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?

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Read more at New York Sun

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

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter