Neil Gorsuch Will Likely Restore Religious Freedom to Its Rightful Place

March 21 2017

The Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Gorsuch, nominated to join the Supreme Court, began yesterday. In Nathan Diament’s opinion, Gorsuch understands the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty expansively, in a way that the late Antonin Scalia—whom he was chosen to replace—did not:

In 1990, Scalia severely curtailed the First Amendment’s protection for the free exercise of religion. . . . At the time, Supreme Court precedents held that [certain state encroachments on religious freedom would be held to] the highest standard of constitutional proof, known as strict scrutiny. . . . A divided court overturned those precedents. Justice Scalia, writing for a five-justice majority, held that a person’s right to the free exercise of religion would receive a lower level of legal protection when the law in question doesn’t specifically target religion. . . .

Samuel Alito, appointed to the high court in 2006, was the first of the newer justices who had a record of disagreeing with [this particular opinion of Scalia’s]. Judge Gorsuch would be another. He appears to be sensitive to the needs of religious minorities and the role faith plays in people’s lives. . . .

[As a judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals], Gorsuch wrote a separate opinion in Hobby Lobby, [a much-publicized 2013 case regarding the Affordable Care Act’s “contraceptive mandate”], arguing that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act “doesn’t just apply to protect popular religious beliefs: it does perhaps its most important work in protecting unpopular religious beliefs, vindicating this nation’s long-held aspiration to serve as a refuge of religious tolerance.” . . .

What comes through in [Gorsuch’s] opinions is a recognition that seems to have eluded Scalia in 1990: the law is meant to be a bulwark against infringement—whether by government or other powerful entities—upon a person’s religious conscience and practices. It is not enough to allow Americans to believe as they wish; they must also be able, generally, to act in conformity with their beliefs.

Read more at Orthodox Union

More about: First Amendment, Freedom of Religion, Politics & Current Affairs, RFRA, Supreme Court, U.S. Constitution

Lessons for the U.S. from Israel’s 2007 Bombing of the Syrian Nuclear Reactor

March 23 2018

In 2007, then-Mossad chief Meir Dagan came to Washington with overwhelming evidence that Syria, with North Korean help, had built a nuclear reactor for military use. After a debate among his advisers, President Bush told then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he had chosen to pressure Bashar al-Assad diplomatically to give up his nuclear program. Israel itself then bombed the reactor, which was located in an area that in a few years would become the heartland of Islamic State. Earlier this week, for the first time, Jerusalem publicly took responsibility for the attack. (Amnon Lord explores possible reasons for that decision here.) Elliott Abrams—then the deputy national security adviser for the Middle East—related the discussion within the White House over what to do about the reactor, and also explained what could be learned from the affair, in a 2013 article for Commentary:

The Israelis believed that if they [or American officials] spoke about the strike [after it happened], Assad might be forced to react to this humiliation by trying to attack Israel. If, however, we all shut up, he might do nothing—nothing at all. He might try to hide the fact that anything had happened. And with every day that passed, the possibility that he would acknowledge the event and fight back diminished. That had been the Israeli theory, and the Israelis knew their man. We maintained silence and so did Israel—no leaks. As the weeks went by, the chances of an Israeli-Syrian confrontation grew slim and then disappeared. Syria has never admitted that there was a reactor at the site. . . .

Two final points are worth noting. First, in May 2008, Turkish-mediated peace talks between Israel and Syria were publicly announced in Istanbul. The discussions had begun secretly in February 2007, and obviously had continued after the Israeli strike on [the reactor]. It would appear that the strike . . . made the Syrians more, not less, desirous of talking to the Israelis because it made them afraid of Israeli power. It also made them more afraid of American power until we undermined our own position, which is the second point.

A very well-placed Arab diplomat later told us that the strike had left Assad deeply worried as to what was coming next. He had turned Syria into the main transit route for jihadists going to Iraq to kill American soldiers. From Libya or Indonesia, Pakistan or Egypt, they would fly to Damascus International Airport and be shepherded into Iraq. Assad was afraid that on the heels of the Israeli strike would come American action to punish him for all this involvement. But just weeks later, Assad received his invitation to send a Syrian delegation to [a] big international confab [organized by] then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Annapolis Conference, and according to the Arab envoy, Assad relaxed immediately; he knew he would be OK. . . .

Finally, this incident is a reminder that there is no substitute for military strength and the will to use it. Think of how much more dangerous to the entire region the Syrian civil war would be today if Assad had a nuclear reactor, and even perhaps nuclear weapons, in hand. Israel was right to bomb that reactor before construction was completed, and President Bush was right to support its decision to do so. Israel was also right in rejecting fears that the incident would lead to a larger war and in believing that it, and the United States, would be better off after this assertion of leadership and determination.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Bashar al-Assad, George W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Nuclear proliferation, Syria, US-Israel relations