To the Editor:
The appropriate response to Nathan Diament’s hope for a change in the longstanding position of a majority of the American Jewish community on vouchers should be “not so fast.” The fact that a position has been long held should never preclude reconsideration, but when the Anti-Defamation League took a fresh look at vouchers last year, the result was a ringing reaffirmation of our historic position that they are a bad idea.
There are important principles at stake in this debate. School vouchers undermine two great American traditions that have served the Jewish community extraordinarily well and still do: universal public education, and the separation of church and state. A majority of American Jewish children attend public schools, and the resulting interaction between Jews and non-Jews has helped the Jewish community to thrive in the United States.
It would be short-sighted indeed for the Jewish community or any religious minority to undermine our public education system by encouraging government funds to flow to religious organizations. That is a recipe for divisiveness, unseemly competition and religious isolation. Moreover, let’s not forget that Jews represent less than 2 percent of the American population, and if a voucher program were instituted, the vast majority of tax dollars — including Jewish tax dollars — would be channeled to non-Jewish schools, including Christian and Muslim institutions.
While the need for greater funding for Jewish education is real, redirecting public tax dollars to meet that need is not the right answer. Indeed, the prospect of the government audits and regulations that accompany government funding should trouble anyone concerned with safeguarding the remarkable liberty afforded religious institutions by our First Amendment.
Diament’s resort to characterizing the principled position of a majority of the Jewish community as “reflexive and dogmatic” bespeaks an inability to challenge the position on the merits. Jewish schools may need more funding, but that should be our responsibility as Jews to address, not the government’s. Sacrificing the importance of religious freedom or universal public education is too high a price to pay.
Robert G. Sugarman
National Chair, Anti-Defamation League