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March 1, 2016 2

Alito Got It Right In Jewish Inmate Case

Yes­ter­day, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a trou­bling lower court deci­sion involv­ing the reli­gious lib­erty rights of an obser­vant Jew­ish inmate from North Car­olina.  In a pow­er­ful dis­sent, Jus­tice Alito pointed out why the lower court was wrong and his fel­low Jus­tices should have taken up the case.supreme-court

Israel Ben-Levi claimed that the North Car­olina Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety (NCDPS) vio­lated his rights under the Free Exer­cise Clause and Reli­gious Land Use and Insti­tu­tion­al­ized Per­sons Act (RLUIPA) by deny­ing his request to study Torah with two other Jew­ish inmates.  In reject­ing his request, NCDPS asserted that the inmate mis­un­der­stood his own faith.  For a group to study Torah, NCDPS claimed, there must be ten Jew­ish men – a minyan – or qual­i­fied Jew­ish leader such as Rabbi.  The lower court agreed with this argu­ment and also found Mr. Ben-Levi was not sub­ject to future harm because he had been trans­ferred to a prison with a Rabbi.

Jus­tice Alito’s dis­sent cor­rectly pointed out that this deci­sion was dis­crim­i­na­tory “[b]ecause NCDPS’s pol­icy rests on its under­stand­ing of Jew­ish doc­trine, the pol­icy does not apply to other reli­gions.”  Fur­ther­more, it vio­lates long­stand­ing First Amend­ment case law against gov­ern­ment inter­pret­ing reli­gious doctrine:

[F]ederal courts have no war­rant to eval­u­ate  “the valid­ity of [Ben-Levi’s] inter­pre­ta­tions.” … By ignor­ing Ben-Levi’s actual beliefs and focus­ing solely on NCDPS’s under­stand­ing of Judaism, respon­dent and the courts below con­sid­ered the wrong question.  

Although the Supreme Court’s rejec­tion of the case does not approve of the lower court deci­sion, we could not agree more with Jus­tice Alito that “the Court’s indif­fer­ence to this dis­crim­i­na­tory infringe­ment of reli­gious lib­erty is disappointing.”

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January 15, 2016 0

Religious Freedom: Revolutionary and an American Strength

Jan­u­ary 16th is the 2016 obser­vance of National Reli­gious Free­dom Day, which was  estab­lished by Con­gress in 1993. It com­mem­o­rates the Vir­ginia Gen­eral Assembly’s 1786 adop­tion of the land­mark Vir­ginia Statute for Reli­gious Free­dom. Drafted by Thomas Jef­fer­son, it was the blue print for the reli­gious free­dom pro­tec­tions found in the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. Two-hundred thirty years later, how­ever, these very lib­er­ties and prin­ci­ples are being chal­lenged often in the name of“religious freedom.”

Official_Presidential_portrait_of_Thomas_Jefferson_(by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800)

The Statute for Reli­gious Free­dom was a rev­o­lu­tion­ary change in the rela­tion­ship between gov­ern­ment and reli­gion. It sep­a­rated the two by pro­hibit­ing taxes sup­port­ing reli­gion, pro­vid­ing free exer­cise of reli­gion for all, and gen­er­ally bar­ring reli­gious tests for civic par­tic­i­pa­tion. These prin­ci­ples became the law of the land with the adop­tion of the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion and First Amendment.

The Constitution’s reli­gion clauses are the rea­son why a diver­sity of faiths has thrived in our nation for well-over 200 years. At their essence, the clauses pro­hibit gov­ern­ment from spon­sor­ing, sup­port­ing or sanc­tion­ing the impo­si­tion of reli­gious doc­trine or beliefs on cit­i­zens. They are a shield that safe­guards the reli­gious free­dom of all Amer­i­cans and our reli­gious institutions.

Address­ing these safe­guards in her last opin­ion, U.S. Supreme Court Jus­tice San­dra Day O’Connor astutely observed:

[T]he goal of the Clauses is clear: to carry out the Founders’ plan of pre­serv­ing reli­gious lib­erty to the fullest extent pos­si­ble in a plu­ral­is­tic soci­ety. By enforc­ing the Clauses, we have kept reli­gion a mat­ter for the indi­vid­ual con­science, not for the pros­e­cu­tor or bureau­crat. At a time when we see around the world the vio­lent con­se­quences of the assump­tion of reli­gious author­ity by gov­ern­ment, Amer­i­cans may count them­selves for­tu­nate: … Those who would rene­go­ti­ate the bound­aries between church and state must there­fore answer a dif­fi­cult ques­tion: Why would we trade a sys­tem that has served us so well for one that has served oth­ers so poorly?

