Moore is Less

Jewish Light Editorial

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is the least capable defender of religious freedom in America.

Over a decade ago, Moore was relieved of the same job he now holds after defying a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments statue from his court building.

Now, having been reelected three years ago, he once again is defying a federal decree, this one a Supreme Court decision that effectively (at least for now) strikes down the Alabama ban on same-sex marriage. 

Moore thinks he is standing on religious principle. He has recently been quoted as saying that if same-sex marriage is authorized, next there will be an outcry from fathers and daughters, and mothers and sons, to marry. No, really, that’s what he thinks, we’re not making it up. 

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But in reality, Moore is standing on the same side of history as secessionists, segregationists and those who have used their religious beliefs to oppose egalitarianism of all kinds throughout American history. And what he doesn’t even understand is, he’s doing so in a way that threatens religious liberty. 

Let us explain.

Moore thinks that the best way to stand up for his beliefs is to incorporate in public life those principles he holds religiously dear.  If the Ten Commandments are good, they must be good on public property. If same-sex marriage is biblically deviant from his standpoint, then it’s his obligation to fight against its legitimacy in law.

In reality, though, Moore has it utterly backward.

Because if you accept Moore’s view, then any group in the majority has the right to enforce its particular view of religious propriety to the detriment of individuals who don’t subscribe to that of the majority. It’s the Church of England all over again, except this time it’s the Church of Moore; his particular view prevails if he can shove it down everyone’s throats like a bully. 

That’s the standard we ran away from as we first adopted a Bill of Rights, and then chose to apply it to all states in the Union via the 14th Amendment.

Of course, we must have moral underpinnings of our laws, of that there is little question. But the legal projection of religion into our lives is the place in which our various moral agreements intersect, not where they diverge. And those intersections evolve over time, with some thought leaders pushing the envelope in favor of a more accepting standard, and others, like Moore, clinging perilously to the way it always was before.

While we can’t speak for what’s inside Moore’s head, we can certainly say that his progenitors were the ones who thought American civilization would collapse if blacks and whites were lawfully allowed to marry. And of course, those who believed that it was morally mandated that we keep races separate in everything from lunch counters to public schools. 

Many have fought nobly for the recognition that the inherent traits of gender and sexual orientation should not serve as a basis for diminished status under the law. And despite centuries of persecution, the public has come to recognize that there’s no demonstrable harm to the public or society if those of the same gender choose to celebrate their partnerships under the law the same way that traditional couples do. 

Moore disagrees with the evolving norm, and doesn’t hold with the view of government qua personal protector. Rather, as with those who sided against progress who came before him, he views the state as a sword to enforce his worldview.

This is hardly the first time we’ve written in about majority religious rule. Sadly, the issue has been at the forefront of constitutional jurisprudence over the last several years, as the federal Supreme Court has chosen to weaken the traditional protections afforded minority religious rights.

Last year, the Court concluded that the town of Greece, N.Y. sanctioned prayer before its public meetings, which in practice was virtually entirely Christian in nature. So what was represented as an open and welcoming approach to all religions became a promotion of one, to the detriment of other, less represented religious voices. 

Moore’s views sadly seem to conflate with those of the current Supreme Court majority, which shows little if any interest in standing up for the rights of the common man and woman.  Except, of course, in the context of business, as last year’s Hobby Lobby case so squarely demonstrated.

As Jews, we understand that as a perpetual minority we have precious little opportunity to electorally impose our will on the remainder of society.  Our precarious status is certainly a major factor in why we have so often defended the rights of minorities of all kinds, those who cannot necessarily protect themselves at the ballot box.

Moore is not of that ilk. He would gladly cram down his perspective, knowing that if he is backed by the majority masses, he can impose his will. There’s not a lot of empathy for the few, and perhaps even less for what he views as an evolving world that doesn’t resemble his perception of the good old days.

The good old days of slavery and segregation, of rights for some but not for others. Not exactly our view of an ideal world.