We asked the candidates eight questions. Here are the responses of Adam Gussen, Democratic candidate for the ninth congressional district.
The “Establishment Clause” to the First Amendment — prohibiting the United States from enacting any laws or executive orders that suggest religious favoritism of any kind — has been seen as a barrier to financial aid in the form of tuition vouchers for parents who want to send their children to parochial or day schools. It also has been seen as a barrier to certain federal programs benefitting students from being used to benefit students in parochial or day schools. As a member of Congress, how do you view the Establishment Clause? What are its limitations? What is permissible under it, in your view? What is your position on tuition tax credits specifically?
The Establishment Clause was created to protect religious minorities. This is especially important to me as a member of the Jewish community, which has historically been victimized by persecution. The Establishment Clause provides an essential protection that allows a vibrant Jewish community to thrive in the United States.
However, freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion, in that we are not free to live in a religion-free world. For instance, in Teaneck, we post a holiday display on the municipal green that includes a Christmas tree and crÃƒÂ¨che alongside a menorah. While it is entirely appropriate that we celebrate a diversity of faiths, it would be inappropriate to exclude either one or the other.
With these principles in mind, I believe that tuition tax credits should be available for parochial school and day school education. This would be similar to the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which allows for tax deductibility of college tuition expenses, including expenses for religious colleges, such as Seton Hall. There is a value to encouraging investment in education, regardless of whether there is a religious aspect to that education.
However, I do not believe that vouchers are an acceptable solution, because vouchers would have a disproportional impact on communities with large concentrations of parochial school families. For instance, in Teaneck, half of the school-age kids don’t go to public schools. If those students were entitled to receive vouchers from Teaneck, the district would have to scramble to raise the additional revenue to cover all of those kids. This would have a devastating impact on local property taxes and on the community. The tuition tax credit is a fair solution, because by providing federal and state income tax deductibility, it spreads the cost of parochial schools and day schools across the nation and the state.
Many people in this district send their children to private schools, be they religious-oriented or secular. Tuition in these schools are quite high. Families, especially in the Jewish community, have several children attending these schools. The financial burden is great on these families and some have been forced to take second and even third mortgages to cover those costs. Yet the mortgage option is not readily available today because of the financial situation in the which the United States finds itself. As a member of Congress, what would you do to help improve the mortgage situation? Aside from tuition vouchers discussed in the previous question, is there any other relief Congress might be able to offer?
This is not a mortgage issue – it is a matter of wealth and earnings. Due to the current economic conditions, both nationally and statewide, families are struggling more than ever to cover tuition costs. As previously discussed, tax deductible tuition credits would alleviate some of the burden for families that are obligated by their faith to send their children to parochial school or day school.
But in order for families to receive complete relief, we must create jobs and improve the economy and the housing market. I have a four-point plan to accomplish this:
we must stop providing incentives to American businesses that move jobs overseas;
we must provide access to financing for American businesses to invest in technology and efficiency upgrades to allow them to be competitive in a global marketplace;
we must reinvest in our infrastructure; and
we must invest in education with the understanding that we need to prepare students not for the jobs of today, but for the jobs that will exist during the remainder of the 21st century.
Jewish law empowers religious courts at times to order abortions for women whose lives are endangered by a fetus, said fetus having acquired the status of a “pursuer” out to commit murder — of the woman carrying it. That is just one instance of how the abortion standards of Jewish law differ from secular codes. Indeed, at one point in the Talmud, in discussing the possibility of abortion just a moment before the head begins to crown, the Sages state unambiguously “gufa he,” meaning “it is her body.” What is your position on women’s reproductive rights? Is a woman’s body her own? Regardless of how you personally feel about abortion, do you believe it is fair to impose on all religions a standard some of them may not accept?
My opinions on reproductive rights are influenced by halachah. I understand that there is a distinction between "life" and "potential life." The life of the mother has greater value, and carries more weight in questions of reproductive health.
The radical right wing in this country has pursued legislation, supported by Scott Garrett, that would not only prohibit the full range of reproductive health options in the case of rape or incest, but even in the case where the mother’s life is threatened. This radical ideology flies directly in the face of halachah, and would unethically limit our obligation to protect the life of the mother in all circumstances.
