Reaffirming "Commitment to Constitutional Principles"

UAHC Board of Trustees Passes Resolution on Civil Liberties and National Security

JUNE 23, 2003 - Affirming its longstanding commitment to the Constitutional guarantee of the rights to privacy and due process, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations Board of Trustees unanimously approved a resolution that seeks to balance the measures the government has used to combat terrorism with the inalienable rights promised to all Americans.

The resolution, passed at the Board of Trustees' June meeting in Washington, DC, insists that the "investigation, prevention, and prosecution of terrorism by law enforcement agencies…must be conducted in ways that are consistent with fundamental principles of our justice system and Constitution." Also included are provisions that oppose the Bush Administration's "Total Information Awareness" programs, the expansion of domestic wiretapping, and the denial of due process rights - including the right to an attorney - for citizens and foreign nationals classified as enemy combatants.

In adopting the resolution, the 270-member Board of Trustees set the policy that will guide efforts undertaken by the Union, the Religious Action Center in Washington, DC, and its more than 900 congregations to influence policy in the US Congress and with the Administration.

The resolution makes clear that defending America from terrorism should be the government's top priority, and that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 necessitated a recalibration of the balance between civil liberties and national security. However, it goes on to explain that the effort to provide law enforcement officials with the tools they require to prevent terrorism has come into conflict with the need to protect Constitutional rights to privacy and due process.

Reinforcing the Reform Movement's commitment to privacy, the resolution cites the Biblical and Talmudic rules for protecting the privacy of one's home, prohibiting surveillance of private space, and unauthorized disclosure of information.

"While the threat of terrorism demands some changes to the ways in which we conduct investigations, past UAHC policy and basic Jewish values lead us to question the wisdom of these changes," said Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

According to the resolution, the Bush Administration has, at times, pursued programs that unnecessarily undermine Constitutional liberties. Operation TIPS, it states, creates "an environment in which all Americans are viewed as suspects," while data-mining programs like Total Information Awareness "merely perpetuate[s] the illusion of security, while real threats may continue to elude law enforcement." Investigative techniques like 'mosque counting,' where the FBI uses the number of mosques in an area to help determine how many search warrants and wiretaps should be issued, "represent a danger to freedom of association and threaten to stifle free expression, two pillars of our democratic society."

In regard to the erosion of due process, the resolution states that "the government must be empowered to detain and prosecute terrorists effectively. However, the protections of privacy and due process embedded in our judicial system must not be diminished for the sake of expedience."