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Jewish Journal

JewsOnFirst.org Continues Fight Against Aggressive Christian Activities

by Naomi Pfefferman

September 7, 2006 | 8:00 pm

Several months ago, activist Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak learned of a Jewish family allegedly forced to flee its Delaware town after protesting aggressive Christian activities in the public schools.

The Los Angeles rabbi is co-founder of JewsOnFirst.org, perhaps the only Web site exclusively devoted to the Jewish take on separation of church and state (and a counterpart to Christian efforts such as Leftcross.com). Its mission, according to the site: "Defending the First Amendment against the Christian Right, because if Jews don't speak up, they'll think we don't care."

One goal is to champion cases largely ignored by the mainstream press.

Thus Beliak zeroed in on the Delaware family -- Mona and Marco Dobrich and their two children -- who had filed a lawsuit along with a family known only as the "Does" about a year ago. Their complaint alleges that teachers preached Christianity, that Bible Club students received special privileges, and that a local minister prayed for one of the children to accept Jesus at her high school graduation, among other charges. The Dobrichs moved to Wilmington, Del., when the suit allegedly made them "the focus of hostilities from neighbors and local media," Beliak said.

The rabbi and his JewsOnFirst co-founder, union activist Jane Hunter, promptly conducted extensive research on the case, including interviews with school officials and the Dobrichs' attorneys. After they published their Web expose in June, The New York Times interviewed Beliak and Hunter for its own story, which ran on July 29. In the Washington Jewish Week, an Anti-Defamation League official praised JewsOnFirst for its "robust" amount of information on church-state issues.

Beliak and Hunter created the site after becoming alarmed by increasing efforts by churches to back political candidates. Last week's site included articles with titles such as "Religious right powerhouses mobilizing for 2006 elections," "New Jersey school district to approve pro-prayer ruling" and an e-mail petition on behalf of the Dobrichs.

Most of the conflicts take place in Bible Belt states, Beliak said, because "those areas present a more accurate picture of this country than cities like Los Angeles. Most of America is not comfortable with diversity."

JewsOnFirst will monitor how Los Angeles churches use an upcoming California pro-life ballot measure to back candidates -- because lending support to individual candidates violates religious institutions' tax-exempt status, Beliak said.

"Jews understand that liberty must be constantly guarded, and where we see threats, we must mobilize," he added.

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