As members of a minority and a faith community, Jews understand intimately the need for religious freedom protections and for laws that protect us and others from discrimination. We have long sought to practice our religious beliefs and observances without obstruction and to fight discrimination against minorities and vulnerable populations like ours.
Supporters of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act legislation in Indiana and North Carolina have claimed that this too is their aim — protecting religious beliefs and practices. But critics of these laws have shown that, absent corrective legislation, they would allow businesses and individuals to discriminate against others and ignore existing protections in the law. “When RFRAs are used in this fashion,” wrote the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, “they not only sanction harm to vulnerable communities but they also undermine the fundamental, bedrock American value of religious freedom.”
As the Fort Wayne Jewish Federation wrote in a statement about the Indiana RFRA, the law “could empower service providers to use religious beliefs as a reason to discriminate against members of the public, especially the LGBT community.” The federation supports a “fix” that prohibits service providers from using the law — and religion — as a legal defense for refusing service or justifying discrimination.
Jewish groups with deep concerns about these laws also have the deepest respect for the religious beliefs of others; however, they also respect the long fight waged on behalf of the existing protections afforded Jews and all Americans by the Constitution. “This law puts civil rights to religion and civil rights to equal protection on a collision course with each other,” wrote the Fort Wayne federation. “As members of a religious minority who have faced discrimination because of our religious practices, we deeply regret the inherent injustice this law potentially creates.”
Or as the RAC put it in their statement: “At this sacred time of year, when Jews around the world will gather at Passover seders, we are ever more cognizant of the ongoing journey to liberation and redemption for all people who face discrimination because of who they are.”