Why American Jews Shouldn’t Fear the Overturning of a Landmark Religious-Freedom Case

Nov. 17 2021

According to the landmark Supreme Court decision in the case of Employment Division v. Smith, laws that restrict religious practices are constitutional so long as they are “neutral” and “generally applicable,” and don’t single out religion per se, or a particular religion. Justice Samuel Alito recently challenged this ruling, bringing as examples laws that might prohibit kosher slaughter, circumcision, or the wearing of head coverings in court. Such legislation, Alito noted, would severely restrict Jewish (and Muslim) practice, yet could still be written in a way that would be acceptable according to Smith. Josh BlackmanHoward Slugh, and Mitchell Rocklin explore these examples:

A neutral law to prohibit ritual kosher slaughter would likely be constitutional under Smith. . . . In recent years, animal-rights advocates have argued that ritual kosher slaughter inflicts undue pain on animals. In 2019, Belgium required that all animals be stunned before they are slaughtered. The stunning may involve an electric shock, or, for larger animals, firing a metal rod into the brain. This law was designed to prevent animals from feeling pain. But the laws of kashrut [prohibit such practices].

In effect, Belgium made it illegal to perform kosher slaughter. Muslims also argued that the law prohibited ritual halal slaughter. Yet the European Court of Justice, the highest court of the European Union, upheld the Belgian law. The court found that the Belgian laws “allow a fair balance to be struck between the importance attached to animal welfare and the freedom of Jewish and Muslim believers to manifest their religion and are, therefore, proportionate.”

Other countries have followed Belgium’s lead. Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Slovenia, and Sweden have enacted similar bans without exemptions for religious communities.

If this is so, why does the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)—along with other Jewish groups—insist on supporting Smith?

The ADL worries that granting exemptions from anti-discrimination laws, for example, could harm vulnerable minorities.

While we acknowledge the force of this argument, the ADL’s fear is, in fact, ultimately unfounded. Even if Smith were overturned, religious liberty would not automatically trump the state’s other interests. In a post-Smith world, the government could still burden religious exercise if it demonstrated that doing so was the least restrictive means to further a compelling government interest. This analysis would require a case-by-case consideration. Overruling Smith would not lead to the elimination of the core anti-discrimination laws that allow unpopular minorities to fully participate in American life.

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Read more at Heritage

More about: ADL, American law, Freedom of Religion, Supreme Court

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia