web analytics
July 25, 2014 / 27 Tammuz, 5774
Israel at War: Operation Protective Edge
 
 
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
IDC Advocacy Room IDC Fights War on Another Front

Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Protecting Religious Freedom

While I was tempted to support grants that might provide some relief to a number of shuls, I was not willing to trade that potential short-term benefit for the likelihood of real long-term harm to religious freedom protections.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler

Rep. Jerrold Nadler

Recently, I voted against legislation to allow the federal government to provide cash grants to rebuild houses of worship damaged by natural disasters. Many have asked me to explain why, given my long record of promoting religious liberty, I felt I had to vote “no.” Simply put, my objections went precisely to my determination to protect the rights of the Jewish community and other religious minorities.

The Constitution defends the rights of minority religious communities through the twin mandates of the First Amendment – the guarantee of the free exercise of religion and the prohibition of a government establishment of religion. While I was, of course, tempted to support grants that might provide some relief to a number of shuls, I decided that I simply was not willing to trade that potential short-term benefit for the likelihood of real long-term harm to the religious freedom protections upon which the Jewish community depends. And I certainly wasn’t willing to risk such harm without a single hearing to examine the serious constitutional questions the bill raised.

Some argue that denying these particular grants amounts to a form of religious discrimination. In fact, the Constitution treats religion differently precisely to protect religious minorities from government meddling. Government involvement with religion, while potentially conferring short-term benefits, has historically resulted in governmental interference and favoritism – and that has inevitably worked to disadvantage minority religious communities like ours. The people who wrote our Bill of Rights understood this because they had experienced it, and they, therefore, insisted on the separation of religion and government.

The Supreme Court has been very clear that the core principle of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause is that government may not directly fund religion or religious objects. So, while the courts have permitted government funding for religious institutions’ buildings used for hot lunch programs and for math books used in yeshivas, the courts have consistently rejected using taxpayer money to pay for the types of things this bill would authorize – spaces reserved for religious worship and religious articles such as Bibles, Torahs, and Korans. The record is clear: the Supreme Court has rejected every single case brought before it that attempted to provide the type of funding made available in this bill. So, while the bill may be a nice political gesture, it is highly unlikely that any shuls will ever see any actual funds from it.

And the Supreme Court has ruled this way for good reason. Experience shows that once government starts funding religion, it starts demanding a say in how its money is spent. That has been true of every governmental expenditure. There have even been frequent attempts – which we have worked to beat back – to tell religious institutions how they must spend their own money and to impose governmental oversight of these institutions’ finances. For minority religious groups, including the observant Jewish community, that is a dangerous vulnerability that history has shown can – and will be – exploited by unfriendly outsiders.

The frum community knows government meddling all too well. It is no secret that there are those who are hostile to core Jewish religious practices. There have long been efforts to outlaw shechitah, ban or severely restrict bris milah, and prevent observant Jews from settling in communities where they haven’t previously lived. We have largely prevailed in these fights because of the twin guarantees of the First Amendment, which work together to preserve minority religious rights.

I have fought to preserve those protections because I believe in them, and because I know how the observant Jewish community can be abused without them.

One of my first acts in Congress was to fight for passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act(RFRA), which provides stronger safeguards for religious practices when they conflict with federal governmental requirements – like the right to have kosher food in federal prisons, or to be protected from autopsies.

When the frum community fights attempts by local governments to use zoning laws to block shuls, mikvehs, and shtibelach, or by local residents to block an eruv, it relies on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which I helped write and got passed into law. The mere threat of a RLUIPA lawsuit often makes local governments back down.

While keeping government away from religion is critical to protect religious minorities’ liberty, that does not mean government is powerless to help religious institutions. When religious institutions provide essential services – and many have been important partners in the post-Sandy recovery – they are perfectly eligible to receive federal grants. And they should.

I was also deeply troubled by the reckless way in which the legislation was forced through the House in just a few days, making it impossible to even consider constitutional defects or to try to find a way to provide further assistance that would survive the inevitable court challenge. I urged my colleagues to take a little time to try to “get it right.” They chose instead to “get it now.” That careless haste will likely leave us with nothing.

I will continue to fight to ensure that our community – including our vital religious institutions – receives all the assistance government can provide. But I will do so in a manner that is consistent with our Constitution and the preservation of our most precious liberties. I understand that some will not always agree – nor will everyone like some of my decisions – but our religious liberty is too important to sacrifice for apparent short-term advantage or political popularity.

About the Author: Jerrold Nadler represents the 10th Congressional District of New York and is ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Protecting Religious Freedom”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
John Kerry
Entire Israeli Cabinet Rejects Kerry’s Proposed Ceasefire, Talks Continue
Latest Indepth Stories
Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett

Because let’s face it: Hamas obviously can’t defeat the IDF in the field, soldier against soldier

Shimon Peres meets with the family of fallen IDF soldier Max Steinberg.

As Peres retires, Israel fights sour legacy: Insistence on setting policy in line with hopes, rather than with reality.

Keeping-Jerusalem

Our capital was not arbitrarily chosen, as capitals of some other nations were.

UNHRC High Commissioner Navi Pillay accuses the IDF of possible war crimes in Gaza again, cutting slack to Hamas.

There is much I can write you about what is going here, but I am wondering what I should not write. I will start by imagining that I am you, sitting at home in the Los Angeles area and flipping back and forth between the weather, traffic reports, the Ukraine, Mexican illegals and Gaza. No […]

Should Jews in Europe take more responsibility in self-defense of community and property?

It is time for a total military siege on Gaza; Nothing should enter the Gaza Strip.

Germany’s The Jewish Faith newspaper ominously noted, “We Jews are in for a war after the war.”

The truth is we seldom explore with kids what prayer is supposed to be about.

Almost as one, Jews around the world are acknowledging the day-to-day peril facing ordinary Jews in Israel and the extraordinary service of the IDF in protecting them.

So on the one hand Secretary Kerry makes no bones about who is at fault for the current hostilities: he clearly blames Hamas.

King Solomon said it long ago: “Cast your bread upon the waters” because you don’t know when you’ll hit something. Our job is to do.

The anti-Israel camp does not need to win America fully to its side. Merely to neutralize it would radically alter the balance of power and put Israel in great jeopardy.

More Articles from Rep. Jerrold Nadler
Rep. Jerrold Nadler

While I was tempted to support grants that might provide some relief to a number of shuls, I was not willing to trade that potential short-term benefit for the likelihood of real long-term harm to religious freedom protections.

Trains routed through the Cross Harbor Tunnel will move through Brooklyn on the Bay Ridge Rail Line, an existing four-track right-of-way that was built almost 100 years ago. No homes or businesses will be displaced.

    Latest Poll

    Do you think the FAA ban on US flights to Israel is political?






    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/protecting-religious-freedom/2013/02/27/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: