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Liberals and religion: a risky game of chicken
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Liberals and religion: a risky game of chicken

The First Amendment clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

This restriction on federal government must have been very important to the framers of the Constitution because it is the very first provision of the Bill of Rights. Through the 14th Amendment, the prohibition against laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion applies to all levels of government: federal, state, and local.

It seems that, for some elected officials in the Windy City, “Chicago values” would trump the Free Exercise Clause.

Dan Cathy, a Southern Baptist and president of the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, recently stated he was supportive of the “biblical definition” of marriage as between a man and a woman.

In response, Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno vowed to block efforts by Chick-fil-A from opening its first free-standing restaurant in his ward, if not the entire city.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not launch a spirited defense of the Free Exercise Clause. When asked about Moreno’s efforts, Emanuel declared, “Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values. They’re not respectful of our residents, our neighbors, and our family members. And if you’re gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values.”

Emanuel went on to say, “What the CEO has said as it relates to gay marriage and gay couples is not what I believe, but more importantly, it’s not what the people of Chicago believe. We just passed legislation as it relates to civil union and my goal and my hope…is that we now move on recognizing gay marriage. I do not believe that the CEO’s comments…reflect who we are as a city.”

A Chicago alderman wants to run the company out of town on a rail because its CEO professed a deeply held religious belief, and its mayor essentially agrees, saying it is against “Chicago values” when a Southern Baptist says that, under his religious teachings, marriage is between a man and a woman. This would make the Catholic Church also against “Chicago values.” Would Emanuel and Moreno advocate that the Catholic Church not expand in Chicago?

What about the federal government? Despite President Obama’s recent embrace of same-sex marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act — defining marriage as between a man and a woman — is still on the books. Does the federal government offend “Chicago values”?

How about the Chicago-based Nation of Islam? Apparently the Nation of Islam, and its leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, demonstrate “Chicago values” despite numerous statements by Farrakhan condemning homosexuality and single-sex marriage. This past May, Farrakhan criticized Obama for supporting gay marriage, calling him “the first president that sanctioned what the scriptures forbid.” That is not different from what Chick-fil-A’s Cathy stated.

But did this earn the enmity of Emanuel and Moreno? No.

Egregiously, Emanuel, a Jew, ignored Farrakhan’s history of anti-Semitism and offered no objections when the Fruit of Islam, Farrakhan’s paramilitary unit, converged on Chicago neighborhoods to help stop a plague of gun violence.

As reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, Alderman Debra Silverstein, an Orthodox Jew, said it’s good that Farrakhan is “helping” in the fight against crime, “but it doesn’t eradicate the comments that he’s made about the Jewish community.” Emanuel offered no such caveat. “People of faith have a role to play and community leaders have a role to play in helping to protect our neighborhoods and our citizens,” Emanuel said. “They have decided, the Nation of Islam, to help protect the community. And that’s an important ingredient, like all the other aspects of protecting a neighborhood.”

Apparently, “Chicago values” allow a Jewish mayor to enlist the support of an anti-Semite and foe of gay marriage to allow an “army of men” into the streets to stop violence. But it doesn’t allow a national fast food chain headed by a devout Christian to serve chicken.

In an editorial, the New York Sun noted that Cathy’s remark was not much different from the views expressed by the Council of Torah Sages. Liberals who would prevent a business from expanding because of the religious views of its owners or executives are imposing a religious test, writes The Sun.

In past months, courts in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria have banned circumcision on the grounds it violates a newborn’s human rights. The New York Times’ Ross Douthat points out defenders of such decisions insist they don’t trample on any Jew’s or Muslim’s freedom of belief. But while the ruling would not technically outlaw Jewish theology or Jewish worship, it would effectively outlaw Judaism itself.

It was this sort of governmental behavior that the Free Exercise Clause meant to prohibit. Businesses should not be curtailed because of the religious beliefs of their owners. Catholic hospitals should not be compelled to provide abortions or contraception contrary to Catholic theology. Jews and Muslims should not be banned from performing an essential religious rite.

These should be “Chicago values,” not those espoused by Emanuel and Moreno.

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