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?

Read more at Deseret News

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

How to Turn Palestinian Public Opinion Away from Terror

The Palestinian human-rights activist Bassem Eid, responding to the latest survey results of the Palestinian public, writes:

Not coincidentally, support for Hamas is much higher in the West Bank—misgoverned by Hamas’s archrivals, the secular nationalist Fatah, which rules the Palestinian Authority (PA)—than in Gaza, whose population is being actively brutalized by Hamas. Popular support for violence persists despite the devastating impact that following radical leaders and ideologies has historically had on the Palestinian people, as poignantly summed up by Israel’s Abba Eban when he quipped that Arabs, including the Palestinians, “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Just as worrying is the role of propaganda and misinformation, which are not unique to the Palestinian context but are pernicious there due to the high stakes involved. Misinformation campaigns, often fueled by Hamas and its allies, have painted violent terrorism as the only path to dignity and rights for Palestinians. Palestinian schoolbooks and public media are rife with anti-Semitic and jihadist content. Hamas’s allies in the West have matched Hamas’s genocidal rhetoric with an equally exterminationist call for the de-normalization and destruction of Israel.

It’s crucial to consider successful examples of de-radicalization from other regional contexts. After September 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia implemented a comprehensive de-radicalization program aimed at rehabilitating extremists through education, psychological intervention, and social reintegration. This program has had successes and offers valuable lessons that could be adapted to the Palestinian context.

Rather than pressure Israel to make concessions, Eid argues, the international community should be pressuring Palestinian leaders—including Fatah—to remove incitement from curricula and stop providing financial rewards to terrorists.

Read more at Newsweek

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian public opinion