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September 3, 2015 11

Public Officials: If Your Religion Prevents You From Doing Your Job, Step Aside

Many of us make impor­tant deci­sions in our daily lives grounded in our reli­gious val­ues and beliefs. That should be respected, even per­haps, applauded. How­ever when one chooses to take an oath of office or accepts a posi­tion as a pub­lic offi­cial in a sec­u­lar con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy like ours, she has a respon­si­bil­ity to do the job she was hired to do. Rowan County Ken­tucky Clerk Kim Davis’s job requires her to issue mar­riage licenses to any­one who may legally get married.

LGBT Zip code

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court for­mally rec­og­nized the dig­nity of les­bian, gay, bisex­ual and trans­gen­der peo­ple when it extended the free­dom to marry to same-sex cou­ples nation­wide. The Court ruled that the Con­sti­tu­tion for­bids states to ban mar­riage for same-sex cou­ples. Since the deci­sion, a small minor­ity of pub­lic offi­cials, most notably Ms. Davis, have argued that they should be exempt from hav­ing to issue mar­riage licenses to same-sex cou­ples, cit­ing their sin­cerely held reli­gious beliefs. The Supreme Court dis­agrees, and yet Davis con­tin­ues to defy the Court by deny­ing same-sex cou­ples mar­riage licenses. Now, she and, at her direc­tive, her staff, are refus­ing to issue mar­riage licenses mak­ing it impos­si­ble for any­one to obtain a mar­riage license in that county.

No one should ques­tion or chal­lenge Ms. Davis’s reli­gious beliefs. The fact that some news arti­cles and com­men­ta­tors have crit­i­cized Davis’s beliefs as incon­sis­tent or hyp­o­crit­i­cal is beside the point. The bot­tom line is that she has no right, con­sti­tu­tional or oth­er­wise, to refuse to do the job the state of Ken­tucky pays her to do.

The real­ity, as ADL’s ami­cus brief argued, is that over­turn­ing mar­riage bans ensures that reli­gious con­sid­er­a­tions do not improp­erly influ­ence which mar­riages the state can rec­og­nize, but still allows reli­gious groups to decide the def­i­n­i­tion of mar­riage for them­selves. That remains true. Rab­bis, priests, min­is­ters can­not be com­pelled to par­tic­i­pate in mar­riages of which they do not approve. Reli­gions are not required to sol­em­nize any kind of mar­riage they don’t want to rec­og­nize. How­ever, that does not mean that gov­ern­ment employ­ees may aban­don their duties nor may they seek to impose their reli­gious beliefs on oth­ers by inter­fer­ing with their con­sti­tu­tional right to marry.

If Ms. Davis or oth­ers feel that they can­not ful­fill the duties they were selected to per­form, they should step aside and allow oth­ers to serve the community.

A 501©(3) non­profit orga­ni­za­tion, ADL nei­ther sup­ports nor opposes any can­di­date for polit­i­cal office.

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August 18, 2015 0

Reactions to the Jerusalem Gay Parade Stabbing

Almost three weeks after the stab­bing attack dur­ing Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, which left six­teen year old Shira Banki dead, Israeli soci­ety is engaged in a con­tin­u­ing soul search­ing over the attack and the sta­tus of Israel’s LGBT community.

Israel has a vibrant LGBT com­mu­nity and it cel­e­brates in its strong record of free­doms and pro­tec­tions.  Nonethe­less, there are clear homo­pho­bic ele­ments in Israeli society.

Yishai Schlis­sel, the parade stab­ber – who had pre­vi­ously attacked a pride parade in 2005 – is a mem­ber of the ultra-orthodox com­mu­nity in Bnei Brak.  While acknowl­edg­ing that there is homo­pho­bia among reli­gious Jews in Israel, atti­tudes toward the LGBT com­mu­nity are not monolithic.

Credit: Ludovic Bertron

Credit: Ludovic Bertron

Accord­ing to a Haaretz report, a group of ultra-orthodox Jews from Bnei Brak reached out to the LGBT com­mu­nity and met with their rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the Gay Com­mu­nity Cen­ter in Tel Aviv.  Although the Ultra-Orthodox par­tic­i­pants decided to stay anony­mous, the impor­tance of the dia­logue and the dis­cus­sion lay in the fact that it took place and was reported in the press. Such an unmedi­ated encounter enables know­ing each other on the basis of open­ness and an attempt to accept the other – a pos­i­tive sign after the dark events.

