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Windows and Doors


US and Israeli Courts Supremely Wrong On Religious Rights

posted by Brad Hirschfield

Anyone concerned about the coercive use of religion should find these two stories interesting – upsetting but interesting. And anyone not concerned about the coercive use of religion in the world today, should read a paper.
Both the United States Supreme Court and that of Israel have ruled in two cases one in each country, involving the religious rights of minority citizens. In each case it seems that they have relied on technicalities to reach pretty crazy and perhaps deeply damaging results.


American Reform rabbis issued a statement yesterday decrying the Israeli court decision, which involves building a Museum of Tolerance on an old Muslim cemetery.

According to the Resolution, “Cemeteries are sacred ground in our Jewish tradition…We would protest, in the strongest terms, not only the desecration, but any removal of a Jewish cemetery, no matter what the purpose. Therefore, it is self-evident that we must oppose the removal of another people’s sacred burial ground, no matter how worthy the purpose. While the Israeli Supreme Court has permitted the Wiesenthal Center to move ahead, an organization with high-minded goals like those of the Museum of Tolerance cannot be satisfied with mere adherence to the law.”

Yes, I know the proposition itself seems like a ridiculous contradiction in terms, but sadly it’s not to those who want to build the museum, or to the court which is allowing it.
And the case in Utah is just as wacky. It seems that because the plaintiffs’ suit was based on free speech and not the establishment clause, the state is really getting away with something it should not — something to which anyone concerned about religious freedom should obect.



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Robert

posted February 26, 2009 at 11:54 am


Those commenters who so quickly would take me to the pillory as a supposed anti-Semite in other threads might be suprised I would agree with the Israeli court rather than the rabbis’ resolution. I don’t see why the state of Israel has to give a religious minority a right it does not want, inasmuch as Muslim cemeteries are typically considered holy only for one hundred years. Now if the cemetery has graves less than one hundred years old, that’s a different matter.



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Gwyddion9

posted February 26, 2009 at 12:06 pm


Mr. Hirschfield,
I agree with you both accounts as this is upsetting, interesting and in the case, here in the U.S., predictable.
I agree with your thoughts that if “Cemeteries are sacred ground in our Jewish tradition… etc.,” that it isn’t right to remove a Muslim cemetery to build the Museum of Tolerance. It’s action displays anything but tolerance.
As far as Freedom of Religion, it’s a nice word in this country and makes people feel good about themselves but we still have far to go on this issue. Granted, we’ve made headway but we still have much room to improve.
I find the court ruling one sided in its decision on the matter of another religion wanting to display its religious beliefs in the park. As there is a monument to the 10 commandments in the park, public land, the precedent has been set. If one group has the right to display a religious monument in the park, other religious groups should have that exact same right but clearly, equality wasn’t considered here. Only one specific religion was allowed to have their monument in the park. So, the bias continues.



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Pavvel

posted February 26, 2009 at 2:02 pm


Rabbi Brad,
If I correctly interpret the US decision you reference, it is now the law of the land that a municipality can decide for itself what religious displays to accept and which to reject in its public spaces. ??!! That is, the Court’s decision does not disallow the presence of permanent religious displays in public places. Rather, it gives the local government sole discretion as to which ones are accepted and which ones are rejected.
It is not a legitimate function of government to make decisions about the relative merit of competing religious (or political) views in the allocation of public space. But Pleasant Grove UT was supported by the court in doing just that. The municipal park already had a Ten Commandments monument (a completely religious monument even if you claim the Ten are the basis of our legal system, a specious argument at best). A new religious movement asked to put up a monument of their own core principles. The city did not allow it.
The proper response of the court would have been that the city could do one of two things: reject all religious (or ideological) monuments, which would require them to dismantle the already standing religious monument; or allow privately-paid-for monuments based in any religion or ideology, with possible nondiscriminatory restrictions related to size, e.g.
Instead, the US Supreme Court decided that Local Governments now have the right to make religious decisions insofar as they relate to property owned by those governments.
One possible logical outgrowth of this decision might well be that municipalities can now decide that they can put the creche on the courthouse lawn or in the city park while disallowing the erection of a chanukiah in those spaces, for example.
This decision will negatively impact us all for a very long time.
Peace,
Pavvel



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Pavvel

posted February 26, 2009 at 2:17 pm


As for the Israeli decision, I am reminded of an archaeological dig I volunteered on nearly 2 decades ago. It was in Jordan and the archaeologists heading up the dig were Seventh Day Adventist Christians. The tell on which I was working turned out to have an 18th/19th-century cemetery as a top layer effectively blocking access to the Iron and Bronze Age artifacts beneath. So our pious archaeologists decided to carefully dig up all the bones, carefully photographing to show position, but then simply tossing the bones into a bucket and giving them to local boys to rebury in the new cemetery on the other side of the tell.
Simply put, the archaeologists’ mission did not include care of the graveyard that made their planned work difficult or impossible. I was thoroughly pissed off that they pretended that the remains were important enough for reburial but then didn’t show any respect for those bones as they made their way to their new resting place. I felt both then and now that the archaeologists should have been at least self-consistent. If the bones are worthy of reburial, they are worthy of respectful treatment at the very least.
This is not a comment per se on the Israeli Court’s position, but it is a parallel in what can be called lack of consideration, to speak mildly.
Peace,
Paul



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