“Town Hall is Not Church”
by Rabbi Rick Brody
I really hope the Supreme Court rules after today’s hearings in favor of protecting religious minorities from the majority shoving its beliefs in their face. It’s alienating, demeaning, and divisive—and the Court should rule that it’s unconstitutional. The First Amendment should foster a public environment in which we all feel equally welcome regardless of religious affiliation.
When, as a local rabbi, I was invited to offer invocations at West Covina City Hall (in California), I gladly accepted—and shared words of encouragement and inspiration that made no mention of religion or even God. While some present might have felt something was “missing,” overall I felt that my words were very well received. If folks need more specific references or invocations in order to feel sufficiently bolstered to do their civic work, then that’s precisely why we have freedom of religion and the opportunity for such people to attend their own houses of worship or pray privately however they so choose. The legislature is not your church.
The circus that took place in Texas this past summer was bad enough—with legislators themselves confessing their religious devotion as they voted to impose their religious worldview on Texas women’s bodies. In that case (and others), the legislation itself can be challenged (which is happening right now) and individual representatives can (in theory) be voted out. But they do pretty much have the freedom to say whatever they want when they have the floor in session. That’s a very different situation from the entire legislative body inviting a faith leader to speak on everyone’s behalf for what is supposed to be a non-partisan and unifying effort. The latter needs to be regulated in some fashion. I hope the Court can figure out how.