A Seven-Year Court Battle over a Florida Prayer Vigil and the Future of Religious Freedom in America

In 2014, in the wake of a shooting in which multiple children were injured, the city of Ocala, Florida held a prayer vigil. Three of those present, along with the American Humanist Association, sued, claiming that the involvement of municipal officials in organizing the event entailed unconstitutional government support for religion. The suit has dragged on ever since, as both plaintiffs and defendants believe they are taking a stand on a matter of principle. Kesley Dallas writes:

In any setting, it would be nearly impossible to get members of the two camps onto the same page. But the legal system seems especially ill-suited for resolving this conflict, since related cases often get bogged down by, or dismissed due to, questions of standing and disagreements between parties over what really took place.

Still, the Supreme Court has provided some important insights over the years. For one thing, it’s said that the government can’t coerce people to pray, especially not impressionable public-school students on their graduation day. . . . The court has also said that government officials shouldn’t privilege one particular faith over others by, for example, allowing only Christians to offer prayers before legislative meetings. However, it hasn’t been receptive to the argument that allowing any prayer to be offered in that setting privileges believers over atheists.

[But] lawsuits focus on what the Constitution allows. They rarely enable communities to figure out what pluralism looks like in action or help public officials understand how to be more inclusive when they talk about their faith. [In a sense], the legal system is not equipped to answer what, at the end of the day, are political and social questions: how, as a community, should we celebrate or mourn? How do we use faith to draw people together, rather than tear them apart?

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Read more at Deseret News

More about: American law, Florida, Freedom of Religion, Religion and politics

What Israel Can Offer Africa

Last week, the Israeli analyst Yechiel Leiter addressed a group of scholars and diplomats gathered in Addis Ababa to discuss security issues facing the Horn of Africa. Herewith, some excerpts from his speech:

Since the advent of Zionism and the birth of modern Israel, there has been a strong ideological connection between Israel and the African continent. . . . For decades, [however], the notion that the absence of peace in the Middle East was due the absence of Palestinian statehood prevented a full and strategic partnership with African countries. . . . The visits to Africa by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—in 2016 to East Africa and in 2017 to West Africa—reenergized the natural partnership that was initiated by Israel’s Foreign Minister Golda Meir in the 1960s.

There is much we share, many places where our interests converge. And I don’t mean another military base in Djibouti. . . . One such area involves the safety of waterways in and around the Red Sea. Curtailing contraband, drugs, arms smuggling, and other forms of serious corruption are all vital for us. . . . But the one critical area of cooperation I’d like to put the spotlight on is in the realm of food security, or rather food insecurity.

Imagine Ethiopia’s cows producing 30 or 40 liters of milk a day instead of the two or three that they produce today. Imagine an exponential rise in (organic) meat exports to Middle Eastern and even European countries, the result of increased processing, storage, and transportation possibilities. Cows today can have a microscopic chip behind their ears that sends messages to the farmer’s computer or mobile phone that tracks what the cow ate, what its temperature is, and what care it might need. Imagine a dramatic expansion of the wheat yield that can make Ethiopia a net exporter of wheat—to Egypt, perhaps in the context of negotiations over the waters of the Nile.

Israel has proven technology in all of these agricultural areas and we’re here; we’re neighbors. We are linked to Africa, particularly the Horn of Africa, in so many ways.

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Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Africa, Ethiopia, Israel diplomacy, Israeli agriculture, Israeli technology