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September 6, 2016

America’s Religious Freedom Safeguards Advance Pluralism

BurkiniOver the last month how nations address religious garb has been making the news.  So-called “’Burkini’ Bans” enacted by 30 French municipalities are causing controversy. These bans adopted in part to be “’respectful of good morals and of secularism’” prohibit “a wide range of modest dress” at public beaches, including the Burkini which is a full-body bathing suit worn by observant Muslim women who follow Islamic modesty codes.  France’s top French administrative court and other lower courts have suspended these bans, but the prime minster continues to stand by them and public opinion on the issue is divided.  In Canada, the Royal Mounted Police recently announced that observant Muslim Mounties may wear hijabs.  These controversies and developments provide an opportunity to examine how the United States approaches religious freedom issues.

From its founding, the United States aspired to safeguard religious freedom for all, which was truly revolutionary.  This aspiration, however, does not mean that our nation has an unblemished record of religious inclusion.  Although there are countless examples of individuals and communities throughout our history embracing persons of other faiths, America has an ugly history of religious intolerance and issues of religious discrimination persist.  But unlike many other nations, in the United States there are formidable and effective laws prohibiting religious discrimination and requiring accommodations for the religiously observant.

The right to freedom of religion is so central to American democracy that it was enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That Amendment protects religious freedom in two ways.  Our Free Exercise Clause protects the autonomy of houses of worship from government interference and empowers all individuals with the right to follow any faith or no faith.  Our Establishment Clause separates government from religion by prohibiting official advancement, endorsement or coercion of religion.  Furthermore, Article VI of the Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office.

During the 20th Century, the federal courts and Congress applied these principles to the States and to private conduct.  The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits religious discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.  Indeed, its workplace protections require employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices and observances of employees.  And today, virtually all state and local anti-discrimination laws also prohibit religious discrimination, as well as require religious accommodations in the workplace.

So in the United States, a municipal law such as the ones in France targeting religious observances or practices, including wearing modest dress at the beach, would be patently unconstitutional and would violate federal, state or local laws.  And, generally speaking, the burden is on a public or private entity to justify why a religiously observant person cannot wear a hijab, yarmulke, turban or cross in the workplace or public accommodations, including restaurants, stores, theatres or recreational areas.

For instance, in 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a major department store’s “dress policy” was an insufficient reason not to a hire a Muslim woman who wore a headscarf for religious reasons.   And in 2013, a federal agency that enforces the 1964 Civil Rights Act resolved a case with a national fast food franchisee for an observant Christian woman whose religious beliefs prohibit her from wearing pants.   Under the settlement, she would be permitted to wear a black skirt instead of black pants as normally required by the employer’s dress policy.

Furthermore, in America there are strong religious freedom safeguards even within institutional settings.   In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Arkansas Department of Correction “no beards policy,” which prohibited a Muslim inmate from wearing a short beard.  The Court found that the safety and security issues raised by the Department were insufficient to justify the policy under federal law.  And just this year, after a federal court initially ruled in favor of a Sikh U.S. Army Captain, the Army granted him the religious accommodation of wearing a beard, turban, and uncut hair.

Also, it is common for the religiously observant to be accommodated without the force of law.  For example, at 2016 Rio Olympic games it was a non-issue for American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammed to compete wearing a hijab.  Rather, her winning a bronze medal was celebrated in the United States and beyond.

American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammed

American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammed

Although religious bias cannot be legislated away, these legal proscriptions have been an invaluable tool for successfully integrating American society because over time limitations on conduct can shape attitudes.  Legal prohibitions on religious discrimination send the resounding official message that unequal treatment based on faith is unacceptable.  Their mandate of equal access to the work and marketplace brings together people from diverse religious beliefs and traditions.  Through daily interactions with work colleagues, vendors, customers—and yes, even beach-goers– most people come to realize that they have much in common with persons they once considered “the other” and learn to accept and value differences.

Our nation’s robust religious freedom protections are exceptional and distinguish America from numerous countries around the globe.  They undoubtedly have been a cornerstone for creating a truly pluralistic and welcoming society.

