Take a Stand: Don’t Let Religion Become a Weapon

In Pirkei Avot 2:10 we are taught that Rabbi Eliezer said, יהי כבוד חברך חביב עליך כשלך “Let your neighbor’s dignity be precious to you as your own.”

This variation on Rabbi Hillel’s famous teaching from the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) is as clear as can be: You should care as much about your neighbor as you do yourself. Unfortunately that teaching isn’t so popular among local lawmakers across the country as of late.

Since the beginning of 2016, over 150(!) different bills intended to allow discrimination against LGBT people – more than half of those aimed directly at transgender people –  in the guise of “religious liberty” have been submitted to legislatures around the United States. In reality, these are religious exemption bills – bills that, if they become law, will allow people to turn their religious beliefs into weapons against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer people, and same-sex families. Even though we are winning some battles, these proposals are already having a detrimental effect on our friends and families.

As representatives of religious organizations ourselves, we are incredibly sensitive to the idea of religious freedom and are strong supporters of it. These bills, however, go directly against the teachings of Judaism and the Torah.

Leviticus 19:13 prohibits us from oppressing our neighbor. Verse 14 of the same chapter prohibits us from placing a stumbling block in front of the blind – we’re prohibited from making someone’s life even harder than it already is. That same verse prohibits us from being unrighteous in judgment, and verse 17 prohibits us from taking vengeance.

The principle of dinah d’malchuta dinah, originally found in the Talmud, is an Aramaic phrase that translates to “The law of the land is the law.” That means that a civil law is enforceable law, and unless that law requires Jews to violate one of the central commandments, we are required to follow it. Allowing others to pursue their own happiness — especially when it does not affect us nor our own freedom in any way — is not only allowed by Judaism, it is required.

There is no law saying that Jews can’t photograph a wedding they may not agree with, nor provide a service for someone they don’t approve of. And there is certainly no Jewish law that permits laws to block restroom access for transgender people. Those types of decisions are have no basis in Jewish law. We understand that a job is just a job, that providing a service for a paying customer is not the same thing as endorsing the customer, and that everyone has the right to pee in peace.

Make no mistake, these bills ARE a childish attempt at righteous vengeance and retaliation for last year’s Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality nationwide. The sponsors of these bills have made it very clear that they do not believe that our families should have equal rights and legal protections, and they will do anything in their power to erode those few that are available to same-sex couples and LGBT families around the country. They want to impose their versions of thought, belief, and religion onto us and they want to do so with a legal blessing, even though a majority of Americans support non-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people.

Please help us in stopping them. The Jewish community has not asked for and does not want these bills to become law. As a religious minority we understand the danger of legislating morality. We understand that our beliefs belong to us and to us alone, and they are not to be used as weapons against anyone for any reason, even when we disagree.

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