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

March 5 2019

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.

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

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Election 2019, Israeli politics