Four Court Cases Have Put Religious Liberty on the Defensive—and Jews Should Beware

Aug. 31 2016

Examining four recent legal battles in which U.S. courts deemed the religious freedom of various individuals or groups as contingent or easily subordinated to other considerations, Mitchell Rocklin and Howard Slugh detect a worrying tendency “to view religious liberty as a privilege that the majority, at its discretion, may bestow upon the minority.” The first case involves a family-owned pharmacy in Washington state whose religious proprietors, contrary to state regulations, refrained from stocking or dispensing abortifacient drugs. When the Stormans, owners of the pharmacy, took the case to the Supreme Court, it declined to hear it. Rocklin and Slugh write:

[In arguing that the court should consider the case], Justice Samuel Alito concluded that it was particularly concerning because “there is much evidence that the impetus for the adoption of the [pharmacy] regulations was hostility” to the pharmacists’ religious beliefs. In other words, Washington’s regulations were not neutral requirements aimed at enhancing access to abortifacients. The burden the regulations imposed on religious pharmacists was not merely incidental. Rather, the regulations were a deliberate attempt to stamp out a religious objection that the [state’s legislative and executive branches]—supported by the courts—refused to tolerate.

Evidence in the . . . district-court record supports Justice Alito’s conclusion. That record indicates that none of the plaintiffs’ customers had ever been completely denied access to abortion-inducing drugs. The Stormans were willing to refer customers who requested such drugs to nearby pharmacies, and the evidence suggested that this commonsense compromise had been successful. Within five miles of the Stormans’s pharmacy, there were more than 30 pharmacies that stocked the drugs in question. . . . .

As Justice Alito noted in his dissent, . . . Washington State’s regulations included exemptions “for an almost unlimited variety of secular reasons.” For example, pharmacies may refuse to stock a drug that “requires additional paperwork or patient monitoring, has a short shelf life, may attract crime, requires simple compounding, . . . or falls outside the pharmacy’s niche.” The only exception not included on the list was one based on religious faith. . . .

Some European countries have already banned or discussed banning Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter and circumcision. Most American Jews now see these bans as unthinkable in their own society. . . . If we do not succeed in protecting religious liberty as a fundamental right, there is no logical reason why such bans will not become quite thinkable in America.

Read more at National Review

More about: Abortion, Freedom of Religion, Religion & Holidays, Supreme Court


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy