Opinion: Religious freedom does not justify hatred, discrimination

Last week a Mr. Kramer sent you a letter arguing that the city should not adopt a nondiscrimination ordinance because it would interfere with religious freedom. Mr. Kramer appears to have a strange definition of religious freedom that includes a right to discriminate in the public sphere.

The ADL is disturbed both by Mr. Kramer’s argument, and by his use of an imaginary, hypothetical Orthodox Jewish caterer to attempt to make his (misguided) point.

The hypothetical Jewish caterer in Mr. Kramer’s letter does not exist, and there are reasons that we have not heard of any cases of Orthodox Jews refusing service to others based on religious grounds. This is because such discrimination goes against both thousands of years of Jewish religious thought and more than 200 years of American political thought.

The Torah — the “constitution” of Judaism and the very basis of Jewish religious law — enumerates 613 mitzvot (commandments). Notably among them is a commandment to respect people for who they are. Furthermore, an additional commandment is the commandment of Kashrut (Jewish dietary law), which governs the food one may or may not eat, and how one ought to prepare it. The laws of Kashrut clearly do not at all include the prohibition of serving Kosher foods to any particular person or segment of our society. In fact, the opposite is true. All Jews are encouraged to eat Kosher, and to serve Kosher foods to everyone, regardless of background and level of observance.

Following Mr. Kramer’s argument, an Orthodox caterer would refuse to serve a non-Sabbath-observing Jew. To the contrary, as mentioned, the Law teaches that every Jew is obligated to keep all commandments. Failing to observe one law does not exempt from the observance of another law.

So, just as every Jew is obligated to eat kosher food, the Orthodox Jewish caterer is obligated to serve them, to assist them in keeping the commandments. So even in the context of a medieval Jewish shtetl, the caterer is obliged to serve everybody.

Flash forward to modern American political theory where the 1st Amendment serves to protect religious liberty. By definition, freedom of religion refers to your relationship between yourself and your God, and your right to not be discriminated against for your religion. It is a freedom enshrined in our Constitution to protect against discrimination, not to allow for discrimination.

The argument that Mr. Kramer offered would bring us right back to the worst traditions of religious bigotry that most of our forefathers left behind in Europe generations ago. A Protestant storekeeper would be legitimized in refusing to serve a Catholic. The Catholic would be legitimized in refusing service to a Mormon. A member of the Church of the Creator (a white supremacist group) would be legitimized in refusing service to an African American. All of the above could refuse to serve Jews.

Freedom of Religion is clearly not about legitimizing such discrimination. To the contrary, it is about protecting against discrimination.

Putting aside anyone’s individual feelings about homosexuality or their relationship with God, the issue here is about how we treat our fellow human beings. Whatever you do, treat everyone with respect and dignity. It is time for Scottsdale and the Greater Phoenix region to adopt a non-discrimination ordinance and to put these arguments to rest.

Editor’s note: Mr. Bennett is the regional director of Anti-Defamation League Arizona while Rabbi Allouche is of the Congregation Beth Tefillah, Scottsdale Arizona

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