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

Famous Novelists “Confront the Occupation” in the West Bank—and Celebrate Themselves

June 27 2017

To produce the collection Kingdom of Olives and Ash, the writers Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman gathered a group of novelists, arranged for them to be shown around Israel for a few days by anti-Israel activists, and had each of them write an essay about the experience. Matti Friedman surveys the results:

Chabon and Waldman tell us on the very first page of a visit to Israel in 1992, which they remember vividly as a time of optimism, when the “Oslo Accords were fresh and untested.” But their memory must be playing tricks, because the Oslo Accords happened in the fall of 1993. Chabon and Waldman, who live in Berkeley, CA, are accomplished writers, but the reader needs a few words about what they’re up to here. Do they have special expertise to offer? Israel is probably the biggest international news story over the past 50 years, so is there a reason they decided the world needs to know more about it and not, say, Kandahar, Guantanamo, Congo, or Baltimore?

The essays vary in tone and quality, but experienced journalists covering the Israel/Palestine story will recognize the usual impressions of reporters fresh from the airport. Cute Palestinian kids touched my hair! Beautiful tea glasses! I saw a gun! I lost my luggage, and that seems symbolic! Arabs do hip-hop! The soldiers are so young and rude!

The writers interview the same people who are always interviewed in the West Bank, thinking it’s all new, and believe what they’re told. . . . Everything is described with a gravitas suggesting that the writers haven’t spent much time outside the world’s safer corners. [Dave] Eggers devotes two whole pages to an incident on the Gaza border, where one Israeli guard said he couldn’t pass and then a different one came and let him through. Dave, if you’re reading this, I hope you’re okay. . . .

What [this book is] really about is the writers. Most of the essays aren’t journalism but a kind of selfie in which the author poses in front of the symbolic moral issue of the time: here I am at an Israeli checkpoint! Here I am with a shepherd! That’s why the very first page of the book finds Chabon and Waldman talking not about the occupation, but about Chabon and Waldman. After a while I felt trapped in a wordy kind of Kardashian Instagram feed, without the self-awareness.

Read more at Washington Post

More about: Anti-Zionism, Idiocy, Israel & Zionism, Journalism, West Bank