Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, the U.S. government has sought to enhance national security, necessitating a careful balance between protecting fundamental civil liberties and providing for the safety and well-being of American citizens. Many of the new measures that have been proposed and instituted to combat terrorism provide necessary improvements to the ability of law enforcement officials to protect our country from future attacks. Despite these efforts, the Reform Jewish community and others concerned about the protection of civil liberties believe that many of the post-September 11th changes to law enforcement have compromised our constitutional rights to freedom of speech, privacy, and due process.
Why Should Jews Care
Jewish tradition recognizes the importance of free speech. "When a person refrains from speech, the ideas die, the soul stops, and the senses deteriorate," said Moses ibn Ezra, insisting on respect for honest differences of opinion (Shirat Yisrael 12c). Throughout the Bible, people express dissenting or unpopular positions: the prophet Nathan denounces King David for having stolen Bathsheba from her husband; Elijah excoriates King Ahab for his evil doings; prophets chastise neighbors and ruling powers alike; Job asserts his innocence; Abraham argues with God-these are but a few of the many examples of fiercely unpopular opinions freely and openly expressed.
Jewish tradition also teaches that all humans are created in God’s image and obligates us to protect human life and dignity. The use of torture tarnishes the dignity of perpetrator and victim alike.
As Reform Jews, we must heed the teachings of our tradition that speak to the dangers of mixing money and politics and recognize the distorting effect that money can have on a leader’s ability to govern fairly. We are reminded of this teaching from Deuteronomy 16:19, "You shall not judge unfairly: you shall know no partiality; you shall not take gifts, for gifts blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just." We are commanded to stand up for the widow, the poor, the orphan and the stranger. In a system that allows for disproportionate power of money, it is these groups who are ignored and who suffer the most.
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Since the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, the United States has struggled with how to support civil liberties and human rights while ensuring security for its citizens. There has been increasing evidence that some U.S. policies in the War on Terror have led to acts that violate our moral and ethical principles, as well as international legal standards.
Judaism teaches us that privacy is a fundamental aspect of the human condition, the protection of which is a serious societal and individual responsibility. Our tradition distinguishes privacy as an essential element of personality, rather than as only a right of property, and considers privacy an aspect of one's sanctity as a child of God.
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Engage Your Congregation
Educate your congregation on the corrosive impact which post-9/11 counter-terrorism laws have had on our civil liberties.
Explain to your congregation how recent Supreme Court rulings have drastically altered the landscape of American democracy and made it more difficult for the individual to have their voice heard.
Host a Screening
Consider hosting a screening and discussion of The Report (2019), a feature film which details the process of producing and releasing the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA Torture.