Jewish groups make voices heard

Jewish groups make voices heard

BY KEREN DOUEK, STAFF WRITER

In a joint effort to make the voice of the Jewish community heard, Hadassah, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the National Council of Jewish Women, joined by members of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, Older Adult Community Action Program, Jewish Family and Children’s Services and individual members of the Jewish community joined together for a Community Speak Out Advocacy Day in Jefferson City on May 2, several weeks before the closing of the Missouri legislative session.

While the organizations brought forth many different issues for consideration, and many attendees came armed with their own issues to lobby for, most fell under the banner of advocating for a separation of religion and state.

“We have to realize where other people are coming from, and why they sometimes don’t feel they have to honor or protect our values,” Marlene Hammerman of the National Council of Jewish Women said in advocacy training on the bus to Jefferson City, quoting statistics that white evangelical Protestants make up 26.3% of all Americans, with only 20.6% of Americans not falling into a Christian category – 1.9% being Jewish.

“We are a minority religion,” Hammerman said.

She then read language from House Concurrent Resolution 13, which endorsed the idea that Missouri was a Christian state.

“It was very offensive to me and very scary to me,” Hammerman said of the Resolution, “and the religious groups in the state — both Jewish and Christian — were the ones who said this doesn’t fly, and we spoke and we did a good job of speaking out to our legislators.”

While few of the bills before the legislature take as direct a stance against the separation of religion and state as HCR13, those advocating on May 2 were present to speak out against bills they said sought to creep up on that separation, disguised by confusing and misleading language.

For instance, Hammerman spoke about House Bill 1783, also Senate Bill 962, which she said is merely a disguised voucher program, “and vouchers take money away from our public school system.”

“It is government-funded religious teaching,” Hammerman said. “This is a separation of religion and state issue, although it is now being disguised as tax credits.”

Other issues brought up ranged from TABOR, a proposed constitutional amendment establishing limits on total state general revenue appropriations — which Marilyn Ratkin, domestic issues director of the Jewish Community Relations Council said is “a bad amendment for the state because it will cut funding where we need it most” — to House Bill 1075, which revises the requirements for course material and instruction in public schools relating to contraception and sexually transmitted disease; House Bill 1814, which requires English be the language of all official proceedings in the state, which the American Jewish Committee expressed concern over; to stem cell research.

While the issues covered the spectrum, there were underlying themes that remained constant across them all.

“I think the common thread is the hijacking of language,” Kramer said. “Things are worded in a way that I don’t know how to respond … While we respect other people, we in fact do view the world differently, as do other faiths.”

Bea Sorkin was one of the members of the trip, and had the opportunity to speak with the legislator in her district, Sam Page, and listen to a debate on eminent domain. While Sorkin said eminent domain is a timely issue she is interested in, she said the issue that concerned her the most is the issue of separation of religion and state.

“I’ve been watching this erosion of the separation of religion and state and how it is creeping up, and no one realizes it, so it is a little scary,” Sorkin said. “We’ve come a long way and now we are just going all of the way back with all the Supreme Court laws. People are just taking it for granted. They don’t think that anything is happening.”

Farilyn Hale, who had already been to Jefferson City on similar trips, said the issue that concerned her the most was separation of church and state as well.

“It is too divisive,” Hale said, “and it is everywhere, that’s the scary thing, and every issue that you see, whether it is choice or education or even funding, it always comes back to religion. That’s what happens. And we really have to concentrate on keeping that wall up between religion and state. It’s frustrating, but that is what we’re doing here.”

Keren Douek is a staff writer and can be reached at [email protected]

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