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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment’

‘Many Are The Thoughts Of Man…’

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

             I couldn’t wait to board the speedy Acela train to Washington, DC two weeks ago to hear an old friend of mine, constitutional legal wiz Floyd Abrams, argue before the Supreme Court. I had watched him twice before and was riveted each time. This case, involving the McCain-Feingold Campaign finance reform act, promised to be a landmark in First Amendment law. To watch top-notch lawyers spar swords with some of the best legal minds in the country is quite an experience and I couldn’t wait to feel that intellectual thrill once again.

 

Also, I was planning to pay a visit my prot?g?e Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday. I had given him his first interview opportunities back in the old days when I was a producer on NBC’s “Five Minutes With” program during the 70′s and 80′s and I could almost taste that old familiar adrenalin rush as in days of yore.

 

The event marked the first case of newly-installed Justice Sonia Sotomayor and was going to be argued by President Obama’s newly appointed solicitor general Elena Kagan, fresh from her deanship at Harvard Law School. Space in the court was at a premium I was literally drooling in anticipation of the next day’s events.

 

But unfortunately my disappointment by the day’s end was almost just as palpable.

I arrived excitedly at the Supreme Court and headed to my assigned seat in the press quarter, as a correspondent for The Jewish Press. I couldn’t believe it. The press section was so full that from my seat I could only see fewer than half of the justices – the very half I didn’t care to see.

 

I am firmly placed on the right-wing of the political spectrum, and the justices I was so looking forward to seeing spar with the lawyers were men like Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and the new chief justice, John Roberts.

 

            But I couldn’t even get a glimpse of these men. Instead I saw the court’s liberal justices: Breyer and Sotomayor. My disappointment knew no bounds and my frustration only got worse as the arguments started and I could hear my favorite justices expounding their wisdom without seeing their faces. The arguments were brilliant, but not being able to observe the nuances, the subtle expressions and sometimes not knowing who was saying what to whom was overwhelmingly frustrating.

 

            I left the court disappointed. This experience didn’t come close to my previous two. And then to boot Chris Wallace was somewhat indisposed and was taking the day off. It was 12:30 p.m. and I couldn’t even get myself to visit the newly renovated Capitol building. Feeling defeated, I set out to catch the 1:00 p.m. train back home to New York.

 

As I was sitting staring at the bustling platform pondering the day’s events, I thought to myself: Everything in this world happens for a reason, so what could G-d’s purpose have been in my coming to Washington? I had set out to watch the drama of the Supreme Court unfold but surely G-d must have had other plans for me. The verse “Rabbot machshavot b’lev ish – Many are the thoughts of man but Hashem’s will shall prevail” popped into my head.

 

            And then it hit me. I remembered the events of the previous night.

 

I had originally planned on staying at Chabad of Washington run by Rabbi Levi Shemtov who is a well-known figure on Capitol Hill. But his wife Nechama was called away and made arrangements for me to stay with the shluchim of George Washington University, Rabbi Yudi and Rivky Steiner, children of my dear friends from Toronto.

 

Their Chabad House is an apartment on Virginia Avenue NW in the midst of the university campus. Every Friday night they host over 100 hungry – physically and spiritually – Jewish students. Their home is filled with the kind of holy energy, optimism, and idealism that you seldom see elsewhere. These two young adults, both in their 20s, only married three years and parents of two tiny tots, work their kiruv magic lovingly and incessantly on the local college kids. The enormous success of their first year of shlichus was evident by the many testimonials of both professors and students.

 

Just as I was planning to retire for the night in anticipation of my Supreme Court adventure, a beautiful, young lady, vice-president of their Chabad House board of directors, due to soon become its president, dropped by.

 

We exchanged greetings and pleasantries but before long, out of the blue, she announced that she planned on attending some event later that week at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. The purpose of the event: to offer support to Jewish homosexuals. And being that a very good friend of hers was of that persuasion, she explained, she wanted to accompany him and give him her support.

 

            I listened quietly for a while, but then I could hold back no longer. “I am sorry to interject and perhaps it is not my place since I am just a visitor but we both believe in hashgacha pratis so I must tell you what I think you have to hear.

 

            “I admire you wanting to support your friend. However, from some other statements you’ve said tonight, it’s obvious that you believe in the Divine origin of the Torah. If so, it is imperative that you know what the Torah has to say on the topic.

 

            “G-d prohibits many behaviors – murdering, stealing, etc. – but he only affixes the appellation ‘abominable’ to a select few. That kind of behavior is one of them.”

 

            “But I feel for my friend,” she said. “Society makes him feel unwelcome and I want to offer him my support.”

 

            “All well and fine,” I replied, “but if your friend were a kleptomaniac, you wouldn’t assist him by helping him steal or making him feel that stealing is okay. You would try to heal him of his immoral tendency. I know it isn’t easy but you should do the same for your friend in this case as well. By all means help him – by trying to discourage or heal his behavior rather than condoning it.”

 

            At first she was taken aback but after a while she seemed a bit more receptive to my arguments, but I wasn’t sure what impact our interchange was actually going to have. So, as I pondered my Washington trip, it occurred to me that perhaps my trip had a meaning after all. Perhaps a lot more meaning than I could imagine. Perhaps my whole trip was meant for me to share these few thoughts with this beautiful blooming Jewish neshama.

 

The next day I got a call from Washington. Rivky Steiner told me that the young lady was reconsidering her decision to go. Two days later the verdict was confirmed: She didn’t go!

 

            Here I thought that I had gone to Washington to attend arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of the First Amendment. Instead, b’hashgacha pratis, Hashem showed me that I had really gone to help a young Jewish lady hear arguments in defense of G-d’s Torah so she could do justice in the eyes of the ultimate Supreme Court – G-d’s Heavenly court.

 

May it be Hashem’s will that we all find favor in the eyes of our Supreme Heavenly Court as we approach the Day of Judgment. G’mar chatimah tovah.

Is Taxpayer Support For Religious Schools Constitutionally Required?

Friday, June 20th, 2003

In its last term, the United States Supreme Court narrowly upheld the constitutionality of publicly financed tuition vouchers for parochial school education. In effect the court said that if a public authority decided to include parochial schools in a program of general application, the
First Amendment’s requirement of separation between church and state did not prohibit it.

This past Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to take a case for review presenting the flip side of the issue. That is, is a public authority barred by the First Amendment from discriminating against religious activity and required to include students studying religion in a general scholarship program?

The case involves the State of Washington’s rejection of an application for a state scholarship
submitted by a student who was otherwise eligible, on the ground that he was seeking a degree in theology. A provision of Washington’s state constitution bars such public aid.

This is one of those momentous cases that comes along every once in a very long while. On the one hand, there is the distinct possibility that the Court will affirm, at long last, that religious
activity must be treated financially by government on the same basis as non-religious activity. On the other hand, as many have pointed out, there are always strings that are attached to government largesse.

So while we certainly believe that religious education should not be discriminated against, and
would welcome a ruling to that effect, we are mindful that it would not be the end of the matter. We must also ensure that the fundamental independence of religious education from
government interference must be preserved as well.

Unfortunate Kosher Food Decision

Friday, June 28th, 2002

As The Jewish Press reported last week, a three judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit sitting in Manhattan has thrown out provisions of New York’s Agricultural and Markets Law which since 1915 has prohibited the fraudulent selling of food as kosher. The court’s reasoning was essentially that inasmuch as the definition of “kosher” was defined in the law as meeting “Orthodox Hebrew requirements,” enforcement by state authorities would cause “excessive entanglement” between government and religion in violation of the First Amendment.

It is a sad state of affairs that as it now stands, anyone can sell even pork meat as kosher and there isn’t anything anyone can do about it. The irony of the court’s decision is that it belies the reality of what enforcement really entailed. While it is true that the origin of the standards were religious legal codes, state inspectors followed a totally secular protocol. That is, there was never any day-to-day resort to the ancient tomes or to rabbinic authority, only to a long-settled menu of objective things to look for.

Nor is there any real merit to the court’s concern that the definition of kosher in terms of “Orthodox Hebrew requirements” elevates Orthodox standards over non-Orthodox standards, again involving the state in doctrinal matters. If the word “kosher” standing alone is not to be a misleading standard, it must imply the highest standard of all groups. That is, an Orthodox Jew is misled by the designation “kosher” if Orthodox standards are not met. On the other hand, a Conservative Jew is not misled if Orthodox standards are met. Once again at bottom this is a practical, rather than a religious issue.

Attorneys involved in the case say that an attempt will be made to get the full court of appeals to reconsider the decision of the three judges. Failing that, an appeal to the United States Supreme Court is likely. We would hope that ultimately, there will be a restoration of protections for the kosher consumer. It seems inconceivable that because of a wooden, strained view of church-state separation, from now on commercial opportunists can with impunity trick kosher consumers into paying premium prices for something that is falsely labelled as such.

Appeals Court Rules Rabbi Cannot Be Sued For Disclosing “Confidential” Information

Friday, December 28th, 2001

As we went to press on Tuesday, we learned that the New York State Court of Appeals has ruled that a rabbi cannot be sued for having disclosed confidential information that a congregant gives him in a counselling session if the rabbi believes that religious law requires the disclosure.

At issue was whether a New York law which establishes the so-called “priest-penitent” privilege ? which protects a clergyman from having to testify in court as to information imparted to him in his official capacity ? could be invoked by the congregant if the clergyman disclosed the information outside of court because he believed religious law required the disclosure. According to court documents, the particular information bore directly on some fundamentals of the marital relationship which the rabbi believed he had an obligation under Jewish law to disclose.

The unanimous decision of the court was that under these circumstances a lawsuit would require a secular court to decide the rabbi's obligations under Jewish law ? something secular courts could not do consistent with the First Amendment's free exercise of religion clause.

A spokesman for The National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA), hailed the decision one that will facilitate the willingness of rabbis to engage in pastoral counselling in accordance with Jewish law without fear of being sued for following its requirements. COLPA filed a brief in the case on behalf of 7 national Orthodox Jewish organizations urging the result reached by the court. The brief was written by noted constitutional lawyer, Nathan Lewin.

The decision is an important one and we will have more to say next week.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/editorial/appeals-court-rules-rabbi-cannot-be-sued-for-disclosing-confidential-information/2001/12/28/

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