Launching a *Jewish* First-Amendment Initiative
Today marks the public launch of Jews for a Secular Democracy, a pluralistic advocacy and education initiative that we hope will mobilize a wide diversity of Jews and our friends and family members toward strengthening what is commonly referred to as “the separation of church and state”: the secular imperative of our U.S. government.
Viewing public policy through the lens of First-Amendment rights, it becomes clear that decision-making on so many of the important issues we care deeply about is being unduly influenced by a fundamentalist religious sway over our government, a worldview that most Americans—and certainly most Jews—do not share.
Whether about reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ and women’s equality, fair treatment toward refugees, environmental protection, school curriculum, or many other issues, U.S. government policy should be guided by science, reason, debate, and ethics, rather than based on only one religion’s position.
The purpose of the First Amendment is to prevent our government from privileging one religion over another, or any religion over no religion. It is also intended to protect the practice of religion, so long as that practice does not risk the overall public good; certainly, those of religious convictions should weigh in on any issues they want. But what has happened in America over the last several decades is a well-organized, well-funded, highly-successful rise to power of a right-wing religious reactionary wave intent on rolling back hard-won freedoms of civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ equality, and more.
While there are excellent secular organizations defending the First Amendment—foremost among them Americans United for the Separation of Church and State—and great Jewish organizations fighting for social justice, such as the members of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable—Jews for a Secular Democracy is uniquely focused on issues of religion-state separation from a Jewish perspective.
Jews in particular must lead on this issue, both as a minority religion and as a largely non-religious ethnic community as well. We remember in some of our own lifetimes (or our parents’ or grandparents’ lives) that Jews were treated unfairly through legally-sanctioned restrictions on housing, schooling, and immigration, simply because of our religious backgrounds. We cannot stand idly by while it continues to happen to others.
Our initial goal in setting up a website at http://JFASD.org and a Facebook page at http://Facebook.com/JewsDemocracy is to connect like-minded people who agree that addressing religious influence on government unlocks positive responses to many of today’s most pressing issues, and has the potential to build a broad counter-coalition in America. As an initiative of the Society for Humanistic Judaism, we hope a critical mass of our movement’s members will participate. But as an intentionally pluralistic initiative, we welcome all to participate—we need you to participate!—as we plan to build broad consensus rather than promote one denomination’s agenda.
In the coming months, we hope to engage a national organizer to coordinate advocacy and education efforts and mobilize local communities. In the meantime, to keep posted please sign up for our email newsletter and “like” us on Facebook. Thank you for your interest and support!