Civil Rights and Economic Justice

Board of Trustees
May 1968
New York, New York

We reaffirm our commitment to the concept of human dignity. Poverty and discrimination are inextricably related. Racial justice is inseparable from economic justice. What is at stake in the struggle to achieve equality of treatment for the individual are the spiritual values of our civilization, the economic well-being of our nation and the moral leadership of America in a multi-racial world.

While urging positive enforcement and vigorous administration of civil rights laws, we recognize the need to proceed beyond mere legal guarantees to the assurance of real equality and economic opportunity for every American. This will require not only compliance with laws, but fresh initiatives by government as well as by individual citizens and voluntary organizations.

The elimination of poverty is a highly complex task. Many new and creative programs were initiated and developed in recent years, but because of the magnitude of the task and the experimental approach required, errors of judgment and setbacks were to be expected. The difficulties that have been experienced should help provide a more realistic understanding of the task before us. Rather than deter, they should stimulate us to greater effort and commitment.

This national commitment must recognize that the fight against poverty and discrimination requires a truly comprehensive, coordinated approach of all segments of society, public and private, and the extensive investment of much more financial resources. We take cognizance of various proposals calling for some form of minimum income maintenance and we urge immediate study of various proposals to arrive at an effective, equitable method of providing for all Americans an annual minimum income with dignity.

As Jews, we strive to perpetuate a tradition which recognizes that help to fellow human beings is a matter of right, not a matter of charity. We, therefore, welcome and support public programs designed to develop human and material resources to which all citizens are entitled in an enlightened society as a fulfillment of communal responsibility. We commend support of national, state and local programs which incorporate the following principles and are designed to facilitate their realization.

  1. Among the goals of our society should be the assurance of adequate food, clothing, housing, medical care and education for every family and individual.
  2. Those goals can be achieved through programs of full employment at adequate wages for those able to work, adequate compensation and retaining opportunities for those who are involuntarily unemployed, and improved social security and other direct financial aid for those who are dependent or are incapable of work.
  3. Public welfare funds should be distributed in an equitable fashion, maintaining adequate standards applicable throughout the nation and assuring the recipient of respect for their human dignity. Punitive measures which discourage or deprive welfare recipients from obtaining benefits to which they are entitled must not be imposed. Procedures which discourage welfare recipients from obtaining sufficient employment to leave the welfare rolls must be eliminated.
  4. Society is responsible for guaranteeing to every man the right and opportunity to join with others to organize for the pursuit of common economic and social objectives, and to have equal protection of these rights under federal and state legislation.
  5. The disadvantaged should be encouraged in their efforts to achieve dignity and self-respect by establishing indigenous organizations to pursue their goals.

We recognize the responsibility of the private sector and especially of religious institutions in the efforts to achieve equality. We encourage our regions and congregations:

  1. to participate in and cooperate with local anti-poverty programs, with due regard to the principle of separation of church and state;
  2. to undertake concrete initiatives in the area of no-profit housing with other like-minded groups. In this connection, we commend the New York Federation of Reform Synagogues for its forward-looking co-sponsorship of the UPACA housing project in Harlem, which is a commitment to rehabilitate the housing in one section of the racial ghetto;
  3. to assume responsibility, where possible, for constructive and ongoing social action programs under Jewish auspices in the inner city, similar to that of the Chicago Federation's Jewish Council on Urban Affairs;
  4. to pledge their resources to equality of opportunity in employment through such programs as "Project Equality", an interfaith community project in which religious institutions pledge to do business only with companies which have affirmative equal opportunity employment practices;
  5. to go beyond the abstractions of intergroup relations to specific involvement in tutorial programs, home visits, urban-suburban exchanges, dialogues and other efforts designed to establish personal contacts;
  6. to commend NFTY and various UAHC regions for the Mitzvah Corps programs which have been conducted in several cities through which Reform Jewish young people have rendered community service toward racial justice and the improvement of community life. We urge expansion of these vital projects. We also commend the Pacific Southwest Region for establishment of its Center for Volunteer Service to encourage individual Reform Jews to make Judaism relevant through personal participation in community work.


We oppose all racial, religious and economic ghettos and all racism, white or black.

We welcome the report of the President's National Advisory Commission on Disorders. By telling us that "white racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II", it removes once and for all whatever illusions white Americans may have held about themselves. We urge our constituents to study carefully the report and its findings and to express their support for its recommendations. We urge (1) support for the Housing and Development Act of 1968; (2) legislation that will create meaningful jobs in vitally needed public services for those people able and willing to work but who are unable to find employment in the private sector; (3) repeal of the restrictive welfare provisions adopted in the last session of Congress; (4) supplemental appropriation for the Office of Economic Opportunity. We urge support for the current Poor Peoples Campaign, in accordance with the attached resolution adopted by the national Commission on Social Action on March 25, 1968.

The crisis of American life challenges us as we have never before been challenged in our entire history as a nation. Our response must be massive and immediate if we are to fulfill our prophetic role and recreate the structures of human dignity to which we as a faith and a people are so long and so deeply committed.