Courts Have No Business Determining the “True” Requirements of Any Religion

June 13 2018

Writing for the majority in the Supreme Court’s ruling on the case of the Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that “it hardly requires restating that government has no role in deciding or even suggesting whether the religious ground for [a] conscience-based objection is legitimate or illegitimate.” Howard Slugh believes this point very much worth stating, and argues that it has particularly important consequences for Jews:

Governmental entities have a nasty habit of refusing to protect religious practices that are, in their view, religiously mistaken or illegitimate. . . . On June 5, one day after the Supreme Court decided Masterpiece, a district-court judge handed down a decision in Estes v. Clark. In that case, a Jewish prisoner named Bruce Estes sued his prison for refusing to provide kosher food as well as a ram’s horn for use in traditional holiday services.

The prison argued that Estes could not claim it had deprived him of religious liberty because the prison food was kosher enough to meet his religious needs. . . . [B]ased on its understanding of Judaism, the food was kosher. The prison even hired a rabbi to testify that Estes misunderstood his faith. Estes hired his own rabbi to testify that the prison was not, in fact, properly preparing kosher food.

It should be immediately obvious that this sort of religious debate has no place in an American court. Judges are not qualified to determine which rabbi speaks for the only “True Judaism,” if such a thing even exists. And, even more important, the law would protect Estes’s right to religious liberty even if his personal faith differed from normative Judaism. Every American has a right to live in accordance with his conscience, regardless of whether he follows an orthodox faith. Fortunately, the court saw through the prison’s nonsense. It decided that, for the purposes of Estes’s religious-liberty claim, the relevant question was whether eating the prison food would violate his own sincere religious beliefs. The court recognized that it had no business attempting to discover and apply the “true” Jewish law. Rather, it had to accept the validity of Estes’s sincere religious beliefs. . . .

Unfortunately, these cases do not always go as well as the Estes case has gone so far. . . . Minority religions, such as Judaism, are the most vulnerable to mistreatment by judges inclined to play religious inquisitor. Judges, most of whom are likely unfamiliar with Jewish practices, are more likely to misunderstand or discount the importance of those practices relative to more common religious rituals. . . . Jews observe laws that may strike non-Jews as obscure, from refusing to wear a mixture of wool and linen to only eating wheat harvested at certain times of the year. Jewish Americans’ religious liberty should not depend on a judge’s ad-hoc determinations regarding the validity of such practices.

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More about: American law, Freedom of Religion, Gay marriage, Religion & Holidays, U.S. Constitution

 

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times