Jewish Groups Back Clinton Plan for New National Service Program

Jewish groups are among those backing President Clinton’s proposal for a new national service program for younger Americans.

The program, expected to receive congressional approval soon, is designed to give tuition assistance to college students in exchange for their participation in two years of community service.

Certain provisions in the legislation, relating to religious organizations’ participation in the program, have drawn special attention from some in the Jewish community.

The American Jewish Committee has been among the groups pushing for amendments to the legislation that would ensure greater separation of church and state.

The legislation, which has already cleared the House of Representatives and is due for a vote soon in the Senate, already contains three provisions relating to church-state separation.

Participants in the program would not be allowed in the course of their work to conduct religious worship, engage in religious instruction or proselytize.

AJCommittee is backing two further amendments that would bar participants from constructing facilities used for religious worship or from participating in aspects of an overall religious education program.

Agudath Israel of America, a group representing fervently Orthodox Jews, has also been active in trying to shape the bill.

Abba Cohen, the group’s Washington representative, said that earlier this year Agudath Israel had led a successful effort to include religious institutions among the community groups eligible to participate in the program.

Cohen said that while his group might not necessarily agree with the amendments backed by AJCommittee and others, the amendments were within the range of constitutional actions as interpreted by the Supreme Court.

“We would be happier without the language in the bill, but it’s not a setback,” he said.

Currently, the House bill does not include the two new amendments.

The Senate, following a lengthy filibuster that ended last Friday, is to vote on the bill shortly, and some here predict its version will include the additional amendments.

Other Jewish groups backing the national service bill include the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council and B’nai B’rith.

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