Separation of Church and State

Description

The United States was the first nation in history to build its society on the foundation of separation between church and state. The First Amendment to the Constitution is the cornerstone of American religious freedom, ensuring through the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause that the government does not support religious practices, favor one religion over another or unnecessarily interfere with the private practice of religion. The founders of our country recognized that what makes religion so powerful is the unique and diverse ways in which people practice it. Separation of church and state is not only a moral issue but also a practical, legal, and political one. When church and state are mixed, it harms them both. When the government imposes on religion, religion loses the independence guaranteed to it by the Constitution.

Why Should Jews Care

Neither Biblical texts nor Talmudic rulings completely explain the Jewish community’s strong commitment to the separation of church and state. Rather, the Jewish historical experience as “strangers in a strange land,” often suffering from persecution as a religious minority, informs our support for a separation of religion and state in the United States. The First Amendment made the United States the refuge of choice for Jews and others throughout the world when faced with persecution and oppression in countries without equivalent guarantees. American Jews have enjoyed the constitutionally-protected freedom to exercise religion and to organize communal lives under equal protection of the law. As members of a religious minority whose history is so dominated by oppression, we are especially sensitive to any effort to weaken the safeguards of pluralism and minority expression.

Take Action

For more than 50 years, a provision in the federal tax code has prohibited 501(c)(3) organizations, including houses of worship, from engaging in partisan politics. This crucial provision, known as the “Johnson Amendment,” has safeguarded the integrity of both religious institutions and the political process by protecting the separation of church and state. Any effort to weaken or repeal the prohibition on partisan politicking undermines synagogues' independence and the First Amendment principle of religious freedom and must be opposed.

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Related Issues

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The Johnson Amendment

The Johnson Amendment is a provision in the federal tax code that prohibits partisan politicking by non-profits, including houses of worship.  For more than 50 years, the Johnson Amendment has safeguarded the integrity of both religious institutions and the political process by protecting the separation of church and state. 

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School Vouchers

Vouchers are a form of government subsidy given to parents for use toward tuition and related expenses in private and parochial schools as an alternative to attending public schools. Voucher programs divert public taxpayer money to private schools, including parochial and other religious schools.

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Protecting Civil Rights

Since assuming office, the Trump administration has proposed policies that allow government agencies, grantees, and contractors to discriminate against employees and beneficiaries on the basis of religion while still receiving federal funding. 

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Related Press Releases

Reform Jewish Movement Denounces Supreme Court Decision Allowing Government Funding of Religious Education

In response to the Supreme Court decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue permitting state funding of private religious education, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, released the following statement on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference on American Rabbis and the wider Reform Movement institutions:

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Reform Judaism's Resolutions on Separation of Church and State

Learn more about the position of the Reform Movement on these key issues, and read the formal resolutions by URJ and CCAR.

View URJ Resolutions View Other Reform Judaism Resolutions

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Contact Our Legislative Assistants

For more information on this issue, contact Senior Legislative Assistant Jacob Greenblatt at (202) 387-2800.    

What our partners are doing

​​​​​​The RAC is a member of the National Coalition for Public Education, which supports public schools and opposes the funneling of public money to private and religious schools through vouchers, tuition tax credits, education savings accounts, and portability.