Tag Archives: Church State Separation
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…

Supreme Court

Reform Movement Condemns Supreme Court Legislative Prayer Ruling

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

We are deeply disappointed by today’s Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, upholding sectarian prayer before a legislative session. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that requiring invocations be nonsectarian would call on the legislatures sponsoring these prayers and the courts to intervene and “act as supervisors and censors of religious speech.” Yet, Justice Kennedy did suggest there were limits to such prayers, among them: denigrating non-believers or religious minorities, threatening damnation, or preaching conversion — leaving courts in exactly the same role as line-drawers.  The record has shown that the overwhelming majority of prayers offered were Christian. That is why we were pleased to join an amicus brief to the Court, opposing the constitutionality of the town of Greece’s practices, along with a diverse array of faith and religiously-affiliated groups.

An individual’s religious belief – or non-belief – ought not be a prerequisite to accessing the political process. The Greece v. Galloway decision undermines the fundamental American principle of equal participation in government, regardless of the faith of the individual.

For more information on the RAC’s views on the separation of church and state and religion in the public sphere, contact Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Sarah Greenberg or visit our Religious Liberties web portal.

Defend Women's Reproductive Rights

Pursuing Choice in the States: Can We Move from Defense to Offense?

Focusing, as we do, on federal policy, it is heartening that the major anti-choice legislation before Congress right now, The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, S.1670 (a 20-week ban) and The Parental Notification and Intervention Act of 2013, H.R. 3601 (requiring minors to notify and get consent from their parents with few exceptions), are not currently in the forefront of peoples’ minds. That is, it is heartening that these bills are not in the forefront of national discussion. Reproductive rights and attempts to limit them consistently inspire reflection and debate.

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Seder Plate

Freedom to Wander, Freedom to Believe: Religious Freedom on Passover

It is probably a safe assumption that Passover is most likely to be associated with freedom. As we move through the Seder, we reflect on our ancestors’ fight for freedom and those around the world today who are not free.

What is interesting to me, though, is that the Torah is not translated for the words “freedom” or “free.” Moses does not go before Pharaoh and ask for freedom, rather he asks for his people to be let go. And, I think this is a subtle and important distinction. There is something particular about being released from oppression, compared to assuming the rights to live according to your own beliefs and views. They are hopefully complementary actions.

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