In August 1790, President George Washington visited Rhode Island, which a few months earlier had ratified the U.S. Constitution.
Among those who welcomed the new president was the Hebrew congregation of Rhode Island, founded in 1763. Now known as the Touro Synagogue, it is the oldest standing synagogue in the nation.
The synagogue’s representative wrote to the president expressing gratitude that Jews in the newly formed United States of America lived, in contrast to their counterparts in other parts of the world, with “invaluable rights as free citizens.”
Washington wrote to the congregation, “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
A little more than a year later, the guarantee of religious freedom would be formally enshrined in the Constitution with the ratification of the Bill of Rights.
Now, in a sad stroke of irony, the religious freedom of observant Jews is being threatened not by “other inhabitants,” but by their fellow Jews.
Yeshiva University, the nation’s only Orthodox Jewish university, has been sued by gay students for refusing to sanction an LGBT club.
A New York state court ruled in favor of the students, and now Yeshiva has been dealt another setback by the Supreme Court. The justices, to whom Yeshiva appealed, refused to block the state court decision requiring the university to allow the LGBT club to operate.
The position of Yeshiva is clear. The Torah explicitly prohibits homosexual behavior. To officially accept the LGBT club as part of the university would be to negate and undermine the very mission and identity of the university.
Religious freedom is an integral part of American identity.
Historically, religious persecution came from those of other religions. But today we have a new phenomenon.
The threat to religion is not coming from those who worship other gods. The threat is coming from those who worship no god and refuse to accept Christians and Jews practicing their religion as taught in their Scriptures.
An interview with one of the gay students makes clear what is happening. She denies that Judaism actually prohibits homosexuality. But the prohibition in the Torah is absolutely clear and explicit.
How did Yeshiva get into this situation? As I searched for background information on this story, it became clear that the issue with gays at Yeshiva has been going on for years. The LGBT club that now seeks official sanction has been operating informally.
Can it be that Yeshiva has been not clear and aggressive enough on where it stands on this issue, and this lack of clarity has led to this destructive situation?
I think it is time for religious organizations to stop being intimidated by threats from those whose real agenda is to destroy what they stand for.
Certainly, America must stand strong as a free society. Everyone should be able to live as they choose. But Americans of faith should be proud and clear about the precepts of their religion and aggressively push back against those who use the headline of tolerance to undermine and destroy the precepts of Scripture.
Religious freedom means nothing if religion means nothing.
We are already seeing our nation implode as our sacred principles so essential to life go out the window. Those who still live by these principles should stand strong and unbending against those who want to destroy them.
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