February 25, 2006
The success of pluralistic democracy in America and the success of Jews and other religious minorities within this society are directly linked to the strength of our democratic institutions and Constitutional freedoms including religion and speech. The JCPA mission statement concludes that “the Jewish community has a direct stake and an ethical imperative to assure that America remains a country wedded to the Bill of Rights and committed to the rule of law, a nation whose institutions continue to function as a public trust.”
The pairing of the Free Exercise Clause alongside the Establishment Clause secures for Americans freedom of religion and freedom from governmental imposition of religion. These freedoms have enabled America to thrive as perhaps the most religiously diverse society in history. There are those, however, who seek not just a place for religion in the public square, but to co-opt the institutions of the government itself to advance their own religious agenda, while denying freedoms to others.
It is the right of individuals, including political and religious leaders, to express their beliefs in public settings, but it is not their right to imbue governmental actions, meetings, buildings and other segments of the public square with sectarian religious messages. It is the right of individuals to adopt religious or scientific explanations for the origins of life, but religious theories should never be taught as science or an alternative to science in public schools. It is the right of members of the military to express religious viewpoints to fellow soldiers, but not to proselytize within the chain of command, or implicitly or explicitly pressure those of differing religious beliefs. It is the right of individuals to seek personal freedoms that may run contrary to religious convictions, but the laws of this nation and the pluralistic spirit which they foster demand no single religious belief or view be championed or codified above other sincerely held beliefs.
The JCPA believes that:
- The pluralistic fabric of our society demands respect for the religious and secular views of all segments of our society, including those with strongly held religious views;
- The religion or lack thereof of an individual should never be a factor in a person’s qualifications for elective or appointive office;
- Vigorous advocacy in support of democratic pluralistic principles is in the best interest of the American tradition and should in no way denigrate the value of any voice, religious or otherwise. Individual freedoms and safeguards from discrimination and proselytization should never be diluted or traded for support on other matters of conviction or concern;
- Individuals have the right to freedom from unwarranted government intrusion into matters of personal religious conviction and a right to seek equal protection, including through the judiciary;
- The pluralistic fabric of our society demands that individuals, especially those acting in an official public capacity, never impose personal religious views on others;
- The pluralistic fabric of our society demands that officers and senior enlisted personnel in the military, including those working and studying at military academies, do not proselytize within the chain of command or otherwise seek to impose personal religious views on others; and that,
- Science and medicine must remain independent from religious, political and ideological interference including the funding and conduct of research, appointments to governmental advisory boards, the relationship between patient and health care provider, and the availability of legal health services and medications.
The community relations field should:
- Educate about the importance of democratic pluralism, the American system of checks and balances, and the importance of protecting Constitutional freedoms;
- Work independently and in coalitions to protect pluralism, the independence of the judiciary, and the scientific process;
- Closely track the implementation of the Air Force interim religious guidelines to ensure:
- Increased awareness and respect for cultural and religious differences;
- Adequate safeguards against coercive proselytizing and improper sectarian prayer at mandatory and official ceremonies and events;
- Notice about rights, responsibilities, and limitations under the guidelines;
- Training for chaplains, officers, and cadets toward the establishment of a climate of mutual respect and acceptance of differences in worship and faith traditions; and to ensure,
- A secure grievance procedure and appropriate remedies to violations of the guidelines.
- Work independently and in coalitions to ensure that government bodies and legislation continue to protect individual religious beliefs without preferential treatment for any one religious perspective.