Church-Separation Is Vital
Wed, 05/28/2014

Steven M. Cohen is wrong to suggest that weakening the wall of separation between church and state is good for the Jews (“A More Religious America is Good For The Jews,” Opinion, May 13).

Cohen’s praise for the recent Greece v. Galloway decision, in which a closely divided Supreme Court dramatically extended permissible Christian and other sectarian prayers at town council meetings, is misplaced. He ignores the fact that Jewish security in America is fundamentally connected to church-state separation.

The unique First Amendment promise that government will not favor one religion over others, or religion over non-religion, and that each person can practice his or her religion without government interference, has been a bedrock value of our society and has helped to ensure religious freedom for Jews and others. Cohen’s logic fails when he concludes that the successful integration of Jews into American society means that the First Amendment principles so critical to this success can now be weakened or worse.

Many of the challenges facing Jews and other religious groups identified by Cohen are real, but it is reckless to assume that the remedy is to insert religion into the public sphere.

The real-world impact of the court’s ruling is deeply disturbing. It has already encouraged other town councils across the country to begin institutionalizing Christian or other sectarian prayers before meetings.  Jews and members of other minority religions will inevitably feel pressured to participate — or made to feel like second-class citizens or invisible outsiders — as they seek constituent services before their local elected officials. This is hardly the way to strengthen the affinity of Jews and others to their religious roots.

The Anti-Defamation League has no intention to abandon its support for the fundamental principle of church-state separation, which has proven good for government, good for religion — and very good for Jews in America.

Gregg Mashberg,

New York Regional Chair

Evan Bernstein,

New York Regional Director

Anti-Defamation League

Manhattan

 

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The distinguished leaders of ADL make some important and valid points. But they fail to address the central policy question I raised. At a time of high anti-semitism and low assimilation, a secular public square in America was clearly in the Jewish interest. Almost a century later, with low anti-semitism and high assimilation, why should the Jewish community continue to advocate the policies designed to fight a battle we have won (thanks to the ADL, among others) and counterproductive to winning the battle we are losing (in which the ADL plays little role)? I agree that church-state separation is good for Jewish safety; but will the ADL at least agree that it's counterproductive to Jewish continuity? Or at least entertain the notion?

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