NEW YORK (Mar. 17)
President Reagan’s recent assertion that belief in God should make Americans solidly back his opposition to a nuclear freeze and support his program for a massive military buildup came under stinging denunciation from leaders of the three branches of Judaism.
The Jewish religious leaders, in response to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency survey, said that the use by the President of moral absolutes “in the name of Jesus” was morally offensive and possibly a violation of his constitutional obligations; that castigation of the Soviet Union as the “focus of evil” might unwittingly bring about the “catastrophe” of a nuclear holocaust; that it implied an attempt to silence opposition to the President’s policies, including his strong support of prayer in the public schools; and threatened the nation’s religious pluralism.
CITES VIOLATION OF CONSTITUTIONAL OBLIGATION
Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the association of Reform synagogues, said that “the invoking of moral absolutes in the name of Jesus” were “offensive when they are voiced by the President of the United States.” He added that they were “in fact, a violation of his constitutional obligation to be President of all Americans, regardless of religious persuasion.”
Schindler added that “all religious people will find the invocation of the divine as favoring a political point of view as distasteful, if not blasphemous.” He declared that this also “injures the democratic process, for it forecloses genuine political debate by labelling all dissenters as sinners and followers of Satan.”
The President made his remarks in a speech on March 7 in Orlando to the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization of conservative churches and agencies.
The President told the Orlando gathering that “there is sin and evil in the world and we are enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might.” He said Soviet Communism “is the focus of evil in the modern world” and that those favoring a mutual freeze on nuclear weapons were ignoring “the aggressive instincts of an evil empire.”
Leaders of Christian church organizations were similarly critical of the President’s resort to theological concepts in his appeals for support of his policies and in his criticisms of foes of those policies.
‘RADICAL EVIL OF NUCLEAR WAR’
Rabbi Herman Schaalman, outgoing president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the umbrella agency of American Reform Rabbis, and Rabbi Joseph Glaser, CCAR executive vice president, declared they joined with Protestant and Catholic leaders in “raising our voices against the radical evil of nuclear war.” They said “we deplore tendencies to articulate the relationship between the United States and the USSR in terms of irreconcilable evil and good, and Satan and God.”
Schaalman and Glaser pledged to “continue to raise our voices and make efforts to change” the “noxious” policies and actions of the Soviet Union But they declared that “no good is served by distorting our vision of the Soviet Union in apocalyptic theological terms.” The two rabbis warned that “merely to speak in terms of ultimate confrontation will freeze us in a posture of irresponsibility whose only outcome will be the ultimate war.”
They urged the President, in negotiations with the Soviet Union, to make certain that “his words and deeds will be in the true spirit of our shared religious commitment to the unrelenting pursuit of peace.”
‘WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED’
Rabbi Arnold Goodman, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, said the nuclear freeze issue stemmed from “a deep concern that the world may be heading for a holocaust of its own making,” and that the Jewish tradition, “with its concern for life, obviously has a contribution to make to the overall deliberations” on that overriding issue. Goodman asserted “we will not be silenced and we will join with our fellow clergy here and throughout the free world in continuing to sensitize our society and our political leaders to moral concerns.”
He said he agreed with the President that all Americans must oppose “sin and evil” in the world, a duty “mandated by our Torah and our teachings.” But he declared he found it “regrettable” that the President, “who represents all the people,” had chosen to “limit his sources of inspiration” for his call to battle sin and evil “to Christian doctrine.”
NOTE SERIOUS ABUSE OF RELIGION
Marshall Wolke, president of the United Synagogue of America, the central agency for Conservative congregations, and Rabbi Benjamin Kreitman, executive vice president, condemned the President for asserting that his opposition to a nuclear freeze “was based on a true interpretation of Christianity” and for his attack on “the liberal religious community, Christian and Jewish, who differed with his point of view on the nuclear proliferation treaties and procedures.” They said “the assumption of authority for the only authentic interpretation of the religious message,” which they described as historically “one of the most serious abuses of religion, ” was an abuse “that strikes at the heart of religious pluralism on which our nation was founded.”
Wolke and Kreitman declared that the President “had no right to intrude his religious point of view into a discussion of a politically sensitive matter, nor to usurp for himself divine approval of that point of view.” They said that, as President of all the people “and of all religious points of view,” President Reagan “must respect the authenticity of that diversity.”
CONCERNED OVER USE OF RELIGIOUS CONTENT
Julius Berman, president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, said that “while we also recognize the evils represented by the actions of the Soviet Union, we are very concerned when any government official, including the President, expresses that opposition purely in religious terms, especially when they are not shared by everyone in our pluralistic society.”
The Orthodox lay leader also expressed concern over the suggestion by Reagan “that opposition to the introduction of prayer in our public schools springs from an anti-religious attitude. While we strongly believe that religion should play a predominant role in each individual’s life, we also maintain our opposition to prayer in the public schools, because it violates the doctrine of separation of church and state, which is the rock upon which this pluralistic republic was established.”
WARNS OF POSSIBLE POLARIZATION
Rabbi Gilbert Klaperman, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, a major Orthodox rabbinical association, declared it was “wrong and dangerous” for Reagan to inject an affirmative sectarian note into a political issue that does not take into account our pluralistic society,” a statement Klaperman warned “may polarize different religious elements in America.”
To the President’s comment suggesting that all Christians who do support a nuclear freeze “are not loyal Christians,” Klaperman retorted that “there are many devout Christians who are deeply committed to a nuclear freeze” and that the President, in impugning their Christian loyalty, “is superimposing dogmatic principles on a political issue.”
Citing the church-state separation principle as basic to the American pluralistic society, the Orthodox rabbinical leader said “those who do not agree with the policy of their nation should not be attacked on religious grounds.”
CRITICIZES ATTEMPT TO STIGMATIZE
Rabbi Walter Wurzburger, president of the Synagogue Council of America, declared that the President “has every right to oppose a nuclear freeze but he has no right to stigmatize those “who disagree with his brand of “civil religion” as having succumbed to “the temptation of pride” and as seeking not the reality but “the illusion of peace.”
He called “equally distressing” the President’s attempt to preach “civil religion” by advocating an amendment to permit prayer in public schools. He asserted that “non-denominational” prayer would be an exercise in “religious tokenism” rather than a genuine contribution towards” the enhancement of religious values.”