Restoring the First Amendment’s Vision of Religious Freedom

In the second half of the 20th century, the U.S. Supreme Court advanced an expansive interpretation of the First Amendment’s dictate that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” creating a doctrine known as “separationism.” The Court is now moving in the opposite direction, which, Tal Fortgang argues, is a good thing:

Disestablishment and neutrality require the government to abstain from putting a thumb on the scale in the great ongoing debates about human nature and human purpose.

Importantly, though, a principle of non-interference and neutrality between sects does not mean that the state is antagonistic to any sect or to religion altogether. On the contrary, neutrality between sects is meant to allow all to flourish. This is the important distinction between separationism—which has mistakenly been touted as the best way to advance pluralism—and pluralism itself. By deeming religious behaviors and beliefs incompatible with public life, separationism denigrates traditional religion at the expense of secular belief systems. Pluralism is when a rabbi can offer a benediction at a public-school graduation as freely as any American who would speak about the value of liberation, equity, and justice.

But what about coercion? . . . On this front, perhaps some perspective from this yarmulke-wearing Jewish reviewer is indicated. My whole life has been spent standing apart from the mainstream in a distinctly religious way. Before hearing the national anthem at baseball games, I do not remove my hat, because Orthodox Judaism considers covering the head, rather than uncovering, a sign of respect. I learned that distinction from the earliest days my father and I would spend at Shea Stadium when I was just a small child.

Read more at Law and Liberty

More about: First Amendment, Freedom of Religion, Pluralism, 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