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

How Israel Should Approach Syria in the Wake of the U.S. Airstrikes

April 27 2017

Nearly three weeks after a U.S. attack on a Syrian airbase, it remains unclear if Washington will start working actively against the Assad regime or simply enforce red lines. Ilan Goldenberg argues that in either case Israel should stick to the strategy it has been pursuing all along—one that will only be helped by greater American involvement:

The good news is that much of the area of southern Syria is now controlled by a group of moderate Sunni forces known as the Southern Front. This group is an alliance of smaller local militias that has been supported by the United States and Jordan with some quiet support from Israel. As a result, southern Syria has become one of the most stable areas in the country, resulting in a default buffer zone that protects both Israel and Jordan. The key for Israel will be to ensure that in any final resolution of the Syrian conflict or change in Trump administration policy, the Southern Front remains in place. . . .

[Another] central objective for Israel will be to prevent the proliferation of chemical weapons in Syria that could get into the hands of extremists who may launch attacks on Israeli civilians. At the start of the Syria conflict this was the foremost Israeli priority. . . . The priority Israel places on this issue also explains why the Israeli minister of defense, Avigdor Liberman, came out so strongly in support of the military strikes against the Assad regime, drawing a sharp rebuke from Vladimir Putin. In most instances, Israel has tried to avoid antagonizing Russia or getting in the middle of U.S-Russian competition, but on this particular matter it is highly invested in the American position.

Finally, Israel . . . has a broader overarching objective of trying to limit Iranian influence in Syria. . . . Iranian-supported militias and operatives of the Qods Force [Iran’s elite expeditionary troops] are deeply enmeshed inside the Syrian regime at this point, and Israel likely recognizes that. Iran will continue to have influence in Syria and be able to use its allies in Damascus to supply and strengthen Hizballah. All Israel can do is push for American policies that limit Tehran’s influence in Syria to the largest extent possible, while recognizing the reality of the situation on the ground.

Read more at Matzav

More about: Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy