A ruling by a federal court in California, writes Mitchell Rocklin, suggests a disturbing threat to religious freedom that could have far-reaching implications:
The Ninth Circuit recently upheld a California law that requires pregnancy crisis centers to advertise state-funded abortions—when their very raison d’être is to promote other alternatives. The law further requires that the advertisement be made in thirteen languages, needs to be in the largest font of any material disseminated by the center, and must be made available at the beginning of the organization’s dealings with the client. This . . . requirement . . . effectively undermines the ability of pregnancy crisis centers such as the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) to offer their own advice to women as they see fit, and without violating their consciences. . . .
For centuries, American Jews have established institutions that allowed them to function as a small community within a larger American community. These included synagogues, schools, cemeteries, burial societies, libraries, lodges, social-service organizations, charities, community centers, and even hospitals. Sometimes these were created by choice, other times as responses to discrimination. Undeniably, American Jews have been able to participate fully in civil society without compromising their Jewish identity. But without the ability to express our Jewish identity in Jewish institutions—including through engaging in practices conforming to our religion and morality—our community will be greatly hindered. . . .
To this end, Orthodox Jews have a particular need for protection —the same protection that NIFLA is asking for in its lawsuit: the freedom to promote a message without being forced to comply with a governmentally favored alternative. . . . Let’s consider a few examples of how governmentally compelled speech could affect other Jewish organizations. . . . Should private rabbinical courts be required to advertise civil courts? Should Jewish rehabilitation centers or hospice programs be required to advertise secular alternatives? . . .
Orthodox Jews are particularly vulnerable to majority messages because they exist as an independent community that is in many ways separate from the rest of American society. To thrive, they must be free to cultivate their differences. While the cultural trend disfavoring traditionalist religion may be against Christian groups right now, there is nothing preventing it from turning against Jewish issues like circumcision and kosher slaughter. Indeed, the latter is already banned in several European countries, and has been legally challenged multiple times in the United States.
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