Statement on Church-State Relations

Statement on Church-State Relations (1/10)

The role of religion in American democracy and the relationship of the state to organized religion have been central issues to the American Jewish Committee since it was founded almost one hundred years ago. In 1925, our first amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court in the case Pierce v. The Society of the Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus and Mary supported the rights of Roman Catholic parents in Oregon to send their children to their parochial schools. That decision guaranteed the right of all Americans to educate their children in religious schools if they choose to do so.

With the same vigor, we have continuously fought to eliminate state-sponsored prayers in public schools, while working to ensure the rights of students to recite their own prayers and honor their own religious traditions during the school day so long as they do not interfere with the rights of others.

Until last December, our most recent major policy statements on church-state issues dated from 1979 (Religion and Public Education: A Statement of Views) and 1990 (Report of the Task Force on Sectarian Social Services and Public Funding). In the last two decades, much has changed, both in practice and in law, with significant impact on these issues: the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition have endeavored to inject religious beliefs and values into the public sphere; efforts have been made to provide vouchers for parochial schools and to return prayer to public schools; the 1996 welfare reform act provided funding for pervasively religious institutions to provide social services, with few protections and limitations on the entanglement of religion and state; and the Supreme Court has steadily chipped away at the “wall of separation” between church and state in America.

Recognizing that “healthy debate and continuous self-examination are the signs of a strong and vital agency,” former AJC President Bruce Ramer in August 2000 appointed a Task Force of agency leaders from across the country, representing a spectrum of viewpoints on these subjects, to analyze and review the field, study and evaluate changes in policy and law that have taken place, and listen to experts and practitioners, with the goal of reviewing and updating our policy positions. Because these issues are important to AJC members throughout the country, the Task Force involved all of our thirty-three chapters, as well as the Board of Governors, in this review, seeking advice and comments on issues, as well as on draft proposals.

The Task Force has now completed its reexamination of these policy issues in light of changes in government policy, jurisprudence, and social conditions since AJC last issued pronouncements on them, and the Board of Governors has adopted the recommendations of the Task Force as delineated on the pages that follow.

Martin S. Kaplan
Chair of the Church-State Task Force

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