One homeowner in a suburban section of Sacramento, California has festooned the front of his house with what he is calling “art.” His neighbors are calling it offensive.
The “art” includes a Palestinian flag, pictures of the U.S. and Israeli flags with swastikas where the stars should go, and a life sized mock-up of an adult male with his hands raised, Ferguson-style.
The display on this house in Moddison Avenue is lit up with Christmas lights at night, so no one can miss it.
According to KXTV in Sacramento, the display began going up several months ago, and neighbors are complaining.
However, unless there are local ordinances restricting neighborhood appearances, the display is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, tasteless and flawed, though it is. Police investigated and found no laws were being broken, so they are powerless to aid the distressed neighbors.
“How do I explain this to my little one?” asked Robbie Rose, who lives nearby. “I am all for freedom of speech, but this is just too much. I really do want to get out of my car and rip that down. But the only reason I don’t (is) because I do believe in being a good American, and I do believe in freedom of speech.”
A California state senator, Marty Block (D-San Diego), chairman of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, held a news conference on Thursday, Feb. 26.
“Swastikas displayed on a house in the River Park section of Sacramento tarnish the neighborhood,” said Block, “and disrespect and dishonor the memory of tens of thousands of brave American soldiers … men and women who died for their country fighting Hitler’s henchmen who wore that very same symbol.”
Block said that he and his colleagues cherish America’s freedom of speech, but they “call on the owner of that house to voluntarily remove his vulgar display.”
“There is no more potent a symbol of hatred than the swastika,” Barry Broad, the president of the Jewish Federation of Sacramento told KCRA. “It is a symbol of murder and genocide.” Broad agreed, however, that displaying a swastika is a form of protected speech.
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.
The co-sponsorship by the Brooklyn College political science department of an anti-Israel hate fest, from which pro-Israel students were excluded, may have violated the First Amendment.
Had the event been sponsored only by student and outside private groups, their decision to exclude pro-Israel students and to prevent the distribution of anti-BDS leaflets would have been a private matter, that at worst may have violated the rules of the college. But the official co-sponsorship of the event by an academic department may have turned their exclusionary decisions into illegal “state action.”
For purposes of the First Amendment, the political science department is Brooklyn College, which is the City University of New York, which is the State of New York. It was the State of New York, therefore, that expelled pro-Israel students who wanted to distribute constitutionally protected leaflets and wanted to pose constitutionally protected political questions. Such state action violates the First Amendment and New York law.
Accordingly, the benighted action of the political science department in taking sides in the debate over boycotting Israeli academics and institutions, may now come back to haunt the City University of New York, which is taking this situation seriously. The Chancellor issued the following statement:
At last week’s event at Brooklyn College, sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine and the College’s Department of Political Science, allegations were made by members of the college community who attended that they were impeded from expressing views either orally or in writing. There were reports that some said they were asked without cause to leave the event. If this were true, it was wrong and we need to understand exactly what the circumstances were. At the request of President Karen L. Gould, I have asked General Counsel and Senior Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs Frederick P. Schaffer to quickly investigate these allegations. This investigation will be coordinated by CUNY’s Office of Legal Affairs, working with an independent consultant, and charged with reporting directly back to me.
There is, apparently, strong evidence to corroborate the accounts that pro-Israel students, especially those wearing yarmulkes or “looking” Jewish, were deliberately excluded, even though they secured written permission to attend. There is also corroboration of the accusation that pro-Israel students who managed to get into the event were thrown out when they refused to turn over to the organizers anti-BDS leaflets they wished to distribute. When these students complained to an official of the college, he reportedly replied that the anti-Israel students who were running the event were “calling the shots” and he could therefore do nothing. But once the political science department became involved as a co-sponsor, the students alone could not call the shots, when it comes to the First Amendment. The university assumed responsibility for assuring that the free speech of all students was equally protected. The First Amendment forbids the State of New York from discriminating against pro-Israel or anti-BDS speech, as it apparently did here.
What happened at Brooklyn College demonstrates the wisdom of keeping academic departments from sponsoring non-academic hate fests, such as the BDS event. When academic departments become selective sponsors, the constitutional rules change, because the imprimatur of the university—and thus the state—is placed on the event.
The radical anti-Israel students who arranged the BDS conference thought they had obtained a benefit from the political science department’s co-sponsorship—and perhaps they did in the short term. But in the long term, they may rue the day they persuaded the department to become involved in what should have been a student event. Now there may be legal consequences. The sword of co-sponsorship may have become a shield to protect the First Amendment rights of the students who were prevented from handing out anti-BDS leaflets and asking anti-BDS questions. I wonder if we will hear from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York Times editorial board about these violations of freedom of speech!
It took months and plenty of sturm and drang, but the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) finally caved and accepted our #myjihad ads. It is disturbing that a government agency is working hand in hand with a Hamas group, but that is indeed the low state of the world at this point in the war.
Here is the white flag. Look at how the city of Chicago calls our defense of freedom, of minorities, women and children, Jews, Christians, and Hindus racist, intolerant and “hatred.” They have the indecency to call us “morally reprehensible.” Oh, the irony. They are morally reprehensible for denying us our First Amendment rights. They are morally reprehensible for carrying water for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. They are morally reprehensible for abandoning religious minorites, women and children living under the boot of the most oppressive and extreme ideology on the face of the earth.
Our ads are like the silver cross to their Dracula. And the jihad-aligned media can’t get enough of the Muslim Brotherhood lie. Another glowing piece ran yesterday at CNN International. Look here. This is the same CNN whose Peter Bergen is telling us not to overstate the threat of al Qaeda. (Link thanks to Larry.)
Lawsuit forces Chicago to accept anti-jihad bus ads Neil Munro
The Chicago Transit Authority has agreed to display plain-spoken anti-jihad ads on city buses, following a lawsuit by the American Freedom Law Center.
City officials initially rejected the American Freedom Defense Initiative’s anti-jihad ads, even after the city accepted bus ads that touted a sanitized portrayal of jihad as exercise and education rather than warfare.
The center’s anti-jihad ads are “morally reprehensible — advocating racism, hatred and intolerance of cultural diversity,” said a Feb. 4 letter from Karen Seimetz, the general counsel of the city’s bus authority.
A lawsuit filed Thursday by Jewish organizations and three rabbis argues that a new NY City rule requiring parental consent for metzitzah b’peh, a post-circumcision ritual that involves oral suction in order to stimulate blood flow in the traumatized organ, violates the First Amendment, the NY Daily News reports.
The new rule, which take effect Oct. 21, requires mohels who perform the metzitzah b’peh to provide parents with a document they must sign, containing information about the health risks involved.
City officials say babies may contract herpes from the practice, and they cite 11 cases between 2004 and 2011, including two fatalities.
The lawsuit argues that the new rule violates the constitutional freedom of religion.
“Government cannot compel the transmission of messages that the speaker does not want to express — especially when the speaker is operating in an area of heightened First Amendment protection, such as a religious ritual,” the lawsuit argues.
City officials said they are planning to fight the suit “vigorously.”
“The city’s highest obligation is to protect its children; therefore, it is important that parents know the risks associated with the practice,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.
It has been argued that the city is yet to prove that the herpes contracted by the babies was the same virus carried by the mohel. Another argument made regarding this issue, is that babies whose mothers are carriers of herpes receive immunity to the virus in the womb, and that only babies born to uninfected mothers are in danger from metzitzah b’peh.
Those two arguments are crucial to understanding the current law suit, because it is possible that the babies who received metzitzah b’peh from a mohel contracted their herpes from a third person and not via the genitalia.
It is estimated that about 80 percent of American adults are carriers of oral herpes (cold sores).
In what many, including legal scholar Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, call “unconstitutional” restrictions on free speech, the board of the New York City Transportation Authority unanimously passed a new set of regulations governing the kinds of advertisements it will accept. The MTA is now empowered to ban any ad the MTA
reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace.
The new regulations also require disclaimers to be included in any political, religious or morality-based ads, stating that they do not represent the views of the MTA.
These new regulations were announced on Thursday, September 27, just three days after the American Freedom Defense Initiative ads were put up after a lengthy and costly court battle brought by AFDI and its executive and associate directors, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, to enforce their First Amendment right to free speech. That ad appears in 10 subway stations in the New York subway system. It reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
The spokesman for the MTA, Aaron Donovan, admitted to a reporter from The Blaze that the changes came in response to AFDI’s anti-Jihad ads and the ensuing litigation.
Initial reports were that commuters were passing by the ads without any noticeable responses, but apparently there were complaints that instilled fear in MTA board members.
There was at least one widely publicized attack against the ad, engaged in by Egyptian-American activist Mona Eltahawy. That attack was motivated by the woman, who has only been a U.S. citizen for one year. Eltahawy claimed that her acts of criminal vandalism, which were caught on videotape by The New York Post, were legitimate acts of free speech and non-violent protest.
Eltahawy was arrested and charged with various offenses. When she was released from prison the next day, Eltahawy was critical of her time in jail. However, Eltahawy neglected to mention that when she was detained by Egyptian police during the Arab Spring uprisings, her arm and her wrist were broken and she claimed the police repeatedly physically and sexually assaulted her.
The newly-elected Egyptian president, former Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi, instructed the Egyptian Consul General, Zousef Zada, to monitor Eltahawy’s case.
Instead, the venerable leader against the assault on the First Amendment – The New York Times – merelyreported the outlandish statements made at a press conference announcing the changes, by the MTA chairman, Joseph J. Lhota. “We’ve gotten to the point where we needed to take action today,” Lhota said, in what must have been a reference to anger directed at the anti-Jihad ads, “You deal with a free speech issue with more free speech.” Like Eltahawy, Lhota appears to believe that free speech includes official action taken to restrict free speech.
The MTA may hope it has avoided a First Amendment challenge because its restriction is “viewpoint neutral.” This is because the new regulation does not overtly single out any special group or groups for special treatment, which was the fatal flaw pointed out by Judge Englemayer in his July 20 ruling which forced the MTA to finally post them, after a year-long delay caused by their rejection of that ad on grounds determined to be unconstitutional.
