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The "Not My Tax Dollars" campaign and the complexity of Tikkun Olam

The people at the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) are turning one of the arguments for the Hyde Amendment back on itself in an exciting video campaign with one of my favorite video bloggers, Jay Smooth. Hyde supporters have argued that federal dollars should not fund something a large percentage of the population considers immoral. The CRR is asking: what do you wish the government wouldn't spend your tax dollars on?  And if you don't get to pick and choose, why should the Pro-Lifers?

Broadening the morality issue beyond the abortion debate, as this campaign does, has interesting implications for Tikkun Olam, the Jewish charge to repair the world. The Hyde Amendment sets the precedent that citizens should have control of their tax dollars when morality is in question. The CRR's campaign sheds light on the number of groups, projects and programs sponsored by our government that any number of people consider immoral.  

Should there be similar amendments to prohibit federal dollars from going to the war on drugs? To abstinence-only education? To war? To Israel? Should American citizens have the right to pick and choose on every issue? And is there room for tolerance when one group's moral imperative restricts another's freedom, or right to health care?

It is common practice for the Anti-Abortion, or Pro-Life, movement to compare the struggle against abortion to the struggle against slavery.  In a few days we will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and it's interesting to consider the CRR's campaign in this context. The slavery analogy is a popular way to frame the political position against abortion as a moral certainty on which there can be no compromise. The analogy is effective for their purposes because, while we are divided on abortion, Americans agree that slavery is immoral and unacceptable.

Looking back on our legacy of slavery, Americans understand that if one witnesses a social evil, one is responsible to put an end to it.  Even though I personally support a woman's right to choose, I can understand the Pro-Life point of view in this context.  If I believed that abortion was genocide, I too would consider the Pro-Choice solution morally unacceptable. (Of course, I don't consider abortion to be anything remotely resembling genocide, but the Pro-Life sense of moral responsibility remains valid, even honorable, in that light.)  If one understands something to be wrong -- just as the abolitionists understood slavery to be wrong -- one is morally charged with the task of ending that practice. In my mind, this is part of Tikkun Olam, our charge to repair the world. 

We understand slavery to be wrong because it is obvious that all people, of all colors, are human beings with a legal right to personhood. When it comes to the personhood of a fetus, things are not so clear. Each of us must determine our own answer to that question.  Many of us look to religion to guide us, and the U.S. has become a great deal more diverse in religious belief and practice than it was in 1860.  As Jewish women with a strong legacy of social justice activism, how do we negotiate conflicting interpretations of morality?  

It stinks that we all must contribute our tax dollars to causes we consider immoral. On the other hand, a system that prohibits federal dollars going to any issue that could be considered immoral is unrealistic and probably not a good idea.  What the CRR campaign shows us, however, that one group's moral imperative should not receive special treatment.  I commend the Pro-Lifers on their determination to repair the world in a way that makes sense to them (even as I abhor some of their methods), but since there is no universal understanding that abortion is wrong, the restriction of the nation's federal tax dollars is simply not acceptable.

How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "The "Not My Tax Dollars" campaign and the complexity of Tikkun Olam." 15 January 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 16, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/not-my-tax-dollars-and-the-complexity-of-tikkun-olam>.

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