The Court’s Unanimous Ruling on Religious Liberty Conceals Substantive Divides

On Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that, as the editors of the New York Sun put it, “a Christian group may no longer be excluded from occasionally flying its banner on a municipal flagpole outside Boston’s city hall.” But the majority opinion, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, seems unlikely to be the last word on questions relating to religious expression in public institutions.

Concurrences by three conservative justices make clear that the Court is far from united on the issue.

Justice Breyer’s opinion centers on the point that when “government encourages diverse expression,” or creates “a forum for debate” it cannot, under the First Amendment, discriminate “against speakers based on their viewpoint.”

To Justice Breyer, Boston’s city flagpoles are a forum. That finding contrasts with Boston’s view that the banners it permitted to wave on the municipal flagpole “reflect particular city-approved values or views.” While Justice Breyer observed that “may well be true of the Pride Flag raised annually to commemorate Boston Pride Week,” he found it “more difficult to discern a connection to the city” when a local bank, the Metro Credit Union, also held a flag-raising at city hall.

In the Boston opinion, Justice Breyer’s equanimity over the cause of religious freedom is plain. Boston’s “lack of meaningful involvement in the selection of flags” or their messages “leads us to classify the flag raisings as private, not government, speech,” he wrote, yet “nothing prevents Boston from changing its policies going forward.” How is that not an invitation to defy the court’s ruling?

Read more at New York Sun

More about: First Amendment, Freedom of Religion, Supreme Court

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy