Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Progressive Jews Spearhead UK Equal Marriage Push

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UPDATE: An edited version of this post has been published in The Forward headlined, "Pushing for Gay Marriage Across The Pond".

David Cameron is setting himself up for the most almighty clash with the British religious establishment this week, as he prepares to amend the laws on marriage.

The leaders of all three main parties support government plans to afford same-sex couples the right to civil marriage, plus permission to wed in churches and other religious buildings. While the proposed law is designed to allow churches and congregations the flexibility of opting in or out of officiating same sex ceremonies, it is nonetheless opposed by the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.

Orthodox Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and the London Beth Din also oppose any alterations to the traditional definition of marriage. The United Synagogue, of which Rabbi Sacks is the spiritual leader, maintains that “marriage from time immemorial has been that of a union between a man and a woman”, and as such “any attempt to redefine this sacred institution would be to undermine the concept of marriage.”

Yet progressive Jewish denominations – along with Congregationalists, Unitarians, and Quakers – have been leading the push to host same-sex weddings in their places of worship. Liberal Judaism was the first branch to back the Coalition for Equal Marriage – the umbrella organisation lobbying in favour of same-sex marriage – asserting that, “as Liberal Jews, we want to support positive celebrations of life that help the individual to revel in life’s joys as well as to support them through life’s difficulties.”

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Friday, October 19, 2012

The Law Must Not Permit Christian Homophobia

Closure, almost. The Christian owner of a bed and breakfast has, The Guardian reports, been ordered to pay £3,600 in damages after a court found Susanne Wilkinson’s refusal to let Michael Black and John Morgan, a gay couple, stay in one of her double rooms. This act was deemed to have amounted to direct discrimination and a breach of equality law — and, rightly so.

I say closure, almost, because Ms Wilkinson and the good people at the Christian Institute — an organisation of charlatans and blaggards which seeks to send the United Kingdom back into the dark ages via “the furtherance and promotion of the Christian religion” and promotes the teaching of lies to children in schools — are considering an appeal, her religious rights supposedly having been infringed. And, their new found ally and BNP leader Mad Eye Griffin, the last crusader against the forces of heterophobia, has weighed in too, tweeting Mr Black and Mr Morgan’s home address, threatening them with violence, and moaning, “Why don’t left & gay activists confront Muslims instead of picking on meek & forgiving Christians?” That’s always how I’ve thought of Mr Griffin — meek and forgiving.

This sort of nonsense has to stop. Liberty, an organisation I don’t usually care for a great deal, had the right line on this issue. James Welch, legal director of Liberty, said in a statement the following:

Liberty defends the rights of religious groups to manifest their beliefs, even when we disagree with them. But it is simply unacceptable for people running a business to refuse to provide a service because of someone’s sexual orientation. Hopefully today’s ruling signals the death knell of such ‘no gays’ policies – policies that would never be tolerated if they referred to a person’s race, gender or religion.

If Ms Wilkinson doesn’t want to let homosexuals — or indeed blacks, Muslims, or atheists — into her home, then fine. Be prejudicial in private, for all I care. Indeed, if Ms Wilkinson wanted to stand out in the street, ranting and raving with a cardboard sign reading, “God Hates Fags”, then she is well within her rights to do so. Her right to speak, in such an instance, would be and must be protected.

But as the legal proceedings concluded, Ms Wilkinson was exercising her free speech nor her right to religious freedom. She was operating a business, and under the law in this country as a service provider, she is not entitled to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. The law of the land is paramount and at unity, and all are equal under it. Ms Wilkinson is not entitled to an exemption nor to be bigoted in his manner merely because of the fantastical claims of holy books, and the aura of respectability believing in them seems to grant people.

Salman, The Messenger [September 13, 2012]
Protecting Free Inquiry from Religious Bullies [September 24, 2012]

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Romney’s Problem with the First Amendment

I always think it odd when any religious American starts up about the perils of having a strict separation of church and state. In spite of having a secular constitution, nowhere in the Western world — indeed, the world entire — are the rights of the religious afforded greater protection than in the United States. As a consequence, the inhabitants of the land between the Atlantic and the Pacific are far more religious, and overtly and militantly so, than in any European nation.

So, here’s Mitt Romney on the role of faith in American political life:

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney believes that “some” Americans have taken the separation of church and state too far, “well beyond its original meaning.”

In an interview released Tuesday with the Washington National Cathedral’s magazine, Cathedral Age, Romney said those who “seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God” aren’t acting in line with the Founders’ intent.

Odd that such a keen constitutionalist should have such a problem with one particular passage. The First Amendment could not be more clear on this issue: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Thomas Jefferson expanded on this point in a letter of 1802 which assured the American people that there shall be a “a wall of separation between church and State”, adding that “the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions”. Nobody is stopping Gov. Romney or anybody else from discussing religion in the public square, then. Rather, it is the role of government to stay out of the religion business — thus, no prayer in public schools — unless there is the possibility of harm.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012 Wednesday, July 25, 2012 Thursday, July 19, 2012 Monday, July 9, 2012 Tuesday, June 26, 2012 Wednesday, April 18, 2012 Friday, April 6, 2012

An American Education, or Why Peter Beinart is Wrong

I choose to believe, given Peter Beinart sends his own children to a Jewish day school, that his recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal is well-meaning. Beinart’s angst seems heartfelt and altogether sincere when he observes that parents who elect to send their offspring to privately-funded Jewish schools in the United States “are often asked to pay top dollar for schools with makeshift gymnasiums and antiquated science labs”.

In order to plug the funding gap which philanthropy alone cannot fill so that religious schools might “flourish”, Beinart’s solution is for the federal government to provide “substantial aid to religious schools”, picking up “pick up part of the tab” for those who wish to give their children a Jewish or indeed any sort of religious education. This approach strikes me has highly irregular, counterproductive, and in the longer term a grave threat to the unique American separation between church and state.

Beinart praises the Jewish schools of Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Indeed, here in the United Kingdom we do possess many first-rate Jewish schools, such as the Jews’ Free School in north London or Beis Yaakov High School in Manchester, which receive government monies (38 in number as of 2011, or 0.19% of all state-funded schools in the country). The schools cited are labelled as voluntary aided schools, where the state employs the staff and sets admissions criteria, but the buildings are owned by the charitable foundation which has a great deal of influence regarding how the institution is run – a model I sense Beinart may favour.

In the United Kingdom, faith schools are largely Christian in character: 22.88% of state schools for run by the Church of England; 10% by the Roman Catholic Church. Places in these schools are oft in great demand in catchment areas across the country. Regarded for their academic attainment and educational rigour, the phenomenon of competitive secular parents appearing at Sunday Mass for the sake of their kids is sadly not uncommon.

But above-average levels of accomplishment or an ostensible sense of religious pluralism does not make the funding of faith schools by national governments correct or just. The very notion of state funding for religious schools is antithetical to the basic principles of public education, which ought to be accessible to and actively encourage interaction between children of different races, religions, and social strata. By their very nature, faith schools are exclusionary, since they discourage admission of those who do not share in the faith of that institution.

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