A Blow against Religious Freedom in Mississippi

July 22 2016

A federal judge in Mississippi issued a preliminary injunction last month preventing a religious-liberty law, just passed by the state legislature, from going into effect. The law, known as HB 1523, preserves the right of those with “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction” about homosexual marriage to refrain from participating in or validating such marriages, provided their actions do not impede the ability of same-sex couples to marry. Calling the judge’s decision “extraordinarily misguided,” Richard A. Epstein explains his objections:

HB 1523 represents the kind of sensible accommodation that has long been the hallmark of religious liberty. . . . Judge Carlton W. Reeves struck down the Mississippi statute because he did not grasp the fundamental distinction between forcing others to yield to your beliefs and just asking to be left alone.

The new bill is intended to augment the state’s earlier Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allowed restrictions on religious liberties when they compete with “a government interest of the highest magnitude.” Traditionally, Epstein points out,

this language meant that the state could curb religious freedom in order to prevent riots in public places. . . . Not anymore. . . . [T]he argument has [now] commonly been made that the elimination of discrimination in all areas of American life counts as a compelling state interest, of course of the highest magnitude. . . .

Judge Reeves’s decision goes even farther, identifying the mere refusal of, say, a caterer to provide food for a gay wedding as doing “harm” to the couple—even if there are multiple other local caterers the couple could choose from. Such an “overbroad” definition of harm, according to Epstein, sets a precedent where any slight, real or perceived, against one individual could be cause to limit the rights of another.

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More about: American law, Freedom of Religion, Gay marriage, Politics & Current Affairs, RFRA


Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times