While Fighting the Coronavirus, Don’t Neglect the First Amendment

While many houses of worship have closed voluntarily to protect their congregants from the coronavirus, there have been instances of state and local governments compelling them to cease operation. In some of these cases, governments have done so even when the institutions in question were cooperating with social-distancing guidelines; in others it seemed that places of prayer were being singled out for special scrutiny. Michael McConnell and Max Raskin call attention to two tried and true principles that can ensure that public-health measure do not infringe on one of America’s oldest and most cherished freedoms:

First, separation of church and state does not give religious communities immunity from regulation that is necessary for the common good.

The second principle is that the government can regulate religious activity only through what the Supreme Court calls “neutral” and “generally applicable” laws. This means that a government requirement cannot single out religious activity on the ground that it is somehow dispensable or “nonessential.” The government may regulate religious activities no more strictly than it regulates secular activities that present comparable risks. This principle was invoked by Judge Justin Walker of the Western District of Kentucky when he allowed a drive-in Easter service to take place in a church parking lot with cars six feet apart from one another. Noting that Kentucky permitted drive-through liquor stores to continue operating, the court quipped, “if beer is ‘essential,’ so is Easter.”

Third, both sides must seek what the courts call “reasonable accommodations.” . . . Government officials must continue to be vigilant about realistic public-health dangers from religious practice, but they must identify “less restrictive” means for achieving their purposes. For instance, Jewish ritual baths, called mikvahs, are permitted to operate in the tristate area, but are doing so with stricter rules and regulations, including enhanced disinfection and cleaning, and they are visited by appointment only.

Religious leaders and congregations will have to remember that the First Amendment is not an exemption from law applicable to all. And government officials must not forget that religious exercise is at the apex of our national values. Mass is not a football game, a minyan not a cruise. Worship cannot shelter in place indefinitely.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Coronavirus, First Amendment, Freedom of Religion, Mikveh, U.S. Politics

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood