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January 29, 2001

President Bush’s Newest Plan Threatens Religious Freedom as Never Before

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

Presence of One Jewish Representative at White House Event Signals Jewish Sentiment Against Plan

Washington, DC: President George W. Bush today ordered the establishment of a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, marking a new and unprecedented level of entanglement between religious institutions and government institutions. The American Jewish community, which has long supported the separation of church and state, unsurprisingly was not well represented at today's White House pronouncement. Despite the disproportionate resources allocated by the American Jewish community for the provision of social services in the United States, only one out of the 35 representatives of faith-based and social service organizations at the White House ceremony today appeared on behalf of a Jewish organization, according to an attendance list released by the White House press office.

"President Bush's plan, through which government would directly support religious institutions - including government-sponsored employment discrimination against people of different faiths, and government backing for direct proselytizing - poses an unprecedented threat to true religious freedom in America," said Ira N. Forman, Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. "It is unthinkable that plans such as these could create federally-funded jobs which could be denied to Jewish applicants solely on the basis of their Judaism. And it is a similarly objectionable violation of conscience that American Jews should be asked to fund - through their tax dollars - religious programs or, as President Bush has previously indicated, government-funded study of the Koran or Bible (Beliefnet interview, October, 2000). Coming as we do from the perspective of a minority faith, American Jews are uniquely aware of the need for the separation of church and state. In fact, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 87 percent of American Jews are in some level of agreement with the statement that 'one of the most important reasons our political system is successful is the principle of separation of church and state' (January, 2001). Thus it should come as no surprise that American Jews - and those who support religious freedom - will oppose President Bush's plan.

"Religious freedom and religious diversity has thrived in America - unlike many other regions of the globe - precisely because government has not meddled in religious matters. And with government support will invariably come government restrictions and requirements that will threaten the autonomy and independence of religion. In short, this plan is bad for religion and bad for religious freedom. Hopefully President Bush will take seriously the objections and concerns of the vast majority of the American Jewish community."