On December 17, 2002, the New York State Senate passed the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, known as SONDA, or Bill S720. What is the impact of this bill on Orthodox and traditional families?

Section One of the bill states that discrimination based on sexual orientation “menaces the institutions and foundation of a free democratic state and threatens the peace, order, safety and general welfare of the state and its inhabitants.”

Orthodox Jews who believe, as taught in the Bible, that homosexuality is an “abomination” are thus rendered bigots in the eyes of the state. Indeed, already in Canada and much of Europe, merely quoting the biblical prohibition against homosexuality is considered a hate crime.

America used to be different, but as gay rights bills proliferate, there is a real question of how much longer religious freedom will prevail. Pennsylvania’s gay rights bill explicitly challenges the right of the clergy to oppose homosexuality in the pulpit; other gay rights bills do so implicitly.

When Bob Jones University in Virginia discriminated against blacks for religious reasons, the Supreme Court ruled that the school had forfeited its tax exemption. The government recognizes only those charities that do not discriminate against the cardinal commonalities of secular belief. The bottom line is that yeshivas and Orthodox organizations may now lose their tax-exempt status and government funding, and even become targets for lawsuits.

Although the New York State bill promised an exemption for religious institutions, I have been told by a number of legal experts that such an exemption will not prevail in court, and is even contradicted by a reading of the Executive Law 296:11 and the bill itself. (For various and detailed articles on this issue, please see my website, www.gendercentral.com.)

Nothing in the Orthodox community is as important as the protection of our children. When we have even the slightest suspicion about people, we insulate our children from them. (Maine voted down a gay rights bill because family activists mounted a campaign in which they asked the public, “Do you want your child taught in public school by a homosexual?”) Now, however, as a Senate counsel explained to me, every parochial school will have to hire homosexual teachers for its students.

Furthermore, while a homosexual hired by a parochial school can be forced by contract to refrain from uttering certain ideas while on campus, it’s a different story off campus, of course, where the homosexual is free to fraternize with the students he’s come to know during school hours.

There’s more: An owner of a two-family home who does not reside in one of the apartments cannot turn down homosexuals or others who practice atypical lifestyles. An employer who asks about someone’s sexual orientation breaks the law. A landlord who asks about someone’s “sexual orientation, age, sex, marital status or family status” could be a criminal. 

One of the most troubling aspects of S720 is the language that pertains to the government making advisory councils ‘local, regional or state-wide, as in its judgment will aid in effectuating the purpose of this article.’ In other words, volunteers, recognized by the state, will report on ‘specific instances’ where discrimination is alleged to exist. Conceivably, a state-sponsored volunteer from an aggressive gay activist group could come snooping around the Orthodox community and file a grievance, at which point the state would launch an investigation.

National and state civil right commissions have enormous powers and can break the largest corporations. Will civil rights commissions establish quotas or find out why Orthodox residences and businesses do not have the requisite number of homosexuals employed or renting? Who will pay for the attorneys? The other side has no worry on this account; it is well-funded by private and even governmental resources.

The hour is later than most of us think. An organization for Orthodox homosexuals under a person who once was a pulpit rabbi is gaining adherents throughout America and Israel. These neighbors of ours want to participate in Orthodox life just like everybody else. They want to reach others with orientation problems and to create a force within our community for their special interests. They want to live openly with their partners and yet be part of the Orthodox community. They may want to teach children in yeshiva and apply for rabbinical positions. This bill will greatly strengthen them.

The great rabbis of the past generation fought the gay lobby. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, wrote a letter demanding that everyone come to hearings on gay rights to protest. He, along with Rav Yaacov Kaminetsky, zt”l, Rav Shimon Schwab, zt”l and others, encouraged me to battle the efforts by gays to gain legitimacy and acceptance for their lifestyle.

The SONDA bill is passed, and the executive branch is now preparing the precise implementation of the law. This is the critical moment. Ask your elected representatives to contact the governor’s office to explain the needs and concerns of our community. If you have the time to prepare a nice letter or oral presentation, call yourself.

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