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Church State Separation

In this age of intersecting social justice imperatives -- when advocates are looking for important overlaps between traditionally defined policy areas -- it's important to remember one key issue that has serious repercussions for both our public school system and the separation of church and state: vouchers.

Vouchers (and some private school tax credits), known to some as "school choice" efforts, essentially take money away from public schools and funnel it towards private, often parochial schools. The public schools system epitomizes the American values of opportunity and equality, and the Jewish people have historically been major supporters of our public school system in keeping with the values laid out by Maimonides who wrote that "any city that does not have a school in it shall be cut off [all contact] until they find a teacher for the children" (Hilchot Talmud Torah 2:1).

At 2pm this afternoon, the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel is having a hearing on Religious Accommodations in the Armed Services.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

These fifteen words shape our nation’s “First Freedoms,” enshrined in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights as the separation of church and state (the Establishment Clause) and religious freedom (the Free Exercise Clause).

Bill of Rights; quill; American flag

227 years ago today, when the Constitution was ratified, these freedoms and the many others in the Bill of Rights, were not included. Many of the Framers thought the enumeration of these rights was unnecessary. Four years after the ratification of the Constitution, on December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights was added to the law of the land. But, it was not until the 1940s that the Supreme Court used the Fourteenth Amendment to extend the Religion Clauses to state and local governments.

As the full force of the 2014 election cycle begins, we are reminded of the importance of participating in our democracy and making our voices heard on the important policy issues of today. We know that as Reform Jews, we have a unique perspective to share.

A week ago today, the Supreme Court came down in what will be noted as one of the most important decisions in recent memory.

Sarah Greenberg