One of the most precious gifts that we Jews have, living in America, is freedom of religion as stipulated in the Bill of Rights, attached to the Constitution. For more than 240 years since the beginnings of our country, Jews have been allowed to worship as they saw fit and to participate freely, for the most part, with our laws, e.g., sh’chitah and kashrus, without interference or discrimination. There have been a few bumps in the road. I remember my father having to fight for sh’chitah years ago in Massachusetts. For a time we had to order meat from New York because of it; and there was also the issue of the Sunday blue laws that prevented businesses from opening on Sunday instead of Shabbos; but for the most part we have been blessed with the ability to worship and practice according to halachah.
President Trump signed an executive order on May 4 to protect Americans who have been targeted by the politically correct bunch. President Trump has directed the Department of Justice to come up with guidelines that will protect people of faith and “ensure these religious protections are afforded to all Americans.” This means that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be writing protocols for every Federal agency to see to it that our religious rights are protected.
President Trump said, “No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith. We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced anymore; we will never ever stand for religious discrimination. Trump said, “Under my administration, free speech does not end at the steps of a cathedral or a synagogue or any other house of worship. We are giving our churches their voices back and we are giving them back in the highest form.”
Freedom of religion is too important for us to take for granted
He went on to say, “Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding, and the soul of our nation.” The president declared that his administration would be “leading by example” on religious liberty in the United States.” This could have worldwide significance. Just think of the catastrophe that could have happened in France had Marine Le Pen won the French presidency. She had campaigned to restrict Jewish men from publically wearing yarmulkes, wanted to ban sh’chitah, and sought to disallow dual citizenship with regard to Israel. The more the right-wing extremists take center stage, the more we need religious liberty protections.
The Executive order instructs the Internal Revenue Service to “not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization” that endorses or opposes candidates from the pulpit, which is currently outlawed by a provision typically referred to as the Johnson Amendment.”
Many of those present for the signing described the order as “a marker set by the administration that is committed to ensuring that the federal government does not encroach on religious views cherished by many in the faith community.”
Not every conservative group is happy with the order. Many felt it did not go far enough; but others understand how government works. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said, “The administration will pursue the policies that protect and vigorously promote religious liberty. This step starts the process of reversing the devastating trend set by the previous administration to punish charities, pastors, family-owned businesses, and honest, hard-working people simply for living according to their faith.” Faith and Freedom Coalition chairman Ralph Reed called it “the first bite of the apple, not the last.”
The order relieves the pressure that many religious people have faced. For example, Barronella Stutzman – a grandmother and the owner of a Washington State flower shop faces the loss of her business, her home, and her life savings because she refused to participate in a gay wedding. The Vanderboon family of Grand Rapids, Michigan – the owners of a meatpacking company – the USDA inspectors ordered the Vanderboons to remove religious materials from their company’s break room. Then there is the famous Hobby Lobby case where the Green family, which employs 13,000 employees, has explicitly wanted to run their business according to Biblical precepts and does not wish to provide FDA-approved contraceptive coverage as part of their medical plan. This went all the way up to the Supreme Court but left some aspects unclear. There will undoubtedly be other decisions in this area that will be presented to the Supreme Court. We are fortunate that President Trump succeeded in placing Judge Gorsuch to the court; he has a positive track record on religious liberty.
Freedom of religion is too important for us to take for granted.
Cynthia Zalisky is the Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org