February 25, 2007
The American Jewish Community has historically supported civil rights and individual liberties. The mission statement of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs expresses a commitment to protect, preserve, and promote a just American society. The American Jewish community has a “direct stake” in promoting individual liberties, and an “ethical imperative” to do so, recognizing that our values call us to assure freedom, justice, and liberty for all peoples, of all faiths, creeds and ethnicities.
The struggle to maintain and preserve civil rights and individual liberties has been an ongoing one, requiring eternal vigilance. It remains so today, perhaps even more so. History has taught us the danger of compromising individual rights at times of crisis. As always, the needs to protect our system of government and our nation require that we balance the rights and interests of society with those of the individual.
Increasingly, challenges to civil liberties and individual rights arise in the state and municipal arena. A concerted effort has been made to challenge the role of courts, traditionally a bulwark against the ‘tyranny of the majority,’ in protecting the rights of individuals.
The JCPA believes that:
- The Jewish community must broaden its focus from viewing civil rights and individual liberties as matters falling exclusively within the purview of the federal branches of government. Important battle lines are being drawn state-by-state, as well as locally, on matters of vital concern to our interests and moral imperatives.
- Efforts to amend the federal or state constitutions and statutes, or local ordinances to narrow the rights of individuals, or to strip courts of authority to consider various types of civil rights claims, pose a profound danger to civil rights and liberties. Often politically motivated, these efforts threaten to undermine the very concept of separation of powers. Even subjects which we might not necessarily endorse substantively often need protection from the ‘tyranny of the majority’, which is one of the most important functions served by the judicial branch at both the federal and state levels.
The Community Relations Field should:
- Make a high priority of working across community lines to address state and local, as well as federal, civil rights issues.
- Actively support civil rights coalitions on matters where there is a consensus communal position.