religious freedom » ADL Blogs
Posts Tagged ‘religious freedom’
March 4, 2016 0

A Win For Religious Minorities In the Military

Cap­tain Sim­rat­pal is an hon­ors West Point grad­u­ate, Army Ranger, com­bat vet­eran, Bronze Star recip­i­ent and obser­vant Sikh, who wants to abide by the arti­cles his faith – wear­ing a tur­ban, unshorn hair and a beard – while serv­ing his coun­try.  Instead of grant­ing his recent request for a per­ma­nent reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion, the Army sin­gled him out for spe­cial­ized gas mask and hel­met testing.

Yes­ter­day, a fed­eral dis­trict court in a well-reasoned deci­sion not only rejected these tests, but rec­og­nized the impor­tance of fos­ter­ing reli­gious diver­sity in our military.

sikh warrior When the Cap­tain entered West Point a decade ago, Army rules did not per­mit him to fol­low the arti­cles of his faith.  So he made the dif­fi­cult choice of choos­ing ser­vice to his coun­try over his faith.

In recent years, how­ever, the Army has revised it reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion rules and Sikh sol­ders have been per­mit­ted to abide by their religiously-mandated groom­ing stan­dards. After Cap­tain Sim­rat­pal met some of these sol­ders at a Pentagon-sponsored Sikh cel­e­bra­tion last year, he decided that his mil­i­tary ser­vice should not pre­vent him from fol­low­ing his faith.

Last Decem­ber, he was granted a tem­po­rary accom­mo­da­tion to wear a tur­ban, unshorn hair and a beard pend­ing a deci­sion on his request for a per­ma­nent accom­mo­da­tion.  The Cap­tain was under the belief that the Army would grant the per­ma­nent accom­mo­da­tion, but instead he received orders on Feb­ru­ary 24th to report for rig­or­ous, spe­cial­ized test­ing for the fit­ting of his gas mask and hel­met.  Sol­diers seek­ing to wear a beard for med­ical rea­sons, “Hard to fit” sol­diers with hel­met and mask fit­ting issues, and even other Sikh sol­diers are not required to undergo such testing.

This week, the Cap­tain filed a fed­eral law­suit with the U.S. Dis­trict Court for the Dis­trict of Colum­bia claim­ing that the spe­cial­ized test vio­lated his rights under the Reli­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act (RFRA) and ask­ing to the Court to tem­porar­ily stop them while he awaits a final answer on his request for a per­ma­nent reli­gious accommodation.

The court ruled in his favor stat­ing: Sin­gling out the plain­tiff for spe­cial­ized test­ing due to only his Sikh arti­cles of faith is, in this con­text, unfair and dis­crim­i­na­tory.  It is this sin­gling out for spe­cial scrutiny – indeed, with the ini­tial pre­cau­tion of requir­ing an escort and observers for the plain­tiff as he was sub­jected to the tests – that has a clear ten­dency to pres­sure the plain­tiff, or other sol­diers who may wish to seek a reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion, to con­form behav­ior and forego reli­gious precepts. Rattan sings

ADL over the last decade has expressed con­cerns and advo­cated on issues of reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion and coer­cion in the mil­i­tary.  We wel­come the court’s rul­ing and state­ment that “the pub­lic has a sig­nif­i­cant inter­est in hav­ing a diverse mil­i­tary, reflec­tive of the com­po­si­tion of our coun­try and accept­ing of reli­gious minori­ties.”  The Army should with­draw its order for spe­cial­ized test­ing of Cap­tain Sim­rat­pal and expe­di­tiously grant his request for a per­ma­nent reli­gious accommodation.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , , ,