On Religion

May 23, 2014

A British rabbi defending America's first freedom

When Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks arrived in America recently, representatives of the United States government did not greet him with a demand that Great Britain's former chief rabbi remove his yarmulke while in public.

That's a good thing. But there are places -- France leaps to mind -- where this would not be the case. In fact, religious liberty is under siege in many corners of Europe, said Sacks, a member of the House of Lords.

"In Britain we have seen a worker banned from wearing a small crucifix at work," he said, after receiving the Becket Fund's 2014 Canterbury Medal for his work defending religious freedom. "A nurse was censored for offering to utter a prayer on behalf of one of her patients. Catholic adoption agencies were forced to close because they were unwilling to place children to same-sex parents."

Elsewhere, Denmark has banned "shechita," the kosher method of slaughtering animals by slitting their throats. A German court has banned infant circumcision. France has banned -- in public places -- Christians from wearing crucifixes, Jews from wearing yarmulkes and Muslim women from wearing hijabs.

"This is, for me, the empirical proof that ... the secular societies of Europe are much less tolerant than the religions that they accuse of intolerance," he said.

While praising America's strategic support for global religious liberty, the rabbi noted the many church-state fights here linked to same-sex marriage and other issues. Another group saluted in the black-tie dinner at the Pierre Hotel in New York City was the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order that -- with Becket lawyers -- is resisting the Health and Human Services mandate requiring most religious institutions to offer employee health plans covering sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including "morning-after pills."

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