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.

Read more at Defining Ideas

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

To Undermine Russian and Iranian Influence in Syria, the U.S. Must Go on the Offensive

March 22 2018

When Iranian-lead, pro-Assad forces attacked U.S. allies in Syria last month, they found themselves quickly overwhelmed by American firepower. The incident, writes Tony Badran, makes clear that the U.S. has the capability to push back against the Damascus-Tehran-Moscow axis. By taking a more aggressive approach while working closely with Israel, Badran argues, Washington can at once prevent Russia and Iran from cementing their control of Syria and avoid getting drawn into a wider conflict:

Israeli assets can augment U.S. capabilities considerably. A few days after the skirmish in Deir Ezzour in February, Iran flew a drone into Israeli air space. Israel responded by destroying the Iranian command center at the Tiyas military air base near Palmyra, and then proceeded to bomb a large number of Iranian and Assad-regime targets. The episode again underscored the vulnerability of Iran, to say nothing of the brittle Assad regime. Close coordination with Israel to expand this ongoing targeting campaign against Iranian and Hizballah infrastructure, senior cadres, and logistical routes, and amplifying it with U.S. assets in the region, would have a devastating effect on Iran’s position in Syria.

By going on the offensive, the U.S. will also strengthen Israel’s hand with Russia, reducing Jerusalem’s need to petition the Kremlin and thereby diminishing Moscow’s ability to position itself as an arbiter on Israeli security. For instance, instead of haggling with Russia to obtain its commitment to keep Iran five or seven kilometers away from the Israeli border, the U.S. could adopt the Israeli position on Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and assist Israel in enforcing it. Such a posture would have a direct effect on another critical ally, Jordan, whose role is of high importance in southern Syria and in the U.S. zone in the east.

Assad and Iran are the scaffolding on which the Russian position stands. Targeting them, therefore, undercuts Moscow and reduces its leverage. By merely forcing Russia to respect Israeli and Jordanian needs on the border, the U.S. would undermine Russia’s attempt, more generally, to leverage its position in Syria to make headway into the U.S. alliance system. In addition to adopting a more offensive military posture, the U.S. should also intensify the economic chokehold on Assadist Syria.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy