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September 3, 2015

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.

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

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August 18, 2015

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

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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