Human Rights NightmareYonoson Rosenblum
Civil rights fanaticism comes at a high societal price.
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
fter the US Supreme Court's decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop in June, I wrote in these pages that the cause of religious liberty had done no more than dodge a bullet. But that the Masterpiece ruling "offers little in the way of solace to other vendors in Phillips's situation, and likely not even to Phillips himself if he is requested again to bake a wedding cake for a same-gender ceremony."
Those words proved to be prescient. Just weeks after the Supreme Court decision, the Colorado Civil Rights Division (i.e., the losing party in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case) found "probable cause" to believe that Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips violated the rights of one Autumn Scardina by refusing to bake a cake celebrating Scardina's gender "transition." And as we predicted, the CCRD used Justice Kennedy's narrow decision in Masterpiece "as a primer for state civil rights commissions or courts about how to properly enforce anti-discrimination statutes against religious vendors."
Far from making any negative remarks about Phillips' religious beliefs or religion in general — the basis of the Court's decision in Masterpiece — the CCRD did not mention religion at all in its finding of probable cause.
As David French details in National Review, Autumn Scardina, a lawyer, pursued a lengthy campaign to put Phillips out of business. On the very day the Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari in the Masterpiece case, Scardina placed an order for a custom cake with a blue exterior and pink interior, helpfully explaining that it symbolized her new gender "identification."
The same Scardina, it appears, also placed orders for a "birthday cake for Satan, with an image of Satan smoking marijuana." Another time, Scardina e-mailed an order for a cake with "an upside-down cross, under the head of Lucifer."
In short, Scardina was not some innocent purchaser who walked into Phillips's cakeshop to purchase a cake. Rather he/she deliberately targeted Phillips with the intent of ensnaring him once again with the CCRD, and in a manner that deliberately mocked his religious beliefs in the most egregious fashion possible.
The CCRD may not have mentioned religion in its decision. But it deliberately aided and abetted Scardina's mockery of Phillips's religious beliefs. One can only pray that the result of that harassment will be another trip to the Supreme Court, and that the Court, including Brett Kavanaugh, a resolute defender of religious liberty, will then fashion a broader decision than that in the first Masterpiece litigation, and place religious liberty on firmer grounds than at present.
ONE POINT BROUGHT out by the complicity of the CCRD in the harassment of Jack Phillips is the degree to which civil rights commissions tend to be manned by fanatics in the cause of anti-discrimination. In a case involving a Washington florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-gender "wedding," the would-be purchaser was a frequent customer of the florist, and the two actually embraced after her refusal. He did not complain about her decision. Rather it was the Washington state attorney-general who brought suit against the 73-year-old florist.
In a similar fanatical vein, provincial human rights commissions in Canada made life miserable (and expensive) for Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant for their writings about Islamofascism. In effect, the commissions attempted to impose a ban on any untoward mention of Islam or of any group of Muslims.
That fanaticism comes at a high societal price. In several states, including New York, the largest state adoption agencies run by the Catholic Church have been closed due to the refusal of the Catholic agencies to provide children for same-gendered parents. As a consequence, thousands of children for whom adoption was their best chance for a stable upbringing have been denied that opportunity.
Howard Slugh and Aylana Meisels, two of the founders of the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, point to a particularly hair-raising example of such fanaticism in last week's National Review. A drunken male presented himself at a battered women's shelter run by a church group in Anchorage, Alaska and demanded admission. The shelter was solicitous, and even provided him with cab fare to to get to the hospital emergency room. But the shelter director pointed out that all the women sleep in the one room, and would feel neither comfortable or safe sleeping near a man. Neither that common sense argument nor the religious nature of the institution, which was providing much needed services for the women living there, availed it before the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission.
Such is the nature of the aggressive LGBT activism that faces us today.
Be Kind Always
Efryim Shore, whom I profiled in the Pesach issue, was in Israel recently, and my wife and I were eager to see him and to partake of his infectious love of life. For readers who might not remember, Efryim woke up from a nap one Rosh Hashanah to find himself a quadriplegic from Guillain-Barre disease.
He remained in that state for almost four years, despite intensive physical therapy. Today, however, he swims two miles a day, and uses that time to compose the inspirational messages he sends out daily and to come up with ideas for new apps that turn everyday commercial transactions into tzedakah opportunities, without costing the "giver" anything.
I had a particular reason to want to see Efryim. One of my younger brothers suffered a stroke over a year ago, and is currently in a long rehabilitative process. I thought that meeting Efryim might encourage him. And it did. Over dinner, he and my brother and sister-in-law got into quite a lively discussion of neuro-plasticity.
Efryim never leaves home without an seven-foot walking stick (the traveling version is only six-feet, which was lucky for fitting into my car) and a backpack. The backpack is filled with various cards, with which he initiates conversation with nearly every single person he meets, however briefly. My visiting granddaughters, all under ten years of age, were each given a large number of cards and instructed to pass them on.
One, in particular, caught my attention. On one side is written: EVERYONE you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. On the other side: BE KIND. ALWAYS.
How true. The very afternoon that Efryim came to visit, my wife drove a longtime neighbor home from the store. My wife commiserated with her on the sad news that had befallen her. My wife was thinking of the petirah of the neighbor's father-in-law, but the latter assumed she was referring to her chemotherapy, about which my wife knew nothing. And so it is with everyone we meet. We often do not have an inkling of the things with which they are struggling.
And the other side of the card is no less true. If we would all keep in mind that everyone we meet is preoccupied and distracted with challenges about which we know nothing, and resolve to greet them with a ready smile and offer them the encouragement of small kindnesses, we would be much closer to the world Hashem intended when He first created Man.
Connected, but Not
One of the great joys of a regular column is the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with readers. Never is that relationship so intensely felt as when readers write or call to comment, supplement, or even cavil with something I have written.
A column three weeks ago on new barriers to kiruv since the days of Rav Meir Schuster produced a number of such responses, and those responses hold a warning for all of us. At the Shabbos table that week, I asked our guest whether his family hosts many students from nearby universities for Shabbos. He responded that it is ever harder to convince students to sign up for a Shabbos. Why? They cannot conceive of being without their electronic devices for 24 hours.
Another friend called from Lakewood to relate a meeting with a rabbi who had just moved to Lakewood from a large Midwestern city where he ran a kiruv program for decades. My friend asked him why he closed his program. The reply: There are simply too few students to talk to today. University students are no longer interested in ideas or learning, but only in obtaining their degree. With each passing year, constant connectivity saps more and more intellectual curiosity and the capacity for deep thought.
There is a warning there for our community as well.