06.27.05 Update

6.27.2005

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public displays of the Ten Commandments are not allowed in government courthouses unless they’re religiously neutral, but are permissible outside public buildings. (JTA) In a 5-4 ruling handed down Monday, the court ruled against displays in two Kentucky courthouses, saying they violated the separation of church and state because they promote a religious message. But in a separate decision, the court found a monument of the Decalogue outside the Texas statehouse permissible. The court suggested other displays could be constitutional if they're religiously neutral and are used to honor the role the commandments have played as an origin of American law. Many Jewish groups are opposed to public display of the Ten Commandments, viewing it as an endorsement of Judeo-Christian values and, in some cases, pushing a Protestant message over Jewish and Catholic interpretations of the Ten Commandments. See the press releases from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the ADL, and the American Jewish Congress regarding this decision in full below, at the bottom of this update.

The Yesha Council estimates that 40,000 cars have lined the highways today all along Israel for the 'Stop A Moment - Think Again' protest against the Israeli disengagement plan. Story from Arutz Sheva here.

Israel and the United States are about to sign an agreement calling on each side to consider the other in negotiating arms deals with third parties. (JTA) Two senior Israeli officials are in Washington this week to finalize the pact, which arose out of American unhappiness with an Israeli arms deal with China. Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said he hoped the pact would be signed soon. "It is mindful of the interests of the United States, which correlates with our interests," Ayalon said. "Had we had this paper signed years ago, we would have averted all these problems." The pact forbids the United States to ban Israeli sales because they might be competitive with U.S. sales, and is limited to security considerations, Ha'aretz reported.

A letter signed by 500 public figures urging the outlawing of Judaism and Jewish organizations in Russia, leads the government there to investigate whether the Shulhan Arukh (Jewish Law Code) contains anti-Russian or messages of hate regarding non-Jews. More from Arutz Sheva here.

Three Kenyans were acquitted of involvement in the 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel. (JTA) The High Court in Nairobi ruled Monday that there is insufficient evidence to link the defendants, all Muslims, to the November 2002 suicide attack in Mombasa that killed 12 Israelis and three hotel staffers. An earlier case involving four other defendants also ended in acquittal. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the bombing and for a simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner taking off from a nearby airport. No one has been charged in the latter case.

The Rubashkin Education Center opened yesterday in Postville, Iowa. Postville is the home of AgriProcessors Inc., the largest glatt kosher meat producer in the United States. More from the Waterloo Cedar-Falls Courier here.

Evangelicals have started a petition urging the United Church of Christ to oppose economic boycotts against Israel. (JTA) The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which is primarily supported by evangelical Christians, is circulating a petition asking the church to reject several anti-Israel resolutions slated for a vote at its annual synod in Atlanta from July 1-5. The fellowship’s Stand for Israel project also is launching an anti-divestment campaign, planning to run full-page newspaper ads against the movement.

IDF Soldier Avi Bieber, originally from New Jersey, refuses orders to demolish already-vacant Gaza buildings in protest over the disengagement. Ha'aretz reports that he will face a disciplinary hearing tomorrow over the incident.

An Israeli court overturned the City of Jerusalem’s ban of a gay pride parade. (JTA) The Jerusalem District Court ruled Sunday against Mayor Uri Lupolianski’s decision to ban the parade, and fined him $6,500, citing the gay community’s right to freedom of expression. Lupolianski had argued that the annual event, to be held Thursday, offended religious sensibilities in the holy city. On Monday, religious lawmakers called for the Orthodox community to pay the mayor’s fine.

The Knesset declared the Jewish month of Cheshvan to be Jewish Social Action Month. (JTA) The initiative aims to promote Jewish unity, peoplehood and social justice programs in Jewish communities throughout the world, including Israeli schools. “The paradigm that we are advocating in Jewish life is that peoplehood is a central mobilizing force,” Yosef Abramowitz, CEO of Jewish Family & Life and the driving force behind the initiative, told JTA. Abramowitz said a Web site, SocialAction.com, will be launched next week to promote the enterprise. Heshvan falls in November this year.

An Israeli soldier was convicted for killing a Briton in the Gaza Strip. (JTA) A court martial found a sergeant in Israel’s Bedouin Regiment guilty Monday of manslaughter after he confessed to shooting Tom Hurndall, a member of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement, in the Gaza town of Rafah in 2003. The defendant was also convicted of obstruction of justice and soliciting false testimony for trying to cover up the fact that he targeted an unarmed civilian, and reporting at first that he fired at a Palestinian gunman. Sentencing is expected in August, and could be a maximum of 24 years in prison. Hurndall was critically wounded in the shooting and died in a British hospital in 2004. The sergeant’s attorney argued that Hurndall may have been euthanized and that his client should therefore be charged only with aggravated assault.


From The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:

WASHINGTON, June 27 / U.S. Newswire / -- In two decisions regarding the constitutionality of displays of the Ten Commandments on government property, the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled today in support of maintaining a longstanding protection against government endorsement of religion. In McCreary County v. ACLU of KY, the Court rejected the so-called historically contextualized Ten Commandments displays in two county courthouses and a school district as motivated by a primarily religious purpose, concluding that they were a subterfuge for government endorsement of religion. In Van Orden v. Perry, although upholding a large monument of the Ten Commandments on the Texas Statehouse grounds, the majority of the Justices remained steadfastly committed to the notion that government cannot endorse a display found to convey a religious message. Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement responding to the decisions:

We applaud the Court's rejection of the Ten Commandments displays in McCreary County v. ACLU of KY. As Justice Souter argued for the 5-4 Court majority today, "When the government acts with the ostensible and predominant purpose of advancing religion, it violates that central Establishment clause value of official religious neutrality. ... "

We agree.

