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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Bigotry Raises Its Ugly Head

When the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom in the United States, it does it by stating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”   Of course, it is tacitly understood that such free exercise of religion must exclude any religion which advocates harm to anyone who does not follow its tenets.  A religion which encourages its followers to do that does not deserve the protection of the First Amendment.

Extreme versions of Islam which consider those who do not accept it as “infidels,” deserving of punishment, or any faith which justifies the murder of heretics, fits into this category.  During the Crusades, Christians tried, unsuccessfully, to recapture Jerusalem from the Muslims.  As they marched across Europe, they had no qualms about murdering non-Christians, particularly Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, along the way, along with anyone else they considered to have heretical beliefs. The historic conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism was also a bloody one.  Believers in such violence today do not deserve the protection of the First Amendment. The murderers of doctors who perform abortions, for example, do not deserve the protection of the First Amendment when they claim their actions were merely acts following the dictates of their religion.

When I am in a crowd, at a theatre, concert hall or sporting event, or even on the street or in a shopping mall, it is hard to identify the religion of those around me.  Of course, sometimes Muslim women can be identified by head covering and Jewish men by the wearing of a small skull cap, but outside of this, we do not usually wear our religion on our sleeves. 

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose religious observance calls for them to exist as much as possible outside of mainstream society, dress in a very distinctive manner, and are thereby distinguishable by their attire on those occasions when they are out in the general population.   This visibility might be a reason why most attacks on Jews by anti-Semites, it seems, involve Orthodox Jews, even though they amount to no more than ten percent of the nation’s Jewish population.  Similarly, attacks on bearded and turban-wearing Sikhs, who are not even Muslim, might be prompted by their appearance, which misleads ignorant anti-Muslims.  These vile acts are intended for everyone of the faith being attacked, whether or not their religious affiliation is conspicuous.  When a Hasid is attacked in Monsey, N.Y., it is equally an attack on all Jews, even those without black hats, beards and payot (sidecurls) and who believe themselves to be assimilated. 

What we need, in addition to strong laws aimed at reducing gun violence, is more education as to what religious freedom is all about and what the First Amendment protects.  As for those whose hatred of other faiths, even if for social or economic reasons, in addition to religious reasons, leads them commit acts of violence, they should be punished to the fullest extent allowed by law.  Otherwise, the First Amendment is diminished.
Jack  Lippman

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