In Zivotofsky ex rel. Zivotofsky v. Clinton, 132 S. Ct. 1421 – Supreme Court 2012, the High Court ruled that the “courts are fully capable of determining whether [a specific federal] statute may be given effect, or instead must be struck down in light of authority conferred on the Executive by the Constitution.” The facts of the case, as stated by the court in its decision, are: “Congress enacted a statute providing that Americans born in Jerusalem may elect to have Ã¢â‚¬ËœIsrael’ listed as the place of birth on their passports. The State Department declined to follow that law, citing its longstanding policy of not taking a position on the political status of Jerusalem. When sued by an American who invoked the statute, the Secretary of State argued that the courts lacked authority to decide the case because it presented a political question. The Court of Appeals so held. We disagree.” The Supreme Court sent the case back down for adjudication. Eventually, it will have to rule. If it upholds the congressional act, thereby affirming that Congress has a say in the formulation of foreign policy, would you as a member of Congress introduce and fight for legislation requiring — without any opportunity for periodic waivers — that the U.S. embassy be immediately removed from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the undisputed capital of the State of Israel? Do you believe that the Congress has the right to help define U.S. foreign policy? Please explain your decision.
The United States embassy to the United Kingdom is located in London because the United Kingdom has determined that London is to be its capital. The United States did not decide that London should be the capital of the United Kingdom. If the United Kingdom decided to move its capital to another city, the United States would move its embassy accordingly. The United Kingdom tells the United States where its capital is, not the other way around.
Likewise, the Israeli government should identify where its capital is located and we should put our embassy where Israel asks us to put it.
With respect to which branch of government is responsible for foreign policy, the Constitution divides foreign policy between Congress and the president, giving the Congress the power to declare war, while assigning the president the role of commander-in-chief. And although treaties must be signed by the president, they must also be approved by the Senate. Since our founding, there has been a longstanding precedent for Congress to be involved in foreign policy matters.
Israeli settlements in the administered territories have been viewed by successive U.S. administrations, regardless of party affiliation, as barriers to achieving peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. Do you agree that this true? Do you support the premise that Israel has the right to expand existing settlements to accommodate normal growth? What is your view about the construction of new settlements on the west bank? Please explain.
The United States should take no official position on this issue. This is a matter of domestic Israeli policy, and we should respect Israel’s sovereignty.
What is your position on foreign aid in general? What is your position on foreign aid specifically to Israel? To the Palestinians? Do you see any conflict between your general opinion and the specific ones, and if so, how do you explain this?
Because of our position of global leadership, we have not only the ability, but an obligation to help countries in need, whether that need is the result of war, natural disaster, or despotic regimes. We should use our foreign aid to help struggling nations or populations to achieve autonomy and self-sufficiency. That is why I support the Obama administration’s strategy of increasing the profile and participation of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Under the Obama administration’s approach, USAID will coordinate more directly with the National Security Council and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The goal is to improve the effectiveness of our aid, by making sure that donated food, medicine, and money will enable countries and populations receiving such aid to get to the point where they no longer require such aid.
The United Nations has declared that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is legal under international law. Do you agree? In your opinion, has Israel crossed the line in preventing certain items from passing into Gaza? It is not true that Israel’s prime minister or its government has ever suggested that it agreed with the charges made against it in the so-called Gaza 54 letter. Do you agree with those charges, or with the State of Israel that those charges are false?
I agree that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is legal under international law. Israel has every right, as affirmed by international law, to protect herself and her people from the continual and unrelenting barrage of rockets and mortars launched from Gaza under the auspices of Hamas and other terrorist groups. While as a father of two children I can sympathize with civilians suffering in Gaza, the ultimate responsibility for the safety and well-being of Palestinians rests on their leaders, and not on Israel.
The Jewish people often invoke the Shoah, the Holocaust, in declaring “never again.” By “never again” is meant that never again must the world allow the wholesale slaughter of people for whatever reason. As such, Jews are almost always in the forefront of campaigns to call attention to the slaughter of innocents everywhere in the world. A current concern is Syria. As a congressman, what legislation would you back regarding a role for the United States in bringing an end to the slaughter of innocents there? What about Darfur and the Sudan, and other such dangerous locales? Should the United States take an active role in ending such mass murders? If yes, how do you define “active role”? If no, do you believe that the United States must not be “policeman to the world”? Either way, please elaborate on your answer.
As a sentient and moral society, we have an obligation to care for those who cannot care for themselves. Over the last 100 years we have been witness to the Armenian genocide, the Shoah, the killing fields in Cambodia, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the Darfur genocide, and the crisis that we are now witnessing in Syria. It is time for the United States to truly take an international leadership role with our allies and other nations to ensure that these wholesale human tragedies remain in our history books and not on the front pages of our newspapers. The primary role of the United States is not to be the policeman of the world, but to be leaders amongst the community of nations in a global initiative to protect the sanctity of human life. In the words of Edmund Burke, "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." And as Rev. Martin Luther King explained, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."