As part of an ongoing fight over abortion law, a federal judge ordered the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB)—which is not a party to the case at hand—to turn over thousands of pages of documents, including records of internal deliberations. TCCB is now fighting for the right to keep these records private. To Howard Slugh and Greg Dolin, not only is the court’s demand unreasonable, but it would set a precedent that should be particularly worrisome to Jews:
Demanding that rabbis produce records of their internal religious deliberations substantially burdens their religious exercise by forcing them to censor their discussions. Frank rabbinic discussions enable Jews to apply their faith [to] new situations and challenges [as they] arise. Courts should therefore only grant litigants access to such discussions if they demonstrate a compelling need for the requested information. No such need has been demonstrated in the TCCB case.
Internal religious communications often involve discussions of sensitive matters relating to marriage and divorce, end-of-life decisions, child rearing, financial matters, and interaction with the secular government. If rabbis knew that their internal religious deliberations were ordinarily discoverable, they would not be able to have the wide-ranging talmudic-style discussions that understanding Jewish law requires. The risk of an adversary twisting such discussions, or even simply removing them from their proper context, is simply too great. . . .
[Furthermore], people intent on demonizing Judaism can generate anti-Semitism by taking discussions of historic examples out of context. . . . They could, [for instance], use the discussion of historic sources to make it seem as if modern rabbis are advocating lying to the police and committing tax fraud. Courts should not make life any easier for people with such malign intent. . . . History is replete with examples of Jewish suffering resulting from the disclosure of sensitive information. . . .
None of this is to say that courts can never order the production of internal religious deliberations. But the party seeking such materials should bear the burden of demonstrating a compelling need to have access to the documents, and that there is no other possible source of equivalent information. . . . This standard was not applied in the TCCB case.