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April 19, 2001

NJDC Challenges RJC & Bush “Faith-Based” Plan Backers to Debate in Jewish Communities Across America

Listed in: Other Domestic Policy, Separation of Church and State, NJDC News, Press Releases

Washington, DC: In a letter to Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matthew Brooks today, National Jewish Democratic Council Executive Director Ira N. Forman invited Mr. Brooks or any other RJC representative or supporter of President Bush's "faith-based" social service funding plan to debate the issue in Washington and in Jewish community forums across the country.

"The Bush plan is bad for religious freedom in America and it's bad for the Jewish community which holds that freedom in such high regard, and the National Jewish Democratic Council will welcome any Jewish community forum across the country in which we can openly and honestly discuss this issue," Mr. Forman said today regarding the letter. "In the February-March edition of the Republican Jewish Coalition's 'Bulletin,' Nathan Lewin opined, 'What, precisely, is wrong with governmental funding of social-service programs operated by 'faith-based' providers such as churches, synagogues or mosques?' The answer to most American Jews is clear. First, President Bush's program - as introduced in Congress - will permit requiring attendance at religious services as a condition of receiving benefits from federally-funded programs. As members of a minority faith, I have to think that Jews across the country will take issue with the thought that a judge could order a young juvenile offender of any faith to attend a church-run counseling program which requires sitting through prayer meetings. Second, under this plan, religious institutions may practice employment discrimination when they are hiring federally-funded staff to run their social service programs. A church, synagogue or mosque may not only refuse to hire staff of a certain faith, but they can also refuse to hire staff because of how they live their lives. I believe that most American Jews will consider federally-funded discrimination to be anathema.

"There are ways for religiously-affiliated social service providers to partner with government with appropriate constitutional safeguards, and for decades, the Jewish community has overwhelmingly supported such efforts by the Jewish Federation system and Catholic Charities, among other worthy organizations. But President Bush's plan, which offers no new money to address society's problems, rightly sets off warning lights in the minds of American Jews across the country. This is an issue deserving a serious and substantive debate, and NJDC will welcome any opportunity to work with the RJC to bring such a debate to American Jewish communities from coast to coast."