Amendment since our nation’s founding.

It is precisely because of the long-standing American principles of separation of church and state and religious freedom that have fostered robust religious pluralism and ensured rights, freedoms and opportunities to religious minorities in the United States to an extent nearly unsurpassed in other nations. We remain committed to these ideals and we will continue to fight for a United States that values religious freedom and separation of church and state.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose nearly 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 2,000 Reform rabbis. Visit www.rac.org for more.

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