Religious freedom is both precious and precarious. Case in point: the circumcision ban that will be on the ballot as a referendum in San Francisco in November.
The proposed measure would make it unlawful to perform a ceremony critical to the identity of Jews; worse, it states that “no account shall be taken of the effect on the person on whom the operation is to be performed of any belief on the part of that or any other person that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual.”
Talk about blatant violations of the First Amendment.
While many Jewish leaders are confident the ban, if passed, would ultimately be overturned in the courts, others aren’t so sure. What’s important to note here is that the San Francisco effort is just one front in an accelerating war against minority religious practices. And, as the Anti-Defamation League has accurately and frequently pointed out, officially sanctioned discrimination against one minority religion is a danger to all.
We see that trend in the national hysteria about Islamic Sharia law and efforts in state capitals across the country to ban its use in courts — a trend the ADL has rightly said is “at best unnecessary, and at worst a manifestation of religious intolerance.”
Overseas, we see it in metastasizing bans against kosher slaughter in Scandinavian countries and in the prohibition against Islamic head coverings in France. In this country, a number of Jewish groups have worked hard for decades to ensure that the free exercise rights of Jews are not limited by local convention or national prejudice.
They have fought for — and won — the right for Jews and others to wear religious apparel in the military and for a law barring local zoning authorities from unfairly restricting the land use rights of religious institutions, including Jewish schools and synagogues and for the religious rights of prison inmates. They continue to fight for laws mandating reasonable workplace accommodations so employees can fulfill their religious obligations without jeopardizing their jobs.
Sadly, the forces of religious intolerance are on the march, here and around the world, with San Francisco’s proposed circumcision ban being the most reprehensible example. Jewish groups need to redouble their efforts to protect minority free exercise rights — for Jews and for every other religious minority, because open discrimination against one is a threat to all.