The Supreme Court's decision today provides an essential affirmation of government neutrality toward religion at a time when, as Justice Souter acknowledged, the religious community appears to be increasingly divided in American public life. In McCreary, Justice Souter articulated an eloquent and powerfully reasoned defense of the separation of church and state in America. Tellingly, he observed "The Framers and the citizens of their time intended not only to protect the integrity of individual conscience in religious matters but to guard against the civic divisiveness that follows when the Government weighs in on one side of religious debate."

The McCreary opinion, however, remains very narrowly crafted and failed to draw a bright line test for displays of religious symbols on government property. We look forward, with some trepidation, to continuing litigation in the realm of public displays of religion. Now more than ever, the closely divided Court in this case underscores the paramount importance of any vacancies arising at the completion of this Court's term today.

While we certainly disagree with the Court's rationale upholding the Ten Commandments display in Van Orden as merely "secular," the Court's adherence to the notion that government should not endorse or oppose religion is an important reaffirmation of government neutrality towards religion as the touchstone of Supreme Court jurisprudence regarding the separation of church and state.

As Jews, the Ten Commandments are the fundamental ethical code on which we base our religious and moral beliefs. We believe that it is precisely because of the Commandments' signal religious value that they belong in our synagogues, religious schools, in our homes and in our hearts, rather than in courts, public schools, or other government institutions. Displaying an inherently religious symbol, such as the Ten Commandments, on public property is not only a clear and direct violation of the Establishment Clause, but also risks detracting from its powerful religious message.

As Justice O'Connor noted in her concurring opinion, the significance of the Ten Commandments may be profoundly religious for Jews and for millions of other Americans, but "We do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment." We commend the Court's recognition of this important constitutional protection.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis.


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From the ADL:

New York, NY, June 27, 2005 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court to bar the display of the Ten Commandments inside two Kentucky courthouses, calling it a victory for separation of church and state. The Court said clearly that a display of the King James Bible version of Ten Commandments in these courthouses was unconstitutional.

The League expressed its disappointment in a related decision upholding the constitutionality of a large granite Ten Commandments monument on the Texas Capitol grounds, also containing text from the King James version.

The Court found that Kentucky had an overtly religious purpose and motivation in displaying the Ten Commandments -- a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, while Texas did not.

"There are many places in this country where displays of various versions of the Ten Commandments would be appropriate and welcome, but our government should not be the entity sponsoring such displays," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, in welcoming the decision in the Kentucky case. "We deeply respect the religious, cultural and historical significance of the Ten Commandments. But numerous versions of the Commandments exist in the Jewish and Christian traditions, so the display of a particular version risks offending Americans of other faiths and those who are not religious."

Mr. Foxman expressed the League's disappointment with the Texas decision, "because it effectively supports the notion that there is a one-size-fits-all Ten Commandments representing American secular tradition, which is not really true."

In the cases entitled -- Van Orden v. Perry and McCreary v. ACLU – ADL submitted an amicus curiae brief in cooperation with Dr. Phillip A. Cunningham, a highly respected theologian and the executive director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College. ADL argued that the Ten Commandments are an inherently religious text that cannot convey merely a secular message. Religious sources and scholarship underscores how the Ten Commandments are a vital expression of religious identity and symbolism – albeit one that is far from uniform or free of controversy.

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The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.

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From the American Jewish Congress:

NEW YORK, June 27 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Today's Supreme Court's confusing rulings, invalidating an official display of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky when it was surrounded by secular historical monuments in a Courthouse, but upholding an analogous display in the Texas capitol, offers the American people both a silver lining and a cloud. Although there is much reason to applaud the Court's reaffirmation of the constitutional requirement that all government actions touching upon religion have a substantial secular purpose, its failure to find such a sectarian purpose in the obvious and unavoidably religious nature of official display in Texas is troubling.

Paul S. Miller, AJCongress President, said, "The Court's split decision and the multiplicity of opinions in the Texas case appears to indicate that no firm constitutional rule has emerged to govern religious symbols cases. The unfortunate result will most likely be a proliferation of litigation over such displays until some constitutional center is reached."

Miller continued, "The Court's ringing reaffirmation of purpose analysis, and with it the continuing vitality of the landmark Establishment Clause decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman, is the potential silver lining. Unfortunately, without the bright line that we had sought from the Supreme Court, the purpose inquiry could be subverted by public officials disguising their motivations. "

"Moreover," Marc Stern, AJCongress General Counsel, said, "it is worthy of reflection that four Justices were prepared to reject wholesale the Court's sixty-year old commitment to a constitutional requirement that government express no official preference for religion over non-religion. The spectacularly successful American experiment in secular government survived today, but we are deeply troubled that today's decisions virtually invite further attacks on that experiment"

AJCongress had originally filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of Thomas Van Orden, contending that the Ten Commandments monument on Texas government property has the unconstitutional effect of endorsing religion, and more specifically, the values of Protestant Christianity. It also joined in a brief prepared by Professor Douglas Laycock for the Baptist Joint Committee, the American Jewish Committee, and others in arguing that the Kentucky display was also unconstitutional. Dissenting in the Texas case, Justice John Paul Stevens cited the American Jewish Congress brief.

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The American Jewish Congress is a membership association of Jewish Americans, organized to defend Jewish interests at home and abroad, through public policy advocacy, in the courts, Congress, the executive branch and state and local governments. It also works overseas with others who are similarly engaged.


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