Why Jews and Muslims Should Oppose the Banning of Public Symbols of Religion

Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case regarding whether a 40-foot-high cross, built by the American Legion to honor U.S. soldiers and sailors who died in World War I, violates the First Amendment because it is located on Maryland state public property. Asma Uddin and Greg Dolin argue that such an expansive interpretation of the establishment clause would work to the detriment of religious minorities:

In the U.S. today, even if we banish Christian symbols from public spaces, Americans will still come across Christian symbols, history, imagery, and narrative. Minority religions in America do not enjoy this same pervasiveness. Most people are not familiar with Jewish ritualistic practices like kapparot (which, according to some customs, involves the slaughter of a chicken that is then donated to a needy family) or the sale and later repurchase of ḥamets (leaven, prohibited for consumption during Passover).

Similarly, most Americans are not familiar with Muslim ritual animal sacrifice on the annual Feast of the Sacrifice or even the dawn-till-dusk fast during the month of Ramadan on the Islamic calendar. The unfamiliarity in turn often breeds suspicions or worse—discrimination and hate crimes.

To make these practices more familiar to society at large, minority communities deeply appreciate when political leaders acknowledge these unique religious customs. Their participation sends a message that adherents of a minority faith are full members of the community and that their religious practices are welcome and not deserving of suspicion. A high-profile example of such acknowledgment is the annual menorah lighting that takes place in front of the White House. . . . The White House also typically hosts dinners for both Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the conclusion of Ramadan.

These official acts of “recognition” would be banned under the interpretation of the Constitution put forward by opponents of public religious displays. . . . A decision that requires the government to forgo any interaction, no matter how minor, with religion, will disproportionately hurt practitioners of minority faiths.

Read more at Detroit News

More about: American Jewry, American Muslims, First Amendment, Freedom of Religion, Politics & Current Affairs


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus