HHS Mandate, Religious Freedom

Orthodox Jewry Speaks With One Voice

orthodox-jewry

The Hobby Lobby case soon to go before the Supreme Court, the Court’s decision in this case possibly redefining religious freedom as we know it in the United States, now includes an amicus brief (friend of the court brief), filed by the,
NATIONAL JEWISH COMMISSION ON LAW AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS (“COLPA”),
AGUDAS HARABBANIM,
AGUDATH ISRAEL OF AMERICA,
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF YOUNG ISRAEL,
RABBINICAL ALLIANCE OF AMERICA,
RABBINICAL COUNCIL OF AMERICA,
TORAH UMESORAH,
AND THE UNION OF ORTHODOX JEWISH CONGREGATIONS OF AMERICA,
the clergy and laity of American Jewish Orthodoxy

SUMMARY OF THEIR ARGUMENT

This case “will determine whether federal law withdraws statutory protection for the observances of religiously conscientious Americans if (1) they choose to do business through corporate structures that limit their personal financial liability and (2) they engage in profit-seeking commercial activity. The Government acknowledges that, if not for their choice to engage in profit-seeking commerce through a closely held corporation, the Green family in No. 13-354 and the Hahn family in No. 13-356 would qualify for protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb, et seq. Federal law would exempt them from paying for contraceptive coverage in their employees’ health insurance plans if they could establish that such payment is a substantial burden on the exercise of their religious beliefs and that the Government cannot demonstrate a compelling interest in subjecting their business to this financial requirement. The Government asserts that their eligibility for federal protection is dependent, however, on non-corporate and non-profit status.

The Government’s interpretation of RFRA denies to owners and managers of closely held corporations and to all owners of for-profit businesses the protection of federal law. It is a miserly construction of a remedial statute that was designed to guarantee broadly that governmental regulation would not, directly or indirectly, impede religious freedom. It severely restricts the protection of a law that Congress enacted virtually unanimously in a ringing endorsement of religious liberty. The two-edged limitation that the Government would place upon RFRA’s application in these cases can have a particularly harmful impact on Jewish Americans who observe Jewish ritual laws in operating individual or family-owned businesses. If the Government’s position in these cases is sustained, their religious observances may be hindered by government regulation simply because they are engaged in for-profit commerce and have chosen, for personal financial security, to operate their businesses in a corporate format.

Neither the language of RFRA nor its legislative policy supports the abridgment of religious exercise that results from this crabbed reading of language that was intended to be a protective shield for the observances of devout Americans.”

This narrow definition of religious freedom on the part of the Obama administration can have significant impact upon the practice of Judaism as well. As has already been demonstrated in cases in several States, ones religious freedom can be trumped by the claimed human rights of another in other arenas as well. For example, in Washington State not long after gay marriage was legalized, the Attorney General prosecuted a florist who refused to provide flower arrangements for a gay wedding claiming she did not wish to participate as her Christian Faith did not sanction such a union. The State claimed that her refusal denied the human rights of the gay couple to be treated equally under the law. Just as the florist provided her services for a marriage ceremony between a man and a woman, she is required to provide her services for a marriage ceremony between a man and a man as both are now legal in the State of Washington, This is required even though there are other florists who have no such religious compunction concerning such a union. All we need do is substitute Christian florist with Orthodox, glatt kosher caterer. Not only would the Jewish caterer be forced to provide his services, cater the reception, the kosher certifying agency would as well be involved requiring their Mashgichim to be present at the reception and, as is customary, be readily available to the guests. Cards indicating the reception is under the certifying agency would be conspicuously displayed on every table. Would not those in attendance or even a casual passer by assume that the certifying agency approved of the wedding itself?

The amicus brief was witten by famed Constitutitional attorney Nat Lewin. In filing this amicus brief, America’s Orthodox Jewish community joins with other religious denominations and organizations who, while not necessarily sharing the Catholic Faith’s view on abortion, understand, as I stated at a rally for religious freedom held in Chicago’s Federal Plaza on June 8, 2012 – “An attack on the religious beliefs of one religion is an attack on all religion in the United States.”

Written By: Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

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