defending the First Amendment against the Christian right ...
Jews On First!
... because if Jews don't speak out, they'll think we don't mind
by Robin Podolsky with Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, JewsOnFirst.org, September 7, 2010
(Page 7 of 8) Print version
In the context
of a battle to display the Christian version of the Ten Commandments at the Texas
Capitol and two Kentucky courthouses, Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the ACLJ said,
"...even the Supreme Court admitted this is a Christian nation up until the 1930s."
There is a confluence with that view—which regards the Jews of the United States
as being best off under the protection of benevolent Christians, although never free from the specter
of anti-Semitism—and one that can only imagine the State of Israel in a beleaguered
warlike state, never to realize the original Zionist dream of a nation that lives
in the world like any other.
What is at stake
America is a unique kind of experiment. Not to overindulge in American exceptionalism,
but every country has its particularities, and here is one of ours: we were not
only founded through a constitution that guaranteed freedom of religion for all,
the conquest of the Americas--carried out overtly as a Christian project and, therefore,
in opposition to all indigenous religion--removed the ground for any organicist
claim to the place for any of the Abrahamic faiths. This happened just as Europeans,
reeling from centuries of bloody religious war between Christians and having rediscovered
the virtues of scientific skepticism, were calling received certainties into question.
The result was a country founded not only without a state religion but without any
history of one.
This is why it is possible for observant Jews, Muslims and Christians to be equally
at home here. This narrative is repellent to those who want to frame the US as a
Christian nation. It is also inconvenient for those who wish to emphasize the nationalistic
possibilities of Judaism based on the idea that this nation must always be, in some
way, the territory of Christians on whose tolerance we must rely.
One of the many things at stake here is the soul and shape of America. Are we to
be defined by our Constitution or by Plymouth and Jamestown? Those early colonies
were indeed religious enterprises, founded by Puritans and Anglicans seeking religious
freedom; but only for themselves to practice what they believed in, relieved of
the pressure to co-exist with others. It is certainly no accident (and almost too ponderously ironic)
that Pat Robertson, the man who wants us to know that Islam is no religion but an
ideology of conquest, said on his website that, "we reclaim the holy covenant of
1607 (referring to the Jamestown colony in advance of a beach party planned to celebrate
the colony's founding) and we reaffirm that America "is dedicated to our Lord Jesus
Christ, for His glory and for His purpose...the Gospel will go out…to the entire
world."" (At the end Robertson quotes Jamestown's Reverend Robert Hunt.)
However, our Constitution really does forbid any government establishment of religion.
Generations of interpreters have elucidated that principle to mean that the government
doesn't get to play favorites, to treat one religion as more "real" than all the
rest. It is that founding principle—even when it has been honored more in the breach—that
has allowed Jews the exceptional opportunities that we have been blessed with in
America. Well, that and the color line, especially since it was redrawn in the 20th
century to include most of us who happen to be here. (It is easier to get ahead
when the lowest rung on the ladder is always already taken.)
Video interviews of participants in Glen Beck's capitol
rally on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech indicate
that Reverend Hagee's enemies list--Muslims, the President, people who would impose
controls on the economy but not on their neighbor's personal lives--is fairly common.
Muslims, like gays and immigrants are understood as having taken away an America
that the Tea Partiers, who are mostly white, Christian and relatively well-off,
are determined to "take back."
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So. The folks who believe that they are losing America are angry with the President.
Some are angry because he is a Black man who appears to be smarter than most people
and can't be bothered to conceal the fact. Some are angry because he is teaching
his children to savor arugula with their Five Guys burgers. Many are angry precisely
to the extent that he is keeping his campaign promise to reform healthcare and other
aspects of the economy in favor of the middle classes, which means government regulation
of the marketplace to curb dishonest and predatory practices, to reward responsible
entrepreneurs including those who invest in research and development, to spur employment
and to monitor working conditions for health, safety and transparency.
As has been pointed often enough, it is not easy to build a mass movement against
policies that directly benefit the people you are trying to organize. Thomas Frank
in What's The Matter With Kansas put his finger on it. People who don't want
to talk economic facts resort to culture wars. They need an enemy around which to
According to a new Pew Research Poll: nearly one in five people, or 18 percent,
said they think Obama is Muslim, up from the 11 percent who said so in March 2009.
The proportion who correctly say he is a Christian is down to just 34 percent. In
a separate poll by Time magazine/ABT SRBI conducted Monday and Tuesday — after Obama's
comments about the mosque — 24 percent said they think he is Muslim, 47 percent
said they think he is Christian and 24 percent didn't know or didn't respond.
In addition, 61 percent opposed building the Muslim center near the Trade
Center site and 26 percent said they favor it.
The Pew poll found that about three in 10 of Obama's fiercest political rivals,
conservatives, say he is a Muslim. That is up significantly from
last year and far higher than the share of Democrats and liberals who say so. But
even among his supporters, the number saying he is a Christian has fallen since
2009, with just 43 percent of blacks and 46 percent of Democrats saying he is Christian.
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