Two events in a 72-hour span demonstrate the importance of protecting religious freedom by ensuring the rule of law.
Last week, in Washington, D.C., Attorney General William Barr kicked off the U.S. Department of Justice’s Summit on Combatting Anti-Semitism. Attorney General Barr spoke of the work his department, and others, are doing to combat anti-Semitism, make houses of worship safe, protect against violence and bigotry in the public schools, and ensure the delicate balance between security and the First Amendment.
Meanwhile, a day and a night before Attorney General Barr’s summit was to kick off, in California, a Jewish rabbi walked up to his synagogue to find it had been vandalized. White paint smeared the doors, façade, and the windows. A brick, thrown to damage the property, lay beside the door, wide of its mark.
This was not the first time his synagogue was the target of such aggressive vandalism.
In fact, Rabbi Netanel Louie had spent the previous week in court, appealing a court-imposed $6,000 judgment. Some months ago, late-night vandals leveled their intolerant violence against the synagogue. Like most Americans would, Rabbi Louie called the police. Their investigation yielded sufficient evidence to charge, but not enough to convict, one of the suspected vandals of the crime.
So the audacious alleged vandal flipped the script. Even though she was caught at the scene of the crime, she sued the rabbi for reporting her alleged vandalism to the police! That’s when California Judge Richard Walmark, without explanation and ignoring a mountain of evidence, ordered Rabbi Louie — the victim of the vandalism — to pay over $6000 to the alleged vandal.
In other words, the victim was ordered to pay the accused aggressor for reporting a possible crime to the police.
This decision was a manifest miscarriage of justice, encouraging others who under cover of night would carry out their hate-filled, violent, anti-Semitic attacks on our Jewish neighbors. No one should be penalized for making a good faith report of a crime to the police — least of all those seeking to live and worship peacefully as our neighbors. Thankfully, Judge Walmark’s decision was overturned on appeal.
Crimes against Jewish individuals or organizations constitute 58% of religiously motivated crimes in this country, according to FBI statistics. Victims of any crime, and especially religiously motivated crimes, should feel that they are safe when they are talking with law enforcement. Ordering a victim to pay thousands of dollars to his alleged assailant adds an unconscionable insult to injury.
The local police are investigating this latest act of vandalism as the hate crime that it appears to be. We hope Rabbi Louie receives the justice he deserves from those in law enforcement sworn to protect him.
But, as Attorney General Barr said at Monday’s conference, violent acts of anti-Semitism are not only the highly visible manifestation of anti-Semitism. Indeed, it is the intolerance of ideas that leads to violent anti-Semitism.
In diagnosing the problem, Attorney General Barr lamented the breakdown of community. Gone are the days of a connected community that, though diverse in its makeup, shares a common patriotism, experience, place, and values that infuses our lives with meaning and purpose. As identity politics continue to divide Americans for political gain, intolerance breeds the hate that leads to anger — and, ultimately, violence.
Barr’s proposed solution is simple in its articulation, yet challenging in application: Ours must be a country that nurtures the freedom to pursue faith while also fostering ties that bind us together as a community. This is the intent of the Constitution. It is the audacious and ambitious idea that those who founded this country intended: A diverse, pluralistic community bound together — despite our differences — to respect and even delight in the differences of that community because we are neighbors. We are all Americans committed to freedom.
Anti-Semitic violence and the total lack of tolerance for religious liberty often go hand in hand — the latter tending to lead to the former.
In our own small way, we at First Liberty Institute join the U.S. Department of Justice in its profound efforts to combat anti-Semitism. The demands of the free exercise of religion, not to mention the rule of law, require nothing less from all of us.