Beginning with the McCarthy era in the 1950s, the Rabbinical Assembly expressed its support for the right of all Americans to express their deepest convictions. In a 1952 resolution on civil rights and liberties, the RA claimed: “The greatest threat facing our democracy from within is in suppressing honest criticism of ideas and institutions.” Similar sentiments were reaffirmed in 1953 with an omnibus resolution on social action that condemned the censorship of books in libraries and bookstores; called on the government to “eliminate segregation in employment, housing, education, transportation, recreation and other areas of life”; and condemned loyalty oaths, intimidation, and other McCarthy-era tactics. Once the height of the McCarthy era had subsided by the mid-1950s, the Rabbinical Assembly remained vigilant in calling upon Congress, state legislators, and law enforcement agencies to safeguard the liberties of U.S. citizens.
In 1991 the RA passed a resolution calling for greater awareness and sensitivity to the effects of the suspension of civil liberties in connection with the Apartheid Regime in South Africa and applauded the return of democracy in Central and South America, the loosening of the bonds of Apartheid, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
As a result of increased homeland security precautions in the aftermath of September 11th, there was widespread concern that the civil liberties of US residents were being infringed upon by Congress’s enactment of the Patriot Act as well as by procedures enacted by the Attorney General and the Justice Department. In 2002 the Rabbinical Assembly passed a resolution calling for the President of the United States and the Attorney General to protect the civil liberties of both citizens and other residents. It abjured the expansion of law enforcement powers that weakened constitutional and statutory protections, such as permitting law enforcement officials to eavesdrop on communications between defendants and their counsel, allowing immigrants to be detained without charge for unspecified periods of time, and providing for non-citizens to be tried in military tribunals instead of US courts. The Rabbinical Assembly reaffirmed this position in 2006 in calling for the US government to review carefully the implications of the Patriot Act five years after it was enacted so as to guarantee the preservation of American values. The resolution also called on Congress to be careful about enacting any legislation that would weaken civil liberties and undermine the checks and balances that are the hallmark of American governance.
The Rabbinical Assembly also has established positions in support of the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) persons. In 1990 the Rabbinical Assembly passed a resolution supporting greater inclusion of gay and lesbian Jews in synagogue life and encouraging RA members to support the civil rights of gays and lesbians in national life. In 2011 the RA passed a resolution calling for full and equal civil rights to bisexual and transgender persons, for extending marital rights to same sex couples, and to combating the bullying of LGBTQ persons. Most recently, the RA passed a 2014 resolution in solidarity with the international LGBTQ community urging the President to publicly support LGBTQ human rights abroad, asking Congress to proactively support bills addressing the rights of LGBTQ people internationally, advocating for the integration of LGBTQ concerns in existing humanitarian programs and funding, and supporting member and partner organizations’ efforts to welcome LGBTQ persons into our communities.
In 2010 the Rabbinical Assembly called for RA members to take measures to promote civil discourse within their institutions and to counsel their constituents to be discriminating consumers of entertainment and information.
In 2011 the Rabbinical Assembly passed a resolution calling for efforts to protect people’s Internet privacy and consumers’ control over their own data.
In 2012 the Rabbinical Assembly passed a resolution calling for the end of prolonged solitary confinement and the use of solitary confinement for mentally ill prisoners or for juveniles, and called on the United States to ratify international efforts promoting humane treatment of prisoners worldwide.
Following the US Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder, which invalidated key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Rabbinical Assembly urged legislative action to prevent attempts to limit citizens’ ability to vote through voter ID laws, restrictions on third party registration, limits on when and where individuals can register and on early or absentee voting, and other similar measures. The RA also called on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, urged members to learn about and speak against all voter suppression efforts, and encouraged rabbis to play an active role in non-partisan get-out-the-vote campaigns.