For Immediate Release
October 11, 2017
WASHINGTON—On Friday, October 6, the Department of Justice issued a memorandum on “Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty.” The memorandum is related to an executive order issued by President Trump last May over which the Reform Movement expressed dismay. In response, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, and wider Reform Movement:
"We are concerned about the dangers that the memorandum issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on religious liberty poses for Americans’ hard-won civil rights. We fear that the Department of Justice’s memorandum will be interpreted in such a way that distorts the careful balance that the nation has struck between defending freedom of conscience and the right of all Americans to enjoy equal protections under the law.
“The memorandum creates ambiguity over the extent to which employers can interpret existing civil rights and religious liberty protections to discriminate against Americans. We are alarmed by the potential for the principles laid out in this memorandum to permit employers receiving government dollars – including contractors and grantees – to discriminate against Americans on account of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or other parts of their identity. We also fear that this memorandum could denigrate the standard for what constitutes a “substantial burden” in the eyes of the federal government and create a workaround for essential anti-discrimination laws.
“We are committed as people of faith to religious liberty as a fundamental right and the protections it affords all Americans. As Jews, we deplore any attempt to pit the right of Americans to live according to their beliefs against their right to live their fullest lives.”
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 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.
Sarah Garfinkel, West End Strategy Team