Despite Jus­tice O’Connor’s 2004 warn­ing, today we find our Constitution’s reli­gious free­dom pro­tec­tions and prin­ci­ples mis­un­der­stood and under chal­lenge. Most recently, lead­ing can­di­dates for the Pres­i­dency have said that Mus­lim Amer­i­cans are unfit to serve as Pres­i­dent and called for clos­ing down Mosques, as well as ban­ning Mus­lims from our shores. Such bla­tant reli­gious intol­er­ance is anti­thet­i­cal to our most core con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples and unac­cept­able from any per­son of good faith let alone an indi­vid­ual aspir­ing to the Pres­i­dency. Our nation’s wel­com­ing accep­tance of all reli­gious beliefs is a crit­i­cal tool in coun­ter­ing those groups and nations that seek to impose their faith on others.

In the States, dozens of bills have been filed over the last sev­eral years in the name of “reli­gious free­dom” that would allow busi­nesses — based on own­ers’ reli­gious beliefs — to refuse cus­tomers. Although many of these bills are directed at our nation’s LGBT com­mu­nity, they also could be used to turn away cus­tomers because for exam­ple they are Hindu, Human­ist, Jew­ish, Mor­mon or Mus­lim. Such leg­is­la­tion fun­da­men­tally mis­ap­pre­hends the pur­pose and scope of the Constitution’s reli­gious free­dom pro­tec­tions. They were never intended as a sword to impose reli­gious beliefs on oth­ers. The Con­sti­tu­tion most cer­tainly safe­guards the reli­gious beliefs and exer­cise of clergy, houses of wor­ship, and indi­vid­u­als, includ­ing beliefs and prac­tices about mar­riage. But for our plu­ral­is­tic soci­ety and mar­ket­place to prop­erly func­tion, they should not be used as a vehi­cle for discrimination.

The Con­sti­tu­tion also guar­an­tees the right of par­ents to send their chil­dren to reli­gious schools and reli­gious insti­tu­tions to per­form social and char­i­ta­ble ser­vices in-line with their reli­gious beliefs. But they in no way require the gov­ern­ment to fund either. Over the last 20 years, how­ever, Con­gress and state leg­is­la­tures have imple­mented pro­grams requir­ing tax­pay­ers to fund reli­gious schools and char­i­ta­ble orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing those that dis­crim­i­nate or pros­e­ly­tize. Com­pelling tax­pay­ers to fund reli­gious insti­tu­tions with which they are not affil­i­ated or agree is anti­thet­i­cal to our con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples. Prop­erly inter­preted, the Con­sti­tu­tion should bar such gov­ern­ment fund­ing of religion.

Our reli­gious free­dom pro­tec­tions are one of America’s great­est strengths and a key rea­son why our Nation is excep­tional. On National Reli­gious Free­dom Day all Amer­i­cans should take a moment to appre­ci­ate their indi­vid­ual reli­gious lib­erty and reflect on the fact that mil­lions around the world are reg­u­larly sub­ject to reli­gious coer­cion or per­se­cu­tion. These free­doms must not be taken for granted. Amer­i­cans of good faith should push back on efforts to mis­use them in ways that impose par­tic­u­lar reli­gious beliefs or tests on their fel­low citizens.

 

 

 

 

 

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January 11, 2016 3

Five Things We Hope to Hear in the President’s State of the Union Speech

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Pres­i­dent Obama has said that his final State of the Union address on Tues­day, Jan. 12 will be framed around “the big things” he sees as being pri­or­i­ties in the years to come, rather than tak­ing a policy-centric approach to the speech.  He has said that there is more work that needs to be done, and we agree.

In the run-up to the president’s address, we at the Anti-Defamation League asked mem­bers of our staff and some of our offices across the coun­try for some insights on which issues deserve pri­or­ity treat­ment dur­ing the president’s address. Our com­pleted list fol­lows.  ADL’s pri­or­i­ties for the pres­i­dent include: 1) Fight­ing prej­u­dice and dis­crim­i­na­tion 2) wel­com­ing asy­lum seek­ers and refugees while pro­tect­ing national secu­rity 3) safe­guard­ing reli­gious free­dom 4) Rein­forc­ing a com­mit­ment to Iran sanc­tions, and 5) Sup­port­ing a strength­ened Israel-U.S. relationship.

