Home > Bruce S. Ticker, Gaza, Israel, Palestinian Authority, United Nations, United States of America > When religious advocacy and the law are at loggerheads

When religious advocacy and the law are at loggerheads

Bruce S. Ticker

By Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA — Another outlandish legal opinion should prod us to wonder how four U.S. Supreme Court justices got accepted to law school.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. writes in a dissenting opinion: “I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that today’s decision is a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country. There are religious groups that cannot in good conscience agree in their bylaws that they will admit persons who do not share their faith. For these groups, the consequence of an accept-all-comers policy is marginalization.”

Translated, adherents of a given religion must always be permitted to practice their beliefs…even if they stomp on the rights of others in the process and violate our laws.

Three situations in which religious beliefs clashed with the law or basic values of civilization reached a boiling point. A Christian student group was denied its mission of homophobia;

Orthodox Jews howled when one of their own was sentenced to an excessive prison term; and a group of Islamist extremists trashed a United Nations summer camp in Gaza because it shuns training its children in hate and militancy.

In the middle of America’s gay capital, the Christian Legal Society at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco refuses membership privileges to anyone who will not disavow “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle,” The New York Times reports. That covers “sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman.” They cannot be voting members or assume leadership positions.

Hastings denied CLS recognition as a student organization because its policies amount to discrimination. The college affords recognized student groups modest financial assistance, use of the school’s communications channels and meeting space and use of the school’s name and logo – so long as they permit all students to participate in their activities, according to the Times.

Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated, “CLS…seeks not parity with other organizations, but a preferential exemption from Hastings’ policy.” Alito wrote the aforementioned dissent on behalf of himself, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

This quartet misses the point that our system of laws supersedes our personal attitudes. CLS discriminates against homosexuals and most universities – especially those funded by tax revenues – cannot allow that. Some religious groups will severely harass people to convert them and defend their action by claiming it is their religious belief to do so. Harassment itself is a criminal offense, albeit a minor one.

It is scary that these four justices do not understand the difference.

In Gaza, two dozen masked men broke into a United Nations summer camp before dawn recently when they tied up four guards and proceeded to slash and burn tents, toys and a plastic swimming pool, according to the Associated Press.

Islamic extremists are naturally suspected. Hamas operates camps that bash Israel and teach military-style marching along with horseback riding, swimming and Islam. As the AP story puts it, “U.N. camps try to instill hope in a better future, a message wrapped in fun and games.”

Allegiance to religious beliefs there is often the rule, and the law is the exception. For some their religion is the law. We are not indicting all Muslims here, but many do not care what they do in the name of religion. Their attitude mandates that all territory in their part of the world must be Muslim-dominated, and so they oppose Israel’s very existence.

The U.N. camp’s presence threatens this idea because the camp’s mission is to foster hope in these children. They may grow up to accept people of other religions.

There are higher stakes: The Palestinians want to be recognized as a nation in the world of nations, yet many refuse to play by the rules of civilization.

Of course, there are comparable criticisms that can be leveled at Israel, but that’s for another time.

From Iowa to Brooklyn’s Boro Park, the issue is more subtle for ultra-Orthodox Jews upset with the 27-year federal sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, who was found guilty eight months ago of 86 counts of financial fraud, the weekly Forward reported. The 51-year-old Agriprocessors executive managed the now-defunct slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, owned by his family’s large kosher meat enterprise, according to the newspaper.

Besides Rubashkin’s fraud charges, other concerns about the plant involved the hiring of undocumented workers and abuse of child labor.

The obvious question on the minds of some Jews, though not openly expressed by many, was whether the sentencing judge was motivated by religious bias. “This is just like Dreyfus!” Mordy Getz told The Forward, a Jewish weekly newspaper. “They won’t kill him, but they’ll just lock him up for decades and destroy a whole family.”

Alfred Dreyfus, the French Jewish army captain framed for selling military secrets to Germany in 1894, survived his imprisonment at Devil’s Island where the guards were not allowed to talk to him. He committed no crime, the trial was held in secret and the evidence, if one can call it that, was weak. By contrast, Rubashkin is following through with his right to appeal.

In The New York Jewish Week, Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of the Agudath Israel of America, called the sentence “a dark day for American justice…It is a dark day as well for American Jewry…the extraordinary severity of the sentence imposed upon one of our Jewish brothers sends chills of shock and apprehension down our collective spine.”

My usual attitude toward “Jewish brothers” who commit crimes or otherwise act outrageously is to toss out the prison keys, but Zwiebel’s words beg these questions: Did Rubashkin think while committing his crimes that he might face strong punishment? Did it occur to him that his deeds might reflect on other Jews?

Most intriguing is the level of passion that his sentence aroused in the Orthodox Jewish community. Were they so passionate when abuses at Rubashkin’s plant were first exposed?


Bruce S. Ticker is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia.

  1. Pete
    July 9, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Obviously Mr. Ticker, despite his obvious gift of an Einsteinian grasp of our legal system, missed the obvious. The “Christian Legal Society at Hastings College of the Law” is a private organization and ought to have the right to include or exclude anyone they like. To compare a private organization, determining its membership criteria, to suspected Islamic fundamentalists accused of destroying property and tying people up is ludicrous and unfathomably illogical. If he truly believed that “our system of laws supersedes our personal attitudes” he would understand that distinction. Blindly comparing every result of religious belief, even those that some perceive as negative, is simplistic and dangerous.

    Plus, even though his personal attitudes are immune to bias, he had to bash the Orthodox because a little self loathing completes the picture. Mr. Ticker: your Jewish “brothers” are in fact your brothers (no quotes).

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