Protecting Civil Rights
The JCPA believes that in our increasingly pluralistic society, a clear division between religion and state remains the best way to preserve and promote civil rights and liberties for all Americans, people regardless of their faith, race, national origin, mental or physical disabilities, political leaning, sexual orientation, and gender identity can and should play a vital role in public discourse. However, attempts to influence public policy should be tempered by both respect and tolerance for diverse beliefs and practices, as well as the principle that government must treat all its citizens equally; The public policy agenda of the American Jewish community should be guided by what best serves our community’s values and interests in the context of a democratic and pluralistic society. We should continue to oppose changes which we consider detrimental to our core values, the interests of the Jewish community, or the pluralistic nature of our society.
Advancing Fair Elections and Protecting the Right to Vote
The cornerstone of democracy is the election process. The rights of individuals to run for office, support candidates of their choice, volunteer, contribute, and vote is essential. Safeguards are needed to prevent fraud, but in general the more open the electoral process, the more likely the will of the citizenry will be reflected in our government. The JCPA believes that the Voting Rights Amendment Act should be passed to placate the damage done by Shelby v Holder in allowing states to severely limit the ways and places you can register to vote and vote in an election. In that right, the JCPA strongly urges states enacting Voter ID laws to include measures that facilitate the voting process by issuing free state IDs, exempting the requirement of photo IDs with absentee ballots, expanding of the number of allowable IDs, and accepting common name derivatives. The JCPA believes all people have the right to vote and should not be restricted by the dates and times of election. For that reason, the JCPA supports institution of easy voting alternatives such as early voting days, mail-by-vote same day registration, and other systems that help all people achieve the right of one person, one vote. The JCPA supports measures to ensure that redistricting efforts are implemented in a manner that does not systematically negate any racial/ethnic group, socio-economic class or political ideology. The JCPA opposes any effort to Gerrymander voting districts or cause polling places to be inaccessible to all people of that district. The JCPA is committed to the fair interpretation and enforcement of federal campaign finance laws by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Serious study should be made of the role of special interest money in elections, and the ability of public financing of elections to mitigate any corrosive influence it may have. Such reforms could help ensure that elections revolve around ideas to improve and strengthen our democracy.
Crafting a Fairer Criminal Justice System
The JCPA believes: Criminal Justice Reform, at the federal, state, and local level, can result in a more effective and efficient criminal justice system. Reforms to all phases of our criminal justice system, based on sound data, can re-establish public faith and trust in the system, minimize mistakes, reduce recidivism, and conserve resources. They include improvements in the areas of prevention, investigations, prosecution, corrections, education, training, and re-entry. There are economic benefits in moving a substantial segment of the population toward productivity who would have otherwise faced insurmountable barriers to employment and re-integration after release from incarceration. Scores of post-conviction exonerations remind us that our system can and does convict innocent people. On both the state and federal levels, reforms are needed to ensure accountability for conduct and performance of police and prosecutors. Access to competent counsel is both constitutionally mandated and essential to prevent miscarriages of justice. The inadequacy of the current system too often results in justice denied. Appropriate funding of our courts and the public defender system, including access to DNA evidence where appropriate, can help ensure that justice is neither delayed nor denied, as when the outcomes of criminal proceedings hinge arbitrarily on a defendant’s finances. Alternatives to incarceration, trial or prosecution, such as community program diversion, electronic monitoring, drug courts (which have served as a model), mandatory drug counseling, and other types of treatment for mental health issues should be used more frequently. Increased use of alternatives to incarceration may enhance the likelihood that youth will grow into responsible, self-respecting productive adults. Prisons should serve their deterrent and rehabilitative purposes and not exacerbate societal ills. Lack of adequate rehabilitation programming, medical and behavioral health services, substance abuse treatment, educational opportunities, and family contact, tragically neglect the opportunity to prepare individuals for productive participation in society. Prison conditions, including serious overcrowding, exessive and extended use of solitary confinement, and pervasive sexual violence, can impose hardships and dire consequences more egregious than those imposed by our laws. These conditions may constitute human rights violations that should be examined and addressed. Adequate funding for and increased access to re-entry and parole programs can assist the successful reintegration of former prisoners, foster public safety by reducing recidivism, and promote responsible citizenship. Reentry planning should include educational programs and job training, access to medical and mental health care, including substance abuse treatment, to reduce recidivism. Denying access to public assistance, SNAP, and student loans to individuals, who would otherwise qualify for these benefits, is short-sighted and counterproductive. These programs should be provided before and after release from incarceration so as to ease transition into the workforce. Individuals serving mandatory drug related sentences should be eligible to apply for parole related programs as well as “good conduct” credits. The JCPA has consistently supported and reiterates its support for the automatic restoration of voting rights to people released from prison. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs believes treating personal marijuana use as a public health issue and not a criminal justice one is a more appropriate and effective way to address the issue. Among the possible reform measures that may warrant study and consideration are decriminalization; community program diversion; and greater government investment in services such as drug counseling, treatment for mental health issues, and other rehabilitation and social supports services. Avoidance of incarceration should be the default approach for low-level drug possession. Incarceration should be reserved for more serious offenses.
Defending Religious Liberty
The JCPA believes that in our increasingly pluralistic society, a clear division between religion and state remains the best way to preserve and promote religious rights and liberties for all Americans, including the Jewish community; Religious institutions and people of faith can and should play a vital role in public discourse. The separation of religion and state does not mandate silence from such individuals and institutions with respect to matters of public policy. However, attempts to influence public policy should be tempered by both respect and tolerance for diverse beliefs and practices, as well as the principle that government must treat all its citizens equally, regardless of religious belief or the lack thereof; The public policy agenda of the American Jewish community should be guided by what best serves our community’s values and interests in the context of a democratic and pluralistic society. Even where an increased role of religion in the public square may be judicially interpreted as constitutional, we should continue to oppose changes which we consider detrimental to our core values, the interests of the Jewish community, or the pluralistic nature of our society. The JCPA further believes that laws that use religion as a shield for discrimination are abhorrent. This is especially true for recent state “Religious Freedom Acts” or RFRA’s which have often allowed employees, non -religious businesses, and employees to discriminate people who are members of the LGBTQQIS community who are often targets due to upsets with hereto-normal marriage.