Fight for First-Amendment rights

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The Republicans who dominate Congress have taken a particularly troublesome path by recently introducing a bill that would gag nonprofit groups and trample the Bill of Rights.

Shame on them.

Already passed by the House of Representatives, the legislation is ready for the Senate's consideration when legislators reconvene next week after their summer break.

The bill would restrict organizations that receive any federal grant money — including many Jewish organizations — from engaging in "political advocacy."

That advocacy is defined too broadly. It includes mailings for grassroots activity, writing letters to elected officials, providing information to the government and participating in court cases by filing friend-of-the-court briefs.

The bill could affect such organizations as the Jewish federations, B'nai B'rith, Jewish Vocational Service and Jewish Family Services.

Supporters of the bill say nonprofits that receive federal money should be required to choose between providing services and petitioning the government.

Co-sponsor Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) said the measure would end "welfare for lobbyists."

But opponents contend that neoconservative members of Congress are trying to silence the nonprofits, many of which are comprised of liberals.

Anita Friedman, executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services, rightly opposes the legislation.

"This is not in keeping with the principles of democracy," she said.

It's absolutely ridiculous that nonprofits should be silenced if they receive federal money. Many of them are the only organized voice of the under-represented and the powerless.

"We are not only involved in helping people solve their problems. We're dedicated to helping solve the broader social problems which trickle down," Friedman said.

In fact, Americans have relied heavily on nonprofits to act as their moral compass and as early warning system for potentially devastating changes in government policy.

This bill is not only frightening in and of itself, but also represents a dangerous precedent of government officials trying to silence voices of dissent.

As a newspaper that believes in the full exercise of free speech guaranteed under the First Amendment, the Jewish Bulletin asks you to write to your representatives in Congress opposing this bill in the strongest language possible.