One caveat:  I should note that while we have num­bered these, they are each sep­a­rate and dis­tinct issues and not ordered by impor­tance. We believe each of these issues deserves pri­or­ity treat­ment by the admin­is­tra­tion at this unique time in Amer­i­can his­tory when we are faced with myr­iad chal­lenges and opportunities.

Let’s hope the pres­i­dent takes on some of these issues as he heads into his final year in office.

Fight­ing Prej­u­dice, Extrem­ism and Dis­crim­i­na­tion  

Last week’s reaf­fir­ma­tion of fed­eral edu­ca­tion anti-discrimination laws,   com­ing at a time of esca­lat­ing prej­u­dice and vio­lence against spe­cific pop­u­la­tions–  refugees, immi­grants, and the Mus­lim com­mu­nity –  was a needed, wel­come reminder for schools.  The Depart­ment of Jus­tice also has used its author­ity under the 2009 Matthew Shep­ard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Pre­ven­tion Act of 2009 very effec­tively, but much more train­ing and out­reach for local police is needed. A 21st cen­tury polic­ing model should include incen­tives for depart­ments   to ensure they are report­ing cred­i­ble hate crime data to the FBI.  Crim­i­nal jus­tice reform, includ­ing leg­is­la­tion now mov­ing through Con­gress, must pro­mote ini­tia­tives to inter­rupt the school to prison pipeline and efforts to build police-community rela­tions.  And the Pres­i­dent should use SOTU to fur­ther explain his new gun vio­lence pre­ven­tion ini­tia­tives, which were announced the same day ADL released a new report doc­u­ment­ing that 2015 was the dead­liest year for domes­tic extrem­ist vio­lence in the past 20 years, with firearms, over­whelm­ingly, the  extrem­ist weapon of choice in 2015 – as in vir­tu­ally every year.  Finally, we hope the Pres­i­dent will press for essen­tial leg­is­la­tion to restore cru­cial vot­ing rights pro­tec­tions elim­i­nated by the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder deci­sion.  If Con­gress fails to act, the Novem­ber elec­tions will be the first Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 50 years with­out the robust pro­tec­tions of the Vot­ing Rights Act.

Wel­com­ing Asylum-Seekers and Refugees AND Pro­tect­ing National Security

Some Mem­bers of Con­gress have recently called for block­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s plan to reset­tle up to 10,000 Syr­ian refugees. This is unfor­tu­nate on so many lev­els and incon­sis­tent with our prin­ci­ples as a coun­try whose ori­gins and evo­lu­tion are so bound up with gen­er­a­tions of immi­grants and refugees. The SOTU is an oppor­tu­nity for the Pres­i­dent to urge Con­gress to oppose efforts to halt U.S. refugee reset­tle­ment or to restrict fund­ing for refugees, includ­ing Syr­ian refugees. We hope that the Pres­i­dent will reit­er­ate that Amer­ica can keep its bor­ders safe and, at the same time, wel­come refugees that are flee­ing the bru­tal­ity of ISIS. The Amer­i­can screen­ing process for refugees works – it is the sin­gle most dif­fi­cult way to enter the United States.  Amer­ica must not turn its back on its fun­da­men­tal com­mit­ment to refugee protections.

As thou­sands of men, woman, and chil­dren have fled hor­rific real­i­ties of bru­tal vio­lence and extreme poverty and hunger in El Sal­vador, Guatemala, Hon­duras, and Mex­ico, we also have seri­ous con­cerns about the Administration’s recent cam­paign of home raids to round up and deport these fam­i­lies and adult asylum-seekers. We hope to hear Pres­i­dent Obama speak out and direct the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity to stop these raids and depor­ta­tions.  More­over, chil­dren and fam­i­lies flee­ing for their lives must be pro­tected and have access to legal coun­sel so that they can apply for asy­lum and pro­tec­tion in the United States.

 The Pres­i­dent should also use the SOTU to encour­age Con­gress to recom­mit to advanc­ing com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform that pro­vides for a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship for immi­grants, sound bor­der secu­rity, safe­guards against bias and dis­crim­i­na­tion, and fam­ily reunification.

