Letter to the Editor: Dov Alberstone
To the Editor:
In last month’s edition of The Commentator, an opinion piece was published entitled “Vote For Me, Vote for You, Vote for Who?” The ideas and misinformation presented in the article were deeply disturbing and moved me to write this response. I hope this article helps illuminate the issues and accurately expresses how I, and many others, felt after reading the article.
The article spins a tale of Jack Phillips, who must fight for his right to refuse service to a same-sex couple on religious grounds, and seven Republican Justices (a contradiction in terms) who vindicate him. Thus, the article concludes, we Jews must vote for Republicans, as only they will fight for our free exercise when its on the line.
Except it was never on the line. In June, the Supreme Court Of the United States ruled 7-2 in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC) had acted without proper religious neutrality in their assessment of Jack Phillips’ case. This case was about nothing more than the reversal of an unfair ruling because the process by which that ruling was arrived at was improperly executed. This case specifically avoided the question of where the limit on free exercise is in relation to commerce, especially in the area of LGBT rights. The seven justices who sided with the plaintiff were not all Republican appointees either. Justice Elena Kagan, appointed by President Barack Obama, and Justice Stephen Breyer, appointed by President Bill Clinton, were both among them.
The discord between the facts of the case and the narrative presented in this article is so great that I wonder, along with other Commentator readers, where the authors gathered their information? This case shows neither an overstep on the part of the state, nor does it exhibit a Republican/Democrat schism in the opinions of the justices. The authors of the article, to put it simply, are utterly mistaken in thinking so.
The notion that the most pressing attack on free exercise of religion in the United States comes from same-sex couples trying to hire services for their weddings is offensive and deeply troubling. It is demeaning to the open-minded tolerance of the free exercise clause — a concept so central to our national identity — to reduce it to a cheap shield for the narrow-minded and intolerant. Same-sex couples and the LGBT population in general are not an unprotected class, for whom commercial services and social acceptance are not offered as they are to other citizens.
Perhaps more disturbing than the “alternative facts” presented in this article is the tone the author uses. While one can see the value of an article urging voters a certain way, the fear mongering employed here is detestable. The article levies absurd claims, accusing Democrats of attempting to violate or even outright revoke the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. There is no such attempt. The article’s apparent goal is to stir up fear in its readers that a political boogeyman is out there, manifested in LGBT people and liberals, who will steal your rights away if you do not vote the way the authors recommend. It displays the worst kind of mindless partisanship and insidious dealing, attempting to delegitimize those with differing opinions.
One of the claims the author makes repeatedly is the impossibility of all citizens to be equally protected before the law. It is as if they consider the rights granted to the citizens of this country to be a limited resource, from which one must grab as much as possible to ensure that others do not have more. I find this idea malevolent. It is, in my opinion, a violation of the foundation of America to believe that there is not room for all of us in this great land.
In his letter to the Jews of Newport, George Washington writes; “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. We in the United States pride ourselves that we live in a land “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
I won’t presume to tell you how to vote. But I can tell you to vote with your conscience, not how a provocateur would steer you. Whoever you decide to cast your vote for, vote for the right reasons; because you want a better country for all of its citizens.
Dov Alberstone, Yeshiva College ‘21