In just under three weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Sebelius v. Hobby LobbyStores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius. These two cases ask whether private corporations have ability to exercise religious freedom, and if so, whether the contraception mandate enacted by the Affordable Care Act violates the religious freedom of those corporations under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). If you want to read more about the details of the case, and to learn more about the Reform Movement’s position on the contraception mandate, check out this blog.
During School Choice Week in January, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced two bills that would transform the public education system as we know it. By privatizing a majority of funds for public schools, The Scholarships for Kids Act (S. 1968/H.R. 4000) and The Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act (S. 1909) (or the “CHOICE Act”) would together turn a significant amount of federal education funds into vouchers.
In the wake of School Choice Week, advocates took to their bully pulpits to rally support for state and federal school voucher programs. Supporters of vouchers in Congress have introduced new legislation that would redirect much-needed funding from public schools to private schools.
The Reform Movement has consistently opposed vouchers for many reasons, such as taxpayer funding for private education is essentially giving up on the public education system, and many of the private schools that receive government money are religious schools, thus violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and breaking down the separation between church and state.
Nothing says the end of January like school choice, right? January 26th kicked off “National School Choice Week,” a week of advocacy focused on different types of educational opportunities for children, from public schools, to charter schools, and above all, vouchers.
The term “school choice” and the language proponents use masks the detrimental effect that voucher programs have. Vouchers are a form of government subsidy given to parents to use towards tuition and other related expenses in private and parochial schools as an alternative to sending their children to underperforming public schools. From an purely education standpoint, vouchers are harmful because they redirect money from public schools to private schools – once the funds have gone to private schools, the general populace no longer has control over how the public money is spent. Ultimately, the “choice” in “school choice” lies with private school administrators, and not with parents. Read more…
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is probably best known for two things at this juncture: the website and the so-called “contraception cases.” In between the enrollment push and the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cases at the Supreme Court, it can be easy to forget about the other moving parts. At the beginning of the new year, a significant component of the contraception mandate will take effect, ending what is called the “safe harbor.”
When I was in second grade, a classmate’s mother handmade Christmas stockings for every student and hung them on shelves near our desks. There were two stockings too many to fit the shelf space, so they were put up against the wall on the other side of the room, disconnected from the rest of their brethren stockings. And in that little corner of the classroom, next those two lonely stockings, were three sad little Hanukkah bags. To add a level of irony, the school I went to was the American School in Japan. In a country where American Christians are in the minority, it was considered acceptable to sideline my religion.
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From its founding to present day, the United States has deeply valued religious liberty: the right of every individual to practice their religion as they interpret it – or to not be religious – without involvement or oversight from the government. The Reform Jewish Movement has been particularly outspoken on this issue, understanding deeply that religious liberty has allowed our faith to flourish in America.
On Thursday, advocates, religious leaders, scholars, and people passionate about this topic gathered at the Newseum for “Restored or Endangered? The State of Free Exercise of Religion in America,” a symposium celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel of the RAC and a critical player in the passage of RFRA, participated in the first panel of the day on the necessity of RFRA and what has happened in the subsequent years on the judicial and legislative levels. The other panelists, all of whom were deeply involved in the passage of RFRA in 1993, included Oliver Thomas, a religious liberty attorney and chair of the coalition that helped draft and enact RFRA; Mark Chopko, Chair of the Nonprofit and Religious Organizations practice group at Stradley Ronon Stevens and Young; and Steve McFarland, vice president and chief legal officer at World Vision. Read more…
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the first case in thirty years in which the Court will rule on legislative prayer. The central question in the case is whether legislative prayer violates the Establishment Clause, even if there is no discrimination in the selection of people to give the prayer.
The town council in Greece, NY (near Rochester) opens its public sessions with a prayer; a majority of the time it is led by a member of the Christian clergy. The case was brought by two women from Greece, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, who believe the explicitly Christian prayers in the town council meetings reflect a violation of the separation of church and state, and an infringement upon the religious liberty of the individuals present. Read more…