Redefining Religious Activity


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ABSTRACT Redefining Religious Activity » Main Feature » Jewish Ideas Daily Please click here for an announcement regarding our daily e-mail. Home Themes Bible Israel & Zionism History American Judaism Sabbath & Holidays Rabbinic Literature Jewish Thought Mysticism Religious Life Archeology People & Places Education Arts & Literature Anti-Semitism On Books Sabbath & Holidays Voices & Arguments Audio / Video Q & A My Library Log In Archive Feedback February 17, 2012 Redefining Religious Activity By Meir Soloveichik Tweet Last month the administration ruled that U.S. health insurance plans must generally cover contraceptive services.  The ruling exempted religious employers—but not those that employ or serve many people who are not of the employers' own faith.  Thus, Catholic hospitals, colleges, and charities were not exempt.  Last week, responding to opposition, the administration announced an accommodation under which these organizations' insurers, not the organizations themselves, would cover contraception. The Cult of Synthesis   Jack Wertheimer ,  Jewish Ideas Daily .  For over a century, American Jews have asserted that America and the Jews are a perfect fit. Is it true?  SAVE There have been reactions on both sides.  Some challenge Catholic charities' right to the exemption.  Others ask whether, accommodation or no, the charities will have to fund services to which they object. In testimony yesterday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of New York's Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, and Director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University, emphasized a different problem.  The accommodation, he noted, treats some religious organizations as entitled to First Amendment protection and others — those that serve other faiths — as not meriting protection.  This distinction is alien not only to Christianity, but quintessentially to Judaism, whose essence lies not only in "wrapping oneself in the blatant trappings of religious observance such as phylacteries" but in morally engaging with the world, Jewish or not.  It would follow that Jews should be among those most disturbed by the compromise.  The present storm over Catholics and contraception, it seems, exposes more fundamental fault lines in the current political accommodation to religion in America.   — The Editors In August of 1790, Moses Seixas, a leading member of the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, composed a letter to then-President George Washington, who was visiting Newport.  In his letter, Seixas gave voice to his people's love of America and its liberties. "Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free citizens," wrote Seixas, "we now (with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events) behold . . . a Government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance."  Washington responded with sentiments that Jews hold dear to this day.  "The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves," wrote Washington, "for giving to Mankind . . . a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship." On Friday, in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal , I joined Catholic and Protestant leaders in protesting a violation of religious freedom stemming from the Department of Health and Human Services' new directive obligating religious organizations employing or serving members of other faiths to facilitate acts that those religious organizations consider violations of their religious tradition.  Later the same day, the administration announced what it called an "accommodation": not religious organizations but rather insurance companies would be the ones paying for the prescriptions and procedures that a faith community may find violative of its religious tenets.  This putative accommodation is, however, no accommodation at all. The religious organizations would still be obligated to provide employees with an insurance policy that facilitates acts violating the organization's religious tenets.  Although the religious leaders of the American Catholic community communicated this on Friday evening, the administration has refused to change its position, thereby insisting that a faith community must either violate a tenet of its faith, or be penalized. What I wish to focus on this morning is the exemption to the new insurance policy requirements that the administration did carve out from the outset: to wit, exempting from the new insurance policy obligations religious organizations that do not employ or serve members of other faiths.  From this exemption carved out by the administration, at least two important corollaries follow.  First: by carving out an exem.......