On the other side of the spec­trum came the much pub­li­cized com­ments of Beza­lel Smotrich, an ultra-nationalist and a mem­ber of Knes­set from the Jew­ish Home Party, who serves as Deputy Knes­set Speaker.  Over the years Smotrich has made numer­ous anti-gay state­ments, and has described him­self as a “proud homo­phobe.”  Days after the attack, he referred to gay pride events as “abom­i­na­tion parade” (a term he has used before).  In an inter­view he gave a few days ago on Galei Israel radio, Smotrich said: “There are a lot of gays in the media and they decide for us what to think and what to say.” Smotrich said that their “con­trol” of the media has cre­ated legit­i­macy and pub­lic sup­port for them. I am con­fi­dent that 95% of Israelis want their chil­dren to raise a model fam­ily and have grand­chil­dren. That’s what a healthy, nor­mal per­son wants… These peo­ple have enor­mous power in shap­ing our con­scious­ness. They num­ber dozens of dom­i­nant peo­ple. So nat­u­rally, peo­ple can’t hear a voice like mine and when I speak to the media, I’m cut off after half a sen­tence and I sound deluded because I’m unable to explain myself.”

Jew­ish Home head and Edu­ca­tion Min­is­ter, Naf­tali Ben­net, responded, “I reject these state­ments with dis­gust…” and many oth­ers rose to con­demn Smotrich.  Mean­while, Ometz, an orga­ni­za­tion whose mis­sion is to pro­mote eth­i­cal gov­er­nance, is ask­ing the Knes­set Ethics com­mit­tee to review Smotrich’s comments.


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July 3, 2015 2

Yes, Justice Thomas, the Government Can Deprive People of Dignity

The word “dig­nity” appears 30 times in last week’s Supreme Court mar­riage equal­ity case, Oberge­fell v. Hodges. Describ­ing the same-sex cou­ples who aspired to marry, Jus­tice Anthony Kennedy, writ­ing for the 5–4 major­ity, stated:

Their hope is not to be con­demned to live in lone­li­ness, excluded from one of civilization’s old­est insti­tu­tions. They ask for equal dig­nity in the eyes of the law. The Con­sti­tu­tion grants them that right. supreme-court-civil-rights




In a bit­ter dis­sent, Jus­tice Clarence Thomas demurred, stat­ing that “the Con­sti­tu­tion con­tains no ‘dig­nity’ Clause.” He argued that the gov­ern­ment is “inca­pable of bestow­ing dig­nity,” stat­ing flatly that” human dig­nity can­not be taken away by the government.”

Aston­ish­ingly, Jus­tice Thomas then attempted to prove his dubi­ous propo­si­tion by cit­ing two extreme and rep­re­hen­si­ble gov­ern­ment actions that were actu­ally designed to deprive vic­tims of “equal dig­nity under the law” – slav­ery and the incar­cer­a­tion of Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese descent dur­ing World War II:

Slaves did not lose their dig­nity … because the gov­ern­ment allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in intern­ment camps did not lose their dig­nity because the gov­ern­ment con­fined them.

But the gov­ern­ment did not “allow” blacks to be enslaved – the laws of the time facil­i­tated and empow­ered slave own­ers and enforced slavery.

And the Japan­ese Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens League was rightly “appalled” by Jus­tice Thomas’ blind­ness to the impact of the government’s shame­ful and unwar­ranted forcible relo­ca­tion and incar­cer­a­tion of 120,000 Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese descent, the vast major­ity of whom were citizens.

In 1942, just 10 weeks after the sur­prise attack on Pearl Har­bor, Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt issued his Exe­cu­tion Order 9066, pro­vid­ing the legal author­ity for this depri­va­tion of lib­erty and dig­nity. Roosevelt’s exec­u­tive action was issued against the back­drop of wide­spread, base­less fears that Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese ances­try might pose a threat to the U.S – anx­i­ety that was cer­tainly fed by a long his­tory of prej­u­dice and xeno­pho­bia direct against Japan­ese Americans.

Those incar­cer­ated in the camps were uprooted from their com­mu­ni­ties, sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies, their homes, and their pos­ses­sions, and lost their per­sonal lib­er­ties and free­doms until the end of the war.

Trag­i­cally, the president’s exec­u­tive order was bol­stered by addi­tional con­gres­sional enact­ments. And when the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of these actions was chal­lenged in two main cases before the U.S. Supreme Court – Hirabayashi v. U.S. andKore­matsu v. United States – the Court held that these clearly dis­crim­i­na­tory actions by the gov­ern­ment were, in fact, jus­ti­fied and constitutional.

Now, 73 years later, the Anti-Defamation League uses the cruel and unwar­ranted wartime treat­ment of Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese descent as a teach­able moment for our nation on the dan­gers of stereo­typ­ing, prej­u­dice, and racial pro­fil­ing. While we can honor and admire indi­vid­u­als that can retain their per­sonal dig­nity under the most adverse con­di­tions, there should be no doubt, Jus­tice Thomas, that the gov­ern­ment can deprive peo­ple of their “equal dignity.”

For­tu­nately, a Supreme Court major­ity has now held that the Con­sti­tu­tion man­dates that same-sex cou­ples are enti­tled to equal treat­ment – and mar­riage equality.

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