The Enemies of Religious Liberty in America, and How to Refute Them

To Peter Berkowitz, emergent trends on both the American left and the American right are hostile to the Founders’ version of freedom of religion:

Scorn for religion drives the threat to religious liberty from the left. The progressive threat is less openly articulated but more ensconced in elite institutions. Many on the left regard religion as an oppressive and dehumanizing superstition. Christianity, they believe, suffuses and corrupts the great literary and philosophical works of Western civilization and sustains what they regard as the West’s surpassing sins toward minorities, women, other civilizations, and the environment. The progressive disposition aspires to purge religious expression from the public sphere while using state authority, especially through public education, to emancipate individuals still under religion’s spell.

Religious enthusiasm propels the threat to religious liberty from the right. The conservative threat is primarily the work of elite right-wing intellectuals who have yet to persuade the people or the powerful. While religious liberty’s most ardent defenders in contemporary America tend to be conservatives, members of the new right who are outraged by secularism’s inroads in America want to scale back substantially, if not tear down, the wall of separation between church and state. Some national conservatives rightly argue that Christianity is central to American traditions. Some common-good constitutionalists respectably regard religion as the highest good. Both leap from these reasonable stances to espousing the use of state power to promulgate religion, particularly Christianity.

The threats to religious liberty from left and right betray a common ambition—if inspired by diametrically opposed anxieties and aims—to employ government to regulate faith. Whether intended to circumscribe religion or expand its reach, however, assigning the state responsibility for overseeing the wellbeing of citizens’ souls flies in the face of the principles of individual liberty, human equality, and limited government that are inscribed in America’s founding documents and deeply rooted in the nation’s political traditions.

Read more at RealClear Politics

More about: American founding, Freedom of Religion, Religion and politics, U.S. Politics

Saudi Arabia Should Open Its Doors to Israeli—and Palestinian—Pilgrims

On the evening of June 26 the annual period of the Hajj begins, during which Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca and perform prescribed religious rituals. Because of the de-jure state of war between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, Israeli Muslim pilgrims—who usually number about 6,000—must take a circuitous (and often costly) route via a third country. The same is true for Palestinians. Mark Dubowitz and Tzvi Kahn, writing in the Saudi paper Arab News, urge Riyadh to reconsider its policy:

[I]f the kingdom now withholds consent for direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, it would be a setback for those normalization efforts, not merely a continuation of the status quo. It is hard to see what the Saudis would gain from that.

One way to support the arrangement would be to include Palestinians in the deal. Israel might also consider earmarking its southern Ramon Airport for the flights. After all, Ramon is significantly closer to the kingdom than Ben-Gurion Airport, making for cheaper routes. Its seclusion from Israeli population centers would also help Israeli efforts to monitor outgoing passengers and incoming flights for security purposes.

A pilot program that ran between August and October proved promising, with dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank traveling back and forth from Ramon to Cyprus and Turkey. This program proceeded over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, which fears being sidelined by such accommodations. Jordan, too, has reason to be concerned about the loss of Palestinian passenger dinars at Amman’s airports.

But Palestinians deserve easier travel. Since Israel is willing to be magnanimous in this regard, Saudi Arabia can certainly follow suit by allowing Ramon to be the springboard for direct Hajj flights for Palestinian and Israeli Muslims alike. And that would be a net positive for efforts to normalize ties between [Jerusalem] and Riyadh.

Read more at Arab News

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia