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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘bill of rights’

Protecting Religious Freedom

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

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.

Guard our Freedom: Beware the Biometric Law

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Editor’s note:  The first phase of Israel’s “biometric” law, which would ultimately require citizens to register the fingerprints and a blood sample with the state, will begin today, January 1st, with a pilot project offering citizens to voluntarily register. This article, by Likud Knesset candidate Moshe Feiglin appeared earlier last year, but we thought it was especially relevant now.

Cutting edge technology is a double-edged sword. Under the mantle of progress, and with increasing ease, we are losing greater and greater slices of our freedom. Opponents of the proposed Biometric Law say they worry about how secure a database housing the biometric information of all of Israel’s citizens will be. That fear was recently confirmed when a Saudi Arabian hacker succeeded in breaking into supposedly secure Israeli websites. If the Foreign Ministry’s database was broken into, if the Israeli credit card base was broken into, it is safe to assume that the biometric database will also be compromised. 

The possibility of breaking into the database is simply too strong of a temptation for powerful interest groups and tycoons, who are sure to find a way to get to this data. The same is true for the crazy idea to computerize the elections. If there is a stage in the vote counting process during which a candidate or his representative cannot physically check the voter slip—it is exactly at that stage that the election will be compromised. There is no way around the fact that when election results are transferred in electronic files, election fraud becomes a simple task. In America, the idea of digital voting has become so controversial that it is no longer a political debate, but a legal issue.

But my opposition to the Biometric Law is a lot deeper than that.

Many years before the invention of computers and the unraveling of the genetic code, an argument developed in the United States around the question of identity cards. America’s founding fathers did all they could do ensure that the American Constitution would protect individual liberties at any price.

For the American founding fathers, liberty superseded all other values. They engraved it on their flag and fought for it. It is liberty that gave them the most important thing of all: a goal and sense of national purpose that fueled the creation of the American nation. The founding fathers understood how easy it is to slide down a slippery slope in which liberty slips away step by step, without anyone noticing.

Distrust of governmental authority is a value that the founding fathers engraved through every line of the constitution and American culture. It is for this reason that the simple question of requiring citizens to carry identity cards became a judicial matter in the United States. Americans said, “No way am I going to let the state treat me as a number on its list, and require me to identify according to this number. My identity is exactly that—my identity, and it does not belong to anyone else.” For the Israeli citizen, this sounds absurd, for we grew up in a culture far removed this type of liberty consciousness.

Does all of this seem irrelevant? Let us do a little test, so that you can see how easy it is to lose your liberty:

If Biometric Law proponent Kadimah MK Meir Sheetrit pushed through a law requiring every one of you to go to a certified tattoo center, and ink in a number on your shoulder—would you agree to that? Of course not. Even thinking about this brings up horrifying memories.

But what if the tattoo centers used invisible ink—would you agree then? In that case, I think many people would agree. The law is the law, right?

If they were to tattoo you with invisible ink and offer you some perks in return—cutting lines, property tax breaks, and more—would you agree? In my opinion, more than 50 percent would agree to that, and maybe even more.

Now for the final question. If instead of ink they use a biometric technique which marks you without touching you, and on top of that, they will give you the perks previously mentioned—are you willing? The overwhelming majority of people would agree to that.

Now look at how, with amazing ease, they have shut off all of our warning lights and closed our eyes. The master of the house has chiseled our ear into the doorpost like a Biblical slave…and, just like that, we’ve made a soft landing into a life of servitude.

People can lose their liberty without feeling a thing. So guard it with the greatest vigilance and do not give anyone your biometric information.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/moshe-feiglin/guard-our-freedom-on-the-biometric-law/2013/01/01/

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