Test For Anti-Terror Law
Ever since it passed two years ago, Jewish leaders who pressed hard for a tough federal anti-terrorism law have been nervously waiting for its first major court challenge. Now it appears that the test will come in Los Angeles, where the United States Court of Appeals will decide in a case directly challenging the most controversial provisions of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.
Those provisions prohibit foreign groups designated as terrorist organizations from receiving funds and other material support from allies in this country.
The provision was written into the law to prevent American affiliates of Hamas and other Mideast terror groups from raising money here, ostensibly for humanitarian purposes. Leaders of groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Conference of Presidents of Major American
Jewish Organizations argued that the money was fungible — that despite the benign claims of the fund raisers, it was often used for terrorist purposes, or for supporting the families of terrorists.
But Arab-American and civil liberties groups said the law represents a sweeping civil rights violation.
The challenge was brought by American supporters of the Tamil Tigers and the Kurdistan Workers Party, both groups that received the State Department terror designation.
The ADL has filed an amicus brief urging the court to uphold a lower court decision confirming the constitutionality of the law.
“From the Jewish community’s perspective, this lawsuit challenges the very core of the statute,” said Michael Lieberman, ADL’s Washington counsel. “The tough question was always whether you could criminalize the giving of money to the so-called humanitarian and religious affiliates of these groups. Our view is that it’s a seamless web. It’s not possible to separate the humanitarian works of Hamas from its terrorist component.”
Christian Coalition Loses an Abortion Battle
The Christian Coalition calls its Washington gathering the “Road to Victory” conference, but it opened last Friday with a stinging defeat.
As delegates gathered to hear a long list of Republican heavy hitters, as well as political preachers and a solitary rabbi — Daniel Lapin of “Toward Tradition” — the Senate failed to override President Bill Clinton’s veto of a bill banning “partial birth” abortions.
The Coalition and other groups had pulled out all the stops in pressing for an override. There was widespread speculation on Capitol Hill that the vote was scheduled on Friday to coincide with the group’s Capitol Hill lobbying blitz.
A number of Jewish groups, led by the National Council of Jewish Women, were on the other side. NCJW, along with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Rabbinical Assembly and others, collected the signatures of 729 rabbis on a letter arguing against the ban and making the case that many people of faith do not agree with the Christian Coalition’s vehement anti-abortion stand.
When the votes were counted late last week, the override effort failed by three votes. Despite all the lobbying on both sides, no votes had changed since the original passage of the bill more than a year ago.
That promoted calls by Christian Coalition leaders to punish those legislators deemed responsible for the failure, led by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). On the night before the vote, Boxer read from the rabbis’ letter on the Senate floor.
The nine Jewish Democratic senators all voted against the override. Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the only Republican, voted for it.
Liberal Jewish activists were pleased with the results.
“The vote held,” said Sammie Moshenberg, NCJW’s Washington director. “We have no illusions that this issue won’t resurface pretty quickly in the new Congress, but we’re gratified that a sufficient number of senators understand that this issue is about real women’s lives. There’s too much at stake for political posturing.”
Religious Liberty Law And Monica-Gate
Another victim of the White House sex scandal and the congressional frenzy over President Bill Clinton’s sex life: the Religious Liberty Protection Act (RLPA), the once-promising measure intended to make it harder for government bodies to impose undue burdens on religious practice.
The House Judiciary Committee was supposed to mark up the measure two weeks ago. But the day before, the report by independent counsel Kenneth Starr hit Capitol Hill; since then, the committee has been preoccupied with arguments over when and how to release Starr material and preparations for possible impeachment hearings.
That was the latest twist in a legislative odyssey that has frustrated and angered Jewish activists.
Last month, the measure, a top priority for a long list of Jewish groups because of last year’s Supreme Court decision overturning the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), was watered down by a House committee — gutted, according to some — after opposition by home-school advocate Michael Farris.
Now, with the apparent postponement in Judiciary, RLPA advocates seem to have lost their last chance for action this year.
“The committee isn’t transacting any other business,” said David Harris, Washington representative for the American Jewish Congress.
“So it’s been effectively killed for this session — and we will have to start from square one in the next Congress.”
The pro-RLPA coalition remains strong, he said — but the next Congress is an unknown. And the presidential sex scandal, the top issue in the waning days of the 105th Congress, will still be around in the 106th.