Why a Recent California Court Case Should Concern Jews

Jan. 26 2018

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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More about: American Jewry, American law, Freedom of Religion, Orthodoxy, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Politics

The Dangers of Diplomacy with Iran

Aug. 21 2018

Although President Trump’s offer to meet with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic was rejected, the possibility of direct negotiations remains. Ray Takeyh and Mark Dubowitz warn that Tehran could use talks to stall and gain leverage over Washington:

The mullahs understand that just by staying at the table, Americans usually offer up concessions. [They] are betting that the Trump administration may become weaker over time, preoccupied with domestic politics. Best to entangle America in protracted diplomacy while awaiting what the regime expects will be midterm Republican losses in Congress and the return of a more flexible Democratic president to power in 2021. This is what [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei probably meant when he stressed that negotiations have to wait until America is softened up.

Diplomacy would surely blunt the impact of U.S. pressure. The mullahs believe they can undermine the escalation of [U.S.] sanctions by being diplomatically flirtatious and know well that America seldom disrupts negotiations with military action. Indeed, as a prelude to the talks, Iran may even resume its nuclear activities to frighten the Europeans and gain leverage by putting even more pressure on Washington to adjust its red lines.

Should negotiations begin, the Trump team should take sensible precautions to avoid the predicament of the Obama negotiators. The administration will need to maintain its maximum-pressure campaign and its negotiating demands. . . . Any negotiations with the Islamic Republic should be time-limited, and Washington must be prepared to leave the table when it confronts the usual pattern of regime bombast and mendacity.

Donald Trump should insist on direct talks with the supreme leader, as he did with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un: Rouhani is a lame duck without any real influence. The administration also should demand that Europeans join its sanctions policy targeting Iran’s ballistic-missile program, support for terrorism, and human-rights abuses as a price for their participation in the talks.

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More about: Ali Khamenei, Donald Trump, Hassan Rouhani, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy