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Resolution on Task Force Concerns: Houses Of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act; Therapeutic Cloning Research, Jewish Tradition and Public Policy; Court Stripping

Posted by JCPA  

03:01 PM Feb 28, 2005

Adopted by the 2005 JCPA Plenum

Oppose Houses Of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act

Under current law, tax exempt organizations are prohibited from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate for public office. The proposed “House of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act” seeks to create an exemption to the law by instituting an exception solely applicable to religious tax-exempt organizations thereby allowing them to engage in these currently prohibited political activities. Passage of this Act would seriously threaten religious liberty by turning the sanctuaries of America’s houses of worship into partisan political operations permitting campaigning for candidates during religious services or gatherings.  

Supporters of the bill argue that it is necessary to protect religious leaders' ability to speak out on issues.  Yet, there is nothing in the IRS code that prohibits religious leaders from using their pulpits to speak out on the key issues of the day.  Under this bill, houses of worship could be used to leverage charitable donations to support or oppose specific candidates.  This would present a significant threat to the independence of religious institutions. In the process, this legislation would provide another avenue to bypass campaign finance reform laws.

The JCPA believes that:
•    Houses of worship, like all charitable institutions, must not engage in partisan political campaign activity, but are appropriate settings for nonpartisan presentations that allow for the exchange of views with candidates and office holders.

The community relations field should:
•    Oppose legislative efforts to allow houses of worship to engage in any partisan political activity.
•    Build coalitions to educate about the freedoms of speech and advocacy that currently exist, and the importance of keeping America’s houses of worship separated from partisan political campaign activities. 
•    Urge compliance with and enforcement of restrictions against partisan activity by houses of worship.
Therapeutic Cloning Research, Jewish Tradition and Public Policy
In light of debate within American society on the topic of stem cell research, the JCPA adopted a resolution on therapeutic cloning research in 2004.  The following clarifies the scientific content of that policy’s action recommendations:

The community relations field should:
•    Support:
a.    Research using embryonic stem cells including those developed through Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT);
b.    Government funding for such research;
c.    Efforts by the scientific community to develop regulations and monitor those using SCNT technology;
d.    Appropriate legislative actions consistent with the above objectives, including legislation that encourages the development of new stem cell lines in addition to the existing stem cell lines already approved for funding by the federal government;
e.    The creation of a fully funded and empowered oversight body comprising of scientists and ethicists to monitor this research, paying special attention to ensuring that the research is restricted to stem cells of very early embryonic development, prior to implantation in a uterus.
•    Oppose efforts to restrict or penalize scientists, clinicians, or patients for participating in stem cell research and SCNT technology for therapeutic purposes;
Court Stripping
Members of Congress have periodically sought to remove jurisdiction and discretion from the federal courts after unpopular rulings on issues such as school desegregation, the draft, Miranda warnings, school prayer, and abortion.  This trend towards attempting to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction has continued with the introduction of legislations that would deny the federal judiciary the right to rule on the constitutionality of certain laws.

Passage of these “court stripping” measures would establish a dangerous precedent by circumventing judicial review, thereby avoiding the vital checks and balances created by the US Constitution. In addition, denying access to federal courts would force plaintiffs to raise federal claims in state courts, which often lack expertise and the independent safeguards afforded to federal judges under Article III of the Constitution.

The Constitution gives Congress limited jurisdiction over the Supreme Court and federal courts. Article III grants the Supreme Court original jurisdiction over the cases in which a state or a foreign official is a party, and appellate jurisdiction in all other cases "with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make." It is widely held that the power to make "exceptions" that limit federal court jurisdiction is constrained under the Constitution; otherwise, the amendment process would be superfluous. Congress could, by a simple majority, enact laws that would rewrite the Constitution and exempt the new laws from judicial review.

Very often it is minority groups that rely on federal courts to protect their rights to free speech, freedom of religion, and the guarantee of equal protection. These groups would be most disadvantaged by court stripping measures.

The JCPA believes that: 
•    Court stripping proposals, if enacted, would create dangerous precedents in the areas of equal protection, separation of powers, and due process.  The principle of judicial review has been fundamental to the separation of powers since Marbury v. Madison, which recognized the necessity for judicial protection of citizens from legislative and executive overreaching. Our system of government, with its checks and balances, depends upon an independent judiciary to ensure that all legislation complies with the values in the Constitution.

The community relations field should:
•    Educate the public on the negative effects of court stripping proposals; and,
•    Oppose legislation to diminish the separation of powers through court-stripping measures.

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