The candidates on our concerns: Fifth Congressional district

The candidates on our concerns: Fifth Congressional district

Rep. Scott Garrett (R.)

We asked the candidates eight questions. Here are the responses of Rep. Scott Garrett, Republican candidate for the ninth congressional district.

1. 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?

As a member of Congress, I take an oath to uphold the Constitution. I take that oath seriously and I believe that religious liberty is one of our most fundamental rights. In fact, George Washington wrote to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790 that true religious liberty is a natural right for all Americans that must be protected by government. Simply put, the Establishment Clause limits government from establishing an official religion of the United States and guarantees all Americans freedom of conscience and religious liberty.

In addition, I believe that education is primarily a state and local issue. Parents and teachers understand the needs of their children and students much better than bureaucrats in Washington. Parents, not the federal government, should determine where their children go to school and what they should be taught. To that end, I have cosponsored the Family Education Freedom Act, which seeks to allow parents to send their children to schools of their choice. This bill seeks to accomplish this goals by allowing American parents a tax credit of up to $3,000 for the expenses incurred in sending their child to private, public, parochial, or other religious schools, or for home schooling their children.

2. 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?

I certainly recognize the burdens that high tuition costs are placing upon families. It is unfortunate that parents cannot educate their children as they see fit because the monetary costs are often prohibitive. That is one of the reasons why I have authored and introduced the Local Education Authority Returns Now (LEARN) Act. The LEARN Act would allow states to opt out of the federal public school education program and would provide households with a tax credit equivalent to their share of the federal program. Instead of sending money to Washington, those funds provide tax relief to parents that could be spent on sending their children to religious or secular private schools. I also believe that we must lessen the burden of federal spending on our nation’s families. Greater government spending necessarily means higher future taxes. I will continue the fight in Congress to reduce unnecessary and wasteful government spending so families do not face the prospect of a higher future tax burden with less money for their children’s education.

3. 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?

Our country’s founding documents affirm certain inalienable rights — including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — as well as the freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice. As Founder and Chairman of the House Constitution Caucus, I am committed to upholding these core governing principles and protecting the freedom of expression. In situations when rights may conflict, the courts have wisely ruled that we should err on the side of protecting life. As such, I will continue to work towards a culture of life in the United States.

4. 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 “Israel’ 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 Constitution makes it absolutely clear that Congress has a say in the formulation of American foreign policy. The Constitution grants Congress the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, establish a uniform rule of naturalization, raise and make rules for the Army and Navy, and declare war. Additionally, Congress has the “power of the purse” which can be used as a means to check the executive branch should the president pursue foreign policies that Congress finds objectionable. There is no question that Congress has a constitutional role to play in the formulation of foreign policy.

I also believe that Jerusalem should be recognized by the US as the undivided capital of Israel. I believe that our embassy should be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In fact, I have cosponsored legislation to achieve this aim, the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act of 2011.

5. 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.

First and foremost, I believe that Israel has a right to ensure the security its citizens and borders. You need only to look at history to know that settlements are not the real issue preventing Middle East peace. When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and ceded sovereignty to the Palestinian Authority, Hamas quickly took over and used Gaza as a base of operations to launch 10,000 missiles and rockets at Israeli civilians. This is how Israel was rewarded for taking steps toward peace. Looking forward, if Israel were to dismantle and abandon West Bank settlements, what is to stop terrorists—such as Hamas—from taking over those areas and launching attacks on Israel? I think of this question in personal terms: I would never vote to jeopardize our nation’s security and far be it for me to expect the Israeli government to take actions that would put its civilians in harm’s way.

6. 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?

Given our nation’s precarious fiscal condition, I believe that the United States must spend wisely, and must choose its priorities abroad. Supporting our friend and ally Israel—the only democratic state in a region dominated by dictators and radical Islamists—is a priority. Much of the support that we give to Israel is military in nature, and we benefit from it as much as they do. Our nations also collaborate closely, including co-developing cutting edge defense technology and sharing intelligence. Through our investment in Israel, we ensure Israel’s security as well as our own. I do not support aid to the Palestinians. While they claim to be partners in the peace process, the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist and refuse to renounce violence. I cannot support foreign aid under these circumstances.

7. 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 believe that Israel has the right to ensure its security and the security of its people. The Gaza blockade has cut off weapons and supplies to terrorist organizations such as Hamas, a radical Islamist organization sworn to the destruction of Israel. While the internationalists, including some Members of Congress, denounce the blockade, they rarely level criticism at the indiscriminate shelling of Israeli homes and schools by Hamas or Hezbollah. We know that without the blockade, missiles would be smuggled into the Palestinian territory from Iran, putting innocent Israeli lives at risk.

8. 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 fore 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.

The Holocaust—while not the first example of genocide—is certainly the most shocking, horrific, and unimaginable. The Nazis organized a systematic program of mass murder, never before seen in the history of the world. The goal of this program was clear: the Nazis desired the extermination the Jewish people, as well as other groups deemed “unfit” by Nazi ideology. The current conflict in Syria is not comparable to the Holocaust; rather, it is a civil war with shifting groups, ideologies, and loyalties. The US cannot be the world’s policeman, and we must choose our conflicts carefully when American lives and treasure are at stake. As such, I am very hesitant to support direct military intervention in Syria, in the same way that I did not support intervention in Libya. I believe we must think long and hard about military engagement abroad.

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