As Jews, members of a religious minority within the United States, we are particularly sensitive to the relationship between religion and state in this nation. The American tradition of religious freedom has enabled the Jewish community to flourish in the most religiously pluralistic nation in history.  The First Amendment’s guarantees of the free exercise of religion and prohibition against the establishment of religion are designed to ensure that Americans of all faiths and of all beliefs can live as their consciences dictate.


An important national debate continues about the relationship between religion and state.  This debate has taken on renewed visibility in recent years, as faith is increasingly invoked in both electoral campaigns and the development of public policy, such as the faith based initiative.


Proponents of increasing the relationship between government and religious entities argue that the wall separating church and state has resulted in hostility to religion that is to the detriment of religious institutions, people of faith, and society in general. Opponents argue that an increased role for religion in governmental institutions and activities threatens the pluralistic fabric of our society.


Religious minorities have thrived in part because of the strong tenets of religious protection that this country has traditionally provided. We are concerned that religious liberty is being threatened by elected and appointed officials who voice exclusionary religious viewpoints using the public forums afforded by their positions.


This debate occurs simultaneously with a significant change in the judicial interpretations of the Constitution’s religious liberty clauses. With regard to the Free Exercise Clause, it remains the case that this bedrock freedom upon which this nation was founded remains, essentially, without judicially enforceable protection.  The 1990 ruling of Employment Division v. Smith remains in force, permitting government actions to infringe upon religious practices, with minimal justification.  Moreover, the Supreme Court has, to date, rebuffed Congress’ efforts to reinstate legislatively what the Jewish community believes is the appropriate level of protection for Free Exercise rights.  With regard to the Establishment Clause, recent Supreme Court rulings have shifted away from the doctrine of “strict separation” towards the principle of “neutrality” as a touchstone for this jurisprudence.  While recent court rulings have mandated that government programs and resources must, more than heretofore, treat religious speech, activities, and organizations in the same manner as those that are secular, there remain unresolved legal and policy questions when government funds flow to pervasively religious institutions and programs.


In light of these changes and the increasingly divisive rhetoric in the public arena that threatens to polarize our society, it is critical that the Jewish community affirm its historical support for the separation of religion and state.


The JCPA believes that:


The community relations field should:


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