 Pro­tect­ing Reli­gious Free­dom, LGBT Equal­ity and Repro­duc­tive Rights 

The Pres­i­dent should com­mit to con­tin­u­ing his administration’s sup­port for vig­or­ous reli­gious free­dom advo­cacy on the fed­eral, state and local lev­els, includ­ing oppos­ing orga­nized prayer.  At the same time, the admin­is­tra­tion should con­tinue to demon­strate lead­er­ship on issues of impor­tance to the LGBT com­mu­nity – which have resulted in pos­i­tive, sys­temic changes in pro­tec­tions and equal rights for LGBT peo­ple – by mak­ing it clear that mea­sures couched as sup­port­ing reli­gious free­dom that per­mit busi­nesses to evade anti-discrimination laws and refuse ser­vice to peo­ple based on their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity are not accept­able.  On the issue of repro­duc­tive rights, we under­stand that all eyes will be on the United States Supreme Court this year as it con­sid­ers restric­tions on Texas women’s clin­ics that we think are unnec­es­sary and uncon­sti­tu­tional, but we hope the Pres­i­dent will under­score his oppo­si­tion to the Texas leg­is­la­tion and other sim­i­lar initiatives.

 

Rein­forc­ing America’s Com­mit­ment to Enforce­ment of Iran Sanc­tions 

Iran con­tin­ues to take actions pro­mot­ing poli­cies and human right vio­la­tions that pro­foundly con­flict with core Amer­i­can val­ues.  As we move closer to “imple­men­ta­tion day,” when the IAEA would cer­tify that Iran has met the require­ments under the nuclear agree­ment to lift inter­na­tional sanc­tions, Iran’s ongo­ing human rights vio­la­tions and its exter­nal aggres­sions must be taken into account when con­sid­er­ing the prospect of nor­mal­ized rela­tions. The United States can­not look away from the insti­tu­tion­al­ized dis­crim­i­na­tion fac­ing eth­nic and reli­gious minori­ties in Iran, includ­ing Baha’is, Chris­tians, Jews, and Sunni Arabs. Their treat­ment ranges from quiet intim­i­da­tion to sys­tem­atic impris­on­ment. LGBT cit­i­zens fare far worse. The Iran­ian regime con­tin­ues its decades-long sup­port of ter­ror­ism against Israel and other coun­tries, and rou­tinely pro­motes fan­tas­ti­cal anti-Israel and anti-Semitic con­spir­acy the­o­ries, includ­ing mock­ing the Holo­caust and accus­ing Israel of cre­at­ing ISIS. It also has lent finan­cial and mil­i­tary sup­port to the mur­der­ous cam­paign of the Syr­ian government.

The U.S. should be vig­i­lant in using exist­ing sanc­tions tar­get­ing these prac­tices and explore new tools that might be needed to tar­get both human rights vio­la­tions and JCPOA violations.

We hope the Pres­i­dent will send a strong mes­sage Tues­day night to Tehran that there will be con­se­quences to test­ing both the bound­aries of the nuclear agree­ment and con­tin­u­ing its nefar­i­ous behav­ior in the region, and repres­sive poli­cies toward its own people.

 Sup­port­ing a Renewed U.S.-Israel Relationship

Con­gress and the Admin­is­tra­tion rec­og­nize the unique secu­rity threats and chal­lenges fac­ing Israel and the Pres­i­dent should reaf­firm the unshake­able U.S. com­mit­ment to Israel and its secu­rity in the SOTU. Nego­ti­a­tions between the U.S. and Israel are under­way for a new Mem­o­ran­dum of Under­stand­ing (MOU) to ensure Israel is able to main­tain its qual­i­ta­tive mil­i­tary edge over its adver­saries. The cur­rent MOU pro­vides $30 bil­lion in assis­tance to Israel over a 10-year period and is set to expire in 2017.

 As he enters his last full year in office, Pres­i­dent Obama clearly has a full plate.  He also has the oppor­tu­nity to work with Con­gress to insti­tu­tion­al­ize changes, alter­ing the land­scape – domes­ti­cally and inter­na­tion­ally – in ways that will endure well beyond his pres­i­dency.  We and the nation will be pay­ing close attention.

Fol­low us live @ADL_National dur­ing the State of the Union Tues­day night at 9 PM EST for our take on the speech.

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