Understanding American Religious Freedom—beyond James Madison

In Sacred Liberty, Steven Waldman provides a history of religious liberty in America from colonial times to the present. In doing so, he provides a more nuanced picture than that normally on offer. Mark David Hall writes in his review:

Jurists and scholars often act as if James Madison and Thomas Jefferson are the only Founders who matter when it comes to religious liberty and church-state relations. Refreshingly, Waldman cautions that Madison “did not alone invent the general concept of religious freedom,” and he notes that even the major Founders differed regarding the extent to which governments should encourage religious practices.

Waldman identifies Madison as a separationist; but this misunderstands the extent to which he was committed to strictly separating church and state. For instance, Waldman writes that Madison “opposed the appointments of congressional and military chaplains, on the grounds that using tax dollars to pay ministers was creating a religious establishment,” and that he “objected when Presidents Washington and Adams issued prayer proclamations.”

As a member of the confederation and federal congresses, Madison voted to pay chaplains, and as the nation’s fourth president, he issued four calls for prayer. After he left the presidency, he questioned the constitutionality of these practices, but he did so in a private document that was not published in his lifetime. Even if these were views he had held earlier, he did not act on them, and there is little evidence that other Founders (except Jefferson) shared them.

For Waldman, as for his reviewer Hall, freedom of religion was something that continued to evolve, often if not always in a beneficial direction, in the years since the Bill of Rights was ratified:

An overlooked landmark in the rise of religious liberty in America is the National Conference of Christians and Jews, founded in 1927. In 1933, three of the group’s leaders, a Protestant minister, Catholic priest, and Jewish rabbi, embarked on a 38-city tour to promote interfaith understanding. Their journey was covered by Time magazine, and their endeavor inspired a host of similar tours by other trios throughout the 1930s.

Read more at Law and Liberty

More about: American founders, James Madison, Jewish-Christian relations, Religious Freedom

An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security