GOP Jews stress individual rights over societal ones

As Robert Jubelirer, president pro tempore of the Pennsylvania state Senate and a delegate to the Republican National Convention here, put it this week: "I don't agree with everything in my platform."

Although some would suggest that blanket statement is true of almost everyone — Republicans and Democrats alike — many Republican Jews express a clear discomfort with a number of domestic positions laid out in the party's platform, including support for a pro-life amendment to the Constitution and support for voluntary school prayer.

At the same time, some Republicans suggest that the influence of the religious right has waned in recent years — a direct result, they say, of Jewish individuals active in the party who have worked hard to quell that influence.

While the Republican National Convention was steeped in controversy eight years ago, influenced by Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson, the tenor changed significantly four years ago. This time around, the Republican candidate, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, made it clear this year's party in Philadelphia was to be just that — four days of celebration, showcasing the GOP's unity.

As part of that strategy, Bush also extinguished any dissent over the platform, making it clear he didn't want a potentially bruising floor debate over the abortion issue to overshadow his message of unity and inclusivity.

Susan Cullman, head of the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition, expressed profound disappointment that her efforts to introduce language in the platform that welcomed a diversity of views on the issue failed.

When confronted with this by Cullman at a Jewish-sponsored event on Tuesday, Stephen Goldsmith, Bush's chief adviser on domestic issues, was visibly uncomfortable. "This is my least favorite question," the former mayor of Indianapolis said sheepishly.

Nonetheless, Cullman and others who are pro-choice and advocate a strict separation of church and state stand by their party.

"The reason I'm Republican has nothing to do with choice issues," Cullman told reporters. "It has to do with government staying out of our life.

"Our party is a party of individual rights" and fiscal responsibility, "which is very compatible with Jewish thinking," she said, adding she wants to see more Jews "join us to change the social issues."

Sheldon Kamins, a national co-chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said he, too, is pro-choice, but when it comes to church-state issues, he doesn't worry about the party's position.

"We shouldn't have policies that expunge existence of God from public life," he said, adding that the "Jewish community should feel confident enough" to have a reasonable and rational approach to religion in public life as long as it doesn't restrict or require a certain religion.

Among the key elements of interest to Jews in the platform are:

Tolerance: "We denounce all who practice or promote racism, anti-Semitism, ethnic prejudice, and religious intolerance."

School choice: "We support choice in education, not as an abstract theory, but as the surest way for families, especially low-income families, to free their youngsters from failing or dangerous schools."

School prayer: "We will continue to work for the return of voluntary school prayer to our schools and will strongly enforce the Republican legislation that guarantees equal access to school facilities by student religious groups. We strongly support voluntary student-initiated prayer in school without governmental interference. We strongly disagree with the Supreme Court's recent ruling, backed by the current administration, against student-initiated prayer."

Free exercise of religion: "While the Constitution guards against the establishment of state-sponsored religion, it also honors the free exercise of religion. We assert the right of religious leaders to speak out on public issues and will not allow the EEOC or any other arm of government to regulate or ban religious symbols from the workplace."

Charitable choice: "When government funds privately operated social, welfare or educational programs, it must not discriminate against faith-based organizations, whose record in providing services to those in need far exceeds that of the public sector. Their participation should be actively encouraged, and never conditioned upon the covering or removing of religious objects or symbols."

Abortion: "We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children. Our purpose is to have legislative and judicial protection of that right against those who perform abortions. We oppose using public revenues for abortion and will not fund organizations that advocate it. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life."

Family matters: "We support the traditional definition of 'marriage' as the legal union of one man and one woman, and we believe that federal judges and bureaucrats should not force states to recognize other living arrangements as marriages. We do not believe sexual preference should be given special legal protection or standing in law."

Gun control: "We defend the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, and we affirm the individual responsibility to safely use and store firearms. A Republican administration will vigorously enforce current gun laws, neglected by the Democrats, especially by prosecuting dangerous offenders identified as felons in instant background checks. Although we support background checks to ensure that guns do not fall into the hands of criminals, we oppose federal licensing of law-abiding gun owners and national gun registration as a violation of the Second Amendment and an invasion of privacy of honest citizens."

Immigration: The platform says the next Republican administration will reorganize family unification preferences to give priority to spouses and children, rather than extended family members; and reform the Immigration and Naturalization Service by splitting its functions into two agencies, one focusing on enforcement and one exclusively devoted to service.

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