Friday, July 13, 2012

Religious Liberty--For What Purpose? 3

Archbishop William Lori,
the brains behind Fortnight
For Freedom as well as the
harassment of the American
The following paragraphs are  from an article published in several newspapers around the nation this past week regarding the exemption of Torah scholars from the military draft in Israel.  I am not an Israeli citizen and so I have no opinion about that particular question—and in fact I remember that when the United States had a draft seminary students were exempt from it—so that is not what I am writing about.  But in the article were several paragraphs about how the ultra-orthodox are forcing non-observant Jews—and gentiles for that matter—to follow Orthodox religious practices.  
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Zalman Deren spends his days studying the Torah in a small synagogue near the Western Wall in Jerusalem. He's young and able-bodied, with a wife and three children to feed, but has no job because that would distract him from his vocation.
The draft is not the only issue that puts the Haredim at odds with Israel's secular majority, however.
As the fastest growing sector of the population, they are expanding to new neighborhoods where they establish strict religious enclaves where modern Israelis don't want to live.
They have outraged many by forcing women to sit at the back of public buses in their enclaves or trying to ban women from singing at army festivals. Some of them bully and spit on women and girls they think are not modestly dressed.
The ultra-Orthodox have also overplayed their hand in Israeli politics - many secular Israelis resent the kingmaker role their parties play in coalitions that has allowed them to demand a high level of subsidies and exert what they say is excessive influence on religious policies.
How do you feel about religious groups forcing others to follow the practices of their faith?  How does that fit into the American practice of separation of Church and State. 
I have been to Israel often and frankly I have never minded that a restaurant doesn’t serve butter when there is meat on the menu.  I don’t even miss having bacon for breakfast.  I can go without shellfish if I have to.  As a Christian I am always reminded in subtle ways that though my tourist dollar is welcome, I am no more than tolerated.  It’s fne when I am in Israel, but I don’t want to be treated that way in my home country. 
There was a day in this country when Catholics were second class citizens.   Catholic children had to listen to readings from the King James Bible in public schools.  Catholic children had to recite the “Protestant version” of the Lord’s Prayer in schools.  There were towns where Catholics were not allowed to build a church. In fact, in Washington DC 16th Street—the street that runs north from the White House—was off limits for Catholic churches by a “covenant” that bound people who bought land along that street. 
Well, today there are Catholics who want to force non-Catholics—Protestants, Jews, non-believers, Muslims—to conform to Catholic practices regarding contraception.  It is our right, they claim, to deny access to contraceptive services to our employees who are not Catholic even if we don’t have to pay for those services or provide them ourselves.  We have a right of religious freedom to deny these services to people who work for us.  Of course, there are some who would go so far as to make our employees sign a statement that they agree  with the Catholic Church regarding our beliefs on contraception and family planning.  That isn’t much different tham the pious Hasidim making women sit in the back of the bus, is it?

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