The new restriction is sure to inspire potent legal challenges on other constitutional grounds. For example, can one “reasonably foresee” what kind of ad will “incite violence” or a “breach of the peace”? A legal challenge on numerous grounds should be anticipated, as predicted by Dershowitz in an interview with The Algemeiner, in which he referred to the new rules as not only “unconstitutional,” but also “plain dumb.”
And to argue that ads, such as the anti-Jihad ones, will incite violence, whereas the pro-Israel ones would not, because they did not, might lead to an argument underscoring the point of Geller’s ads. That ads perceived by Muslims, to be anti-Muslim, such that they justify violence, could conceivably be used to prove that Muslims are unable to tolerate First Amendment norms in the same way as do other ethnic groups. And that argument itself might, under this theory, incite violence.
Mona Eltahawy is an extremely well-spoken, Egyptian-American journalist who has become the g0-to speaker for comments on the Middle East in general, and on Egypt and Women’s issues in particular. A speaker who stays on message no matter what is being asked, Eltahawy’s theme is: former Egyptian President Hosnai Mubarak and those who supported him are always bad, Muslims seeking to control their own destiny are always good and should be supported in the name of freedom and democracy, no matter how reprehensible their actions. Over the past few years Eltahawy has regularly been represented as an expert on such media outlets as CNN, the Guardian (UK), The New York Times and the Washington Post.
Eltahawy was arrested Wednesday evening, September 26, in a New York City subway station because she insisted free speech included her right to deface an ad espousing a message with which she disagreed – Pamela Geller’s anti-Jihad ad discussed and shown here. She also insisted her free speech right extended to spraying toxic paint on a woman, Pamela Hall, who tried to interfere with Eltahawy’s efforts to deface Geller’s ad. And then Eltahawy blamed Hall for interfering with her free speech rights and accused the arresting police officers of interfering with her “non-violent” protest, thereby engaging in anti-democratic activity.
It appears Eltahawy has a singularly self-focused understanding of freedom and democracy. Given her limitations, it is problematic that so many media outlets rely on Eltahawy as an “expert.” It is possible that given her criminal activity Wednesday evening, some will see her convoluted views of reality as casting doubts on past Eltahawy discourses.
The journalist’s inability to recognize why her activity was criminal and subverted the First Amendment, simply because Geller’s anti-Jihad ad constituted speech with which she didn’t agree, is telling.
But this isn’t the first time Eltahawy’s view of reality has been refracted through her own, narrow prism.
Eltahawy is best known for being an ardent activist for women’s rights, a dangerous and valiant effort for a Muslim. She has written about the enormously high percentage of women who have been sexually assaulted in Egypt, as many as 80 percent, and that four out of five Egyptian women have reported being sexually assaulted.
Although Eltahawy has been highly critical and very vocal about the subjugation of women under Islam, when that view bumps up against her global recognition as an articulate spokesperson for the revolutionary Arab Spring, a disconnect takes place.
In the context of the anti-Jihad ads which she defaced, Eltahawy expressed outrage over the use of the term “savage,” to describe Jihadi activity. In her view, the use of the word savage was an insult because she interpreted it to refer to all Muslims. While defacing the ad, she told Hall, who tried to prevent the ad from being damaged, that she was protesting racism, and that Hall was defending racism.
But Eltahawy described Muslims who sexually assaulted and beat her last winter as a “pack of wild animals.” So, was her anger over the use of the term savage, when she described wild, violent Muslims as “wild animals” hypocritical? Not necessarily, because her criticism of the Egyptian police is consistent with her world view. There were numerous reports of women assaulted by the civilian crowds, the revolutionaries, in Tahrir Square, during the Arab spring. And it is in commenting on those assaults that Eltahawy’s hypocrisy is made clear.
Perhaps the best known, to western audiences, of sexual assaults by the Arab spring activists, is the assault on CBS’s Lara Logan. Logan was brutally physically and sexually assaulted by those demonstrating in Tahrir Square crowds in February, 2011.
When Eltahawy was asked to comment on CTV News on the attacks on Logan, she “unequivocally condemned” the violence experienced by Logan. However, the focus of her ire was always pointed back at the Mubarak regime, which was, she said, “known for targetting women.”
Eltahawy even went so far as to insinuate that Logan’s story was in some ways questionable, or at least an anomaly. She also deflected the responsibility for the attack on unnamed others.
“Women I know said it was the safest area in Cairo,” Eltahawy said of Tahrir Square during the demonstrations. But after Mubarak, the area was “open to all, so we don’t know who else was there.”
Pamela Hall is pressing charges against Eltahawy. Her clothing and her bags were damaged by the paint. When reached by The Jewish Press, Hall said she knew who Eltahawy was as soon as she saw her, but she was “surprised” to see her spray painting the ad.
According to Hall, using “paint is a much more serious act than slapping a sticker up and walking away. What was she thinking?”