Jun 1, 1999
Religion and State
As Jews, we are particularly sensitive to the relationship between "church and state" in American society. In particular, we appreciate the protections afforded by the "free exercise clause" and "establishment clause" of the Bill of Rights.
The RCA continues to vigorously support reasonable accommodation of religious freedom as guaranteed by the Constitution. We are thankful for the various laws passed over the years that provide such reasonable accommodation and are proud of the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"). RFRA was enacted in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Employment Division v. Smith, which held that the first amendment did not require any justification for governmental action which impinged on the ability of citizens to practice their religion. RFRA restored the law as it was prior to the Smith decision; i.e. that the government must provide a compelling justification before it may burden a religious practice. In 1997, the U. S. Supreme Court struck down RFRA as unconstitutional. The Religious Liberty Protection Act ("RLPA") was subsequently introduced in Congress to once again address this issue.
The RCA, through its political ties, has been actively engaged in developing RLPA and advocating its enactment into laws.
With regard to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the RCA continues to be concerned about efforts to use this constitutional provision as a weapon against government accommodation of religion in this country. The Framers of the Constitution to ensure safeguards against religious coercion crafted this clause.
We therefore resolve that:
The RCA will continue to be a member of the RLPA coalition and actively support and participate legislative efforts to secure the passage of RLPA.
The RCA will actively work with the WRFA coalition for the enactment of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act.
The RCA will continue to oppose efforts to promote state sponsored prayer in the public schools and at the school-sponsored activities because we believe that such prayers would either constitute religious coercion or be crafted in such a way as to demean the institution of prayer. The RCA continues to strongly support public schools' accommodation of students' rights to personal religious observance.
We shall continue our long-standing support for the principle of including religious institutions in general public programs to address societal needs, such as child-care, elder care and substance abuse rehabilitation. This principle has come to be known as "charitable choice." We continue to support the notion that religious institutions should be eligible to receive government subsidies-on the basis of religion-neutral criteria-for the purpose of supporting social service programs for which the government already supports other non-government service providers. By utilizing religion-neutral selection criteria and requiring appropriate safeguards against religious coercion, charitable choice programs can be of great benefit to American society.
The RC A will continue to speak out on these issues and will join in appropriate efforts with the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs and other groups to promote the reasonable accommodation of religion and to ensure that our students and institutions are not necessarily excluded from full participc1tion in meaningful education and social service efforts.