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Fundraising Group Formed to Finance Defense of Church-state Separation

July 1, 1985
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The American Jewish Congress announced here the formation of a new fundraising organization of prominent lawyers to oppose what the AJC described as a “growing assault” on the Constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

The new group, the Fund for Religious Liberty, will provide financial support for a broadly expanded program of litigation, education and research by the AJC. It hopes to also provide the AJC with finances in order to enlarge its full-time legal staff from three to five lawyers.

The Fund for Religious Liberty was introduced last week at a $500-a-plate dinner at the Park Avenue Synagogue. Ira Millstein, a senior partner in the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, will be chairman of the new group. Co-chairmen are Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, and Philip Klutznick,honorary president of the American Jewish Congress.


According to Millstein, the United States is being subjected to “a powerful campaign against Constitutional guarantees of religious liberty and the separation principle.” He cited recent developments including attempts to seek a constitutional amendment permitting prayer in public schools and the growing display of nativity scenes and other religious symbols on public property as examples of what he termed “a growing assault on constitutional principles.”

Such a vision of America, Millstein said, “leaves little room for religious minorities who would be made to feel as strangers in their own land — a threat that Jews particularly view with the gravest concern.”

Millstein told the dinner that the success of the fund “is critical” in order to provide the AJC with “adequate resources to act with ‘prudent jealousy’ regarding the First Amendment. We obviously have no quarrel with any groups’ right to hold whatever beliefs it wants.

“But we will fight vigorously if anyone seeks to enlist government in their efforts to spread or enforce their beliefs.” he said. “For such efforts are destructive of religious liberty and particularly that of religious minorities. Let’s never forget that the time to resist intolerance is when it first shows its head.”


AJC associate executive director Phil Baum expressed concern that the Reagan Administration, unlike previous administrations, is concerned with seeking an accommodation with religions, instead of seeking a separation of state and religion.

Baum noted an increased direct mail campaign by Christian fundamentalists to enlist support for their causes and charged that “highly placed persons” within the Reagan Administration have indirectly encouraged the efforts of the Moral Majority and other fundamentalist groups.

The Fund will also enable the AJC to expand its legislative activities on the municipal, state and federal levels through more effective monitoring of legislative developments, initiation of public campaigns for specific proposals and intensive work with legislative bodies and individual legislators.

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