Rabbi David Saperstein: "As Jews, our tradition and history teach us that we should not stand by as others suffer- we envision a government which 'to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance' (George Washington, in a letter to Moses Seixas, 1790). Yet LGBT students are frequently victimized in their own schools and at the hands of their fellow students."
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WASHINGTON, D.C., April 7, 2014 -- As a member of the National Safe Schools Partnership, the Religious Action Center participated today in a month-long advocacy campaign in support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act. Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, sent the following letter to Members of the 113th Congress:
Dear Member of Congress,
On behalf of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.3 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes 2,000 Reform rabbis, I urge you to support and co-sponsor the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA, H.R. 1199/S. 403) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA, H.R. 1652/S. 1088), to ensure that all students have safe and supportive learning environments free from harassment and discrimination.
The Reform Jewish Movement has long been active in the struggle for civil rights for all Americans, including members of the LGBT community. As people of faith, our holy texts teach us that all people are created in the Divine image, b'tselem Elohim (Gen. 1:27), and should thus be treated with respect and dignity. As Jews, our tradition and history teach us that we should not stand by as others suffer- we envision a government which "to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance" (George Washington, in a letter to Moses Seixas, 1790). Yet LGBT students are frequently victimized in their own schools and at the hands of their fellow students.
According to a 2011 study of more than 8,500 LGBT middle and high school students across the U.S., eight in ten reported experiencing harassment at school because of their sexual orientation and nearly two-thirds because of their gender expression. Moreover, over a third of LGBT students have reported being physically harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Evidence has shown that harassment and intimidation has a significant impact on the psychological, emotional, and academic welfare of LGBT students.
The Safe School Improvement Act (SSIA) would ensure that school and districts develop and implement comprehensive student conduct policies that include clear prohibitions against bullying and harassment. Furthermore, this legislation would ensure that schools focus on effective prevention strategies to protect students. The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) would establish a comprehensive federal prohibition against discrimination and harassment of LGBT students in public elementary and secondary schools across the country. SNDA would provide much needed federal protection for LGBT students and their families and friends.
At its root, this issue is about the welfare of children, and the basic right of all Americans to a quality education, free from daily physical violence, intimidation, and persecution. The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA, H.R. 1199/S. 403) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA, H.R. 1652/S. 1088) are important steps toward this goal. I urge you to support and co-sponsor SSIA and SNDA to make schools a safe place for all students.
Rabbi David Saperstein