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July 15, 2016

Terrorist Propaganda Encourages Attacks With Common Items

The use of a vehicle to kill civilians in yesterday’s apparent terror attack in Nice, France, serves as a reminder of how terrorist groups and their supporters encourage their adherents to carry out attacks with common resources.

In addition to run-over style attacks, terrorists have encouraged the use of common items such as household products to make bombs, as well as various other tactics in their online magazines, speeches and other propaganda.

Image encouraging car attacks from AQAP Inspire Mujahid Pocketbook propaganda

Image encouraging car attacks from AQAP Inspire Mujahid Pocketbook propaganda

The following list provides a sampling of some of the tactics promoted by foreign terrorist organizations in the last several years. Notably, a number of the suggestions are repeated by different groups, and the use of vehicles in attacks is a common theme.


  • The 14th issue of Dabiq, ISIS’s English-language propaganda magazine, called on supporters to assassinate prominent Muslim leaders in the U.S. and U.K. for not supporting ISIS, “with the resources available…(knives, guns, explosives, etc.).”
  • In a January 2015 speech, al Adnani similarly called for attacks, “whether with an explo­sive device, a bul­let, a knife, a car, a rock or even a boot or a fist.”
  • An ISIS video released in December 2014 stated, “There are weapons and cars avail­able and tar­gets ready to be hit. Even poi­son is avail­able, so poi­son the water and food of at least one of the ene­mies of Allah. Kill them and spit in their faces and run over them with your cars.”
  • In a September 2014 speech that was widely translated and shared over social media, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohamed al Adnani called for ISIS supporters to commit lone wolf attacks against civilians, and provided a number of suggestions for doing so, including by running them over. He stated: “If you are not able to find an IED or a bul­let, then sin­gle out the dis­be­liev­ing Amer­i­can, French­man, or any of his allies. Smash his head with a rock, or slaugh­ter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poi­son him…. If you are unable to do so, then burn his home, car, or busi­ness. Or destroy his crops.”

Al Qaeda:

  • Cover of the first issue of Inspire, AQAP's English-language magazine

    The first issue of Inspire provided directions to “make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom.”

    Following the terror attack in Orlando, a June 2016 publication released by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) provided advice for making copycat attacks more lethal and maximizing their propaganda value.

  • In May 2016, the 15th issue of Inspire magazine, AQAP’s English-language propaganda magazine’s provided sug­ges­tions for mak­ing bombs using readily available items to con­duct the assas­si­na­tions, includ­ing pack­age bombs, small bombs under cars, and bombs that can be attached to a doorframe.
  • In March 2014, the 12th issue of Inspire magazine provides instructions for assembling car bombs out of “easily available” materials.
  • In 2013, Inspire magazine, AQAP’s English-language propaganda magazine, issued a companion publication titled the “Mujahid Pocketbook,” which aggregated various attack suggestions promoted in Inspire and provided some additional suggestions as well. Plot ideas included torching parked vehicles, causing road accidents, starting forest fires, using vehicles to run over civilians, and building bombs.
  • In October 2010, second issue of Inspire magazine suggested using a modified vehicle to run over civilians and provided instructions on building an explosive device.
  • The first issue of Inspire magazine, released in July 2010, provided instructions for building a pressure cooker bomb, which can be made out of common household items.

Other terrorist organizations and their supporters have been similarly active in promoting various specific attack suggestions. This has been particularly clear among Palestinian terrorist organizations and their supporters, who have promoted suggestions that parallel those advocated by Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Terrorist supporters sometimes promote their own ideas for nontraditional attacks online as well. In a recent example, a discussion on a pro-ISIS forum that ran between June and July 2016 included a number of terror attack suggestions from forum users, some of which had been suggested by official terrorist propaganda as well. Among them were setting forest fires and calling in false reports of bombs to disrupt the operations of emergency services

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February 8, 2016

The French Initiative

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This article originally appeared on The Times of Israel blog

Here they go again. The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, has announced a new initiative toward convening an international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The history of such international gatherings, with the unique exception of the Madrid Peace Conference following the first Gulf War, has not been a good one. Most often, they become forums for bashing Israel rather than making real progress to break through on the toughest final status issues that still divide Israelis and Palestinians.

