Tag Archives: Church State Separation
lighting candles in a menorah

Light a Candle for Understanding

This time of year, it’s hard not to be drawn into conversations about the place of religious expression in public life. Christmas decorations abound, and religious minorities play up the celebration of a winter holiday to stake out a place in their communities. There is always a conversation about how important Hanukkah is in the Jewish tradition, probably a result of the effort I described to feel represented in a community or society where there is a widely-celebrated religious holiday.

Often, communities, local governments – particularly schools – also struggle with this question of representing different religions. The December Dilemma, as it is often called, describes the often uncomfortable conversation parents, students and other community members have to have about how not to make people feel alienated in their community.

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church street and state street signs pointing in different directions

Two Birds with One Stone

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).

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Senior LA Sarah Greenberg submitting testimony at House Armed Services

House Subcommittee Hearing on Religious Accommodations in the Military, Today!

At 2pm this afternoon, the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel is having a hearing on Religious Accommodations in the Armed Services. This promises to be a fascinating hearing with a number of interesting people testifying before the committee:

  • Mr. Michael Berry, Senior Counsel, Director of Military Affairs, Liberty Institute
  • Dr. Ron Crews, Executive Director, Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty
  • Mr. Rabbi Bruce Kahn, CAPT, CHC, USN (Ret)
  • Mr. Travis Weber, Director, Center for Religious Liberty Family Research Council
  • Mr. Michael Weinstein, President, Military Religious Freedom Foundation

You can watch the hearing live here.

This hearing comes at an auspicious time, when the Air Force released new regulations regarding religious expression. As we learn more about what the implementations of policy will mean for actual religious freedom and Establishment issues in the Armed Services, we will follow this closely.

In advance of the hearing today, RAC Deputy Director Rachel Laser submitted testimony for the record (I submitted it in-person on her behalf), which is included below: Read more…

Senior LA Sarah Greenberg, Pocket Constitution

Happy Constitution Day! Reflecting on our “First Freedoms”

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.

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Vote signs, American flags

Congregational Dos and Don’ts for This Election Season

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.

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Reform Jewish Leader Praises Administration’s Plan to Bar LGBT Discrimination in Federal Contracts

In response to reports that the administration will ban discrimination by federal contractors against LGBT workers, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center, issued the following statement:

“We are elated by the reports of the President’s decision today to sign two executive orders, extending workplace protection to LGBT employees of federal contractors and to transgender employees of the federal government. We commend President Obama for these important steps affirming that the government should not fund discrimination through its contracts.  These orders represent a significant step in ensuring equal opportunity in the workplace. They expand the Administration’s consistently robust efforts to protect the fundamental rights of LGBT people (as it has done through key steps such as its support for marriage equality and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act). According to the Williams Institute, this executive order would protect 14 million more workers whose employers or states do not already uphold non-discrimination policies. Moreover, this order will demonstrate to Congress that workplace protection for LGBT employees is good for individuals and good for business. Read more…

Supreme Court

Updates: Since the Hobby Lobby Decision

A week ago today, the Supreme Court came down in what will be noted as one of the most important decisions in recent memory. In finding that closely-held corporations have the right to free exercise of religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), these entities can thus seek exemptions from the contraception mandate. Although the majority opinion showed significant effort on the part of the Court to curtail RFRA-based exemptions to the contraception mandate and the contraception mandate only, it is clear that the Hobby Lobby case will have serious and significant impact.

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Supreme Court

Understanding the Greece v. Galloway Decision

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled (5-4) in Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway that sectarian prayer before a legislative session does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Since 1999, the town of Greece, NY has been inviting local clergy to lead a prayer before monthly town board meetings. Susan Galloway and Lisa Stephens (respondents) sued the Town of Greece, claiming that the town violated the Establishment Clause by preferring Christianity over other prayer leaders and in sponsoring sectarian prayer. Read more…

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