Hillel and Public Policy Student Council Host Congressman Raskin

By Laken Franchetti, Assistant News Editor

Hillel and the Public Policy Student Council hosted Congressman Jamie Raskin on campus Saturday, April 23.  Raskin serves as the U.S. Representative for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District.  Hillel executive board member Emily Sullivan introduced Raskin, and he spoke on his Jewish background and current politics.

Raskin began by addressing how he typically does not accept invitations to discuss his religious background.  He shared his dislike for identity politics, and believes that identities are much more complex and cannot be communicated properly with a label.  However, Raskin expressed an appreciation for Gettysburg College and decided to accept the invitation.  His larger discussion began with speaking about the separation of church and state.

“I’m somebody who believes that the absolute radicalism of the American revolution and our constitution was in the separation of church and state because our founders were enlightened liberals who rebelled against centuries of holy crusades and inquisitions,” Raskin said.  “Union of church and state had the government exploiting religion to control people and religions controlling state power to tax and constrict people.  Our founders wanted to do away with that, and that’s how we got the First Amendment.”

Raskin grew upon the thoughts of association and affiliation between church and state, and the common misconceptions that come with that.  He gave an example of colleagues who claim the Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools, yet in actuality, the Supreme Court rules that anybody can pray whenever they want, yet the schools cannot force an individual to pray.

Raskin emphasized the breakthroughs in the United States from separating the church and state.  He said that people can share their moral or ethical stances to the public sphere for further conversation and dialogue.

“Everybody can bring his or her own life experiences and values to the task of participating in politics,” Raskin said.  “There are people whose participation in politics is getting up and yelling about their religion.  I do not believe that is the most effective way to go.”

Raskin used public actors such as Martin Luther King Jr. to showcase the possibilities of translating beliefs and values into a universal language.  He then spoke on his own values and Jewish faith.  Passover was a deeply meaningful holiday for Raskin, and he believes the holiday captures his personal essence of what it means to be Jewish.  For Raskin, this means to recognize that his ancestors were slaves.

“Try to, as much as possible, engage your moral imagination to think about what it would be like to be a person without anything,” Raskin said.  “The rest of the Exodus tale, of course, is about liberation from salvery through acts of leadership and organizing… Having that visionary commitment to getting to a promised land, even if you yourself aren’t necessarily going to make it, just like Moses didn’t make it.”

He noted the injunction of tikkun olam to heal and repair the world stuck with him as well.

Raskin’s maternal grandfather was the first Jewish person elected to the Minnesota State Legislature.  As his grandfather acted as a lawyer and politician, Raskin would watch him work with people’s problems, and Raskin credits this as a model that he tries to live up to.

“In a democratic society, people who aspire and attain the public office are nothing but the servants of the people.  In the moment that somebody acts like they are the master of the people… that’s the moment to evict, eject, reject, impeach, convict, disqualify and start over again because no one is that important.  The greatest of us is not important,” Raskin said.

He then opened up the discussion for questions from those in attendance.  Raskin took questions that covered returning to a balanced federal budget, discussing the power of younger generations, maintaining optimism in political party relations, and hoping to abolish the Electoral College.

Raskin additionally spoke about the rising discussion of police brutality.  He recalled the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol and how the police saved countless lives that day.  Raskin discussed how the culture of gun violence makes the police’s job difficult and advocated for universal background checks.

Raskin will be back on campus in September to talk about American constitutional values, partisanship, and patriotism.

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Author: Laken Franchetti

Laken Franchetti ‘25 is the Assistant News Editor for The Gettysburgian. She has served as a staff writer for the news, features, and arts and entertainment sections. Laken is an English with a writing concentration and History double major. On-campus, she is a staff writer and associate editor for Her Campus, a PLA for the math department, a user services assistant at Musselman Library, and a member of the Eisenhower Institute's Women and Leadership Program.

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