This bad history is compounded, however, in this instance, by the accompanying statement by Mr. Fabius that if such a conference fails to lead to progress toward peace, France will recognize a Palestinian State. What incentive remains for the Palestinians to be forthcoming?

This alone would guarantee the failure of a conference. It is always a challenge to get the Palestinians to be forthcoming toward Israel. If they know for certain that they will be rewarded for inaction, the likelihood of progress is even more remote.

The French position reflects the fundamental fallacy of much of the international community in addressing the conflict. Because they see Israel as the occupier and stronger party, they see pressure on Israel as the way to move the process. In this view, there is nothing expected of the Palestinians.

Make no mistake: Any hope for peace requires actions and compromises by both sides. Israel has to be forthcoming, as well as the Palestinians.

The record, however, shows repeatedly that Israel can negotiate in good faith and offer solutions that give something to each side.

This was true at Camp David in 2000, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a state on more than 90 percent of the territory; this was true when his successor Ariel Sharon pulled Israel out of Gaza in 2005; this was true in 2008, when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians even more than Ehud Barak did for building a state. This was true ultimately in the recent effort of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to broker a compromise.

While the Netanyahu government has been less willing to propose an initiative on peace, there is every reason to believe, based on Israel’s history of both the left and the right, that Israel will be there if Palestinians demonstrate they are prepared to truly engage in direct negotiations and willing to make important compromises for peace.

The so-called friends of the Palestinians, who blame Israel for every aspect of the conflict, do the Palestinians no favor by expecting nothing of their friends in return.

A far more productive exercise for the international community, as counterintuitive as it may seem, is to direct its attention toward Palestinian behavior. The focus should be on what changes are necessary from the Palestinian side in order to bring an independent state closer to reality. This does not mean Israel is exempt from expectations that it make serious and sustained efforts to achieve peace. However, the world should expect the Palestinians to compromise as well.

Such compromises that should be demanded of the Palestinians include accepting the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish State; the recognition that Palestinian refugees will be resettled in a Palestinian State, just as Jewish refugees were resettled in the Jewish State; the acknowledgement that a peace agreement between the sides will mean the end of the conflict and future demands; and the cessation of incitement campaigns against Israel and Jews and an end to celebrating to those who commit terrorist attacks.

That’s a lot to ask of the Palestinians, you say, particularly because they are the occupied party.

Maybe so, but it has never been tried. And the Palestinians remain in their difficult situation. Meanwhile, Israeli initiatives have not only gone nowhere, they have often been followed by Palestinian violence.

It is, however, not merely that this approach has not been tried. It is more that it speaks to the root of the problem and to understandable Israeli skepticism that the Palestinian goal has not changed at all from 1947 when it was clear that Israel’s destruction was its primary aim.

However much one seeks to blame Israel for the Palestinian condition, it is Palestinians themselves, with a changed approach, who can bring about a fundamental change in the status quo. Israel’s reaction to a new Palestinian approach will undoubtedly be cautious but will be a response that could move things forward toward a two-state solution.

Having said all this, Israel needs to think about taking its own initiative, not because any such move will ensure that there is peace — that can only happen when the Palestinians engage in the rethinking described above — but in order to credibly demonstrate to the world its commitment to peace.

Internally, inaction has created a vacuum that is being filled by people who are against a two-state solution and who would like to erode Israel’s democratic values.

Externally, boycotts and delegitimization campaigns continue to mount against Israel and one-state ideas gain momentum.

An Israeli initiative — whether on halting settlements, better respecting Palestinians’ rights, or offering a plan — will not bring an end to anti-Israel activity. It will, however, weaken it significantly. It could draw away from it many well-meaning people who are frustrated with the decades-old stalemate and status quo.

Responsibility for peace and for accepting at least parts of the others’ narrative lie on both parties.

It is the Palestinian rethink, however, that could make all the difference.

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