First Amendment Rights


The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly. These are the bedrock rights that guarantee the preservation of a pluralistic society in which those who espouse diverse and even conflicting views and beliefs may pursue them without fear of suppression by Action of the majority or governmental interference. It is not an overstatement to assert that it is the First Amendment that made the United States the refuge of choice for Jews and others throughout the world when faced with persecution and oppression in countries without equivalent guarantees. As members of a religious minority whose history is so dominated by oppression, we are especially sensitive to any effort to weaken the safeguards of pluralism and minority expression. Our clergy and members of our congregations have been in the forefront of those defending the right to even objectionable and offensive speech and expression, knowing that if the rights of all are not safe, then the rights of none are safe. We cherish these protections, not only because they are the hallmark of true freedom, but because we also know that the vibrant political discussion they foster strengthens our nation.

Because the First Amendment embodies the core values of religious and political freedom, any proposal to amend it or restrict its protections by constitutional amendment or statute must arouse our concern. On this basis we have long opposed efforts at censorship or restriction of the rights of speech, publication, association, or petition the government for redress of grievances as well as weakening of the wall separating church and state. Currently, efforts to allow government-sponsored prayer and to ban desecration of the United States flag, through constitutional amendments or legislation, are being advanced and may soon come before the Congress and the states for adoption and ratification.

Like many who support a prayer amendment, we decry the absence of prayer and the absence of religious values in so many individual lives. But we oppose any government role in the sponsorship of prayer, and vigorously oppose weakening the guarantee of religious freedom in the First Amendment. Like many of those who support a flag amendment, we take pride in the American flag as a symbol of democratic values and freedom that brought us and so many other immigrants to these shores. But we oppose protecting the symbol at the expense of weakening the rights it represents. Our nation faces no overriding threat to our freedom today that would justify support for these or any other initiatives to weaken the protections of the First Amendment.

THEREFORE, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations resolves to oppose all attempts to weaken the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States or to erode the protections it provides.