Religious Freedom Means Nothing If Religion Means Nothing!
In August of 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 Rhode Island, in the newly formed United States of America, lived, in contrast to their co-religionists 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, including the First Amendment saying, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Now, in a sad stroke of irony, the religious freedom of observant Jews is being threatened not by "other inhabitants" but by their own co-religionists.
Yeshiva University, the nation's only orthodox Jewish university, has been sued by Yeshiva University gay students for refusing to sanction an LGBTQ club.
A New York State court ruled in favor of the students, and now Yeshiva University has been dealt another setback by the Supreme Court. The Supremes, to whom Yeshiva University appealed, refused to block the state court decision requiring that the university allow the LGBTQ club to operate.
The position of Yeshiva University is clear. The Torah -- the five books of Moses -- explicitly prohibits homosexual behavior. To officially accept the LGBTQ 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.