Sunday, September 18, 2011

Independence Day or Establishment

A candidate for the 2012 Senate primaries in Connecticut filed suit against the Bridgeport federal court claiming that the town violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment when it allowed a Bar Mitzvah to be held on its property. The Bar Mitzvah, a coming of age ceremony for a Jewish boy, coincided with the celebration of Israeli Independence Day put on by the UJA Federation of Greenwich. The lawsuit also raises questions about the legality of displaying the Israeli flag. The flag, pictured below, features a Star of David, a Jewish religious symbol.

First Selectman Peter Tesei, a defendant in this case, argues, "At the request of Greenwich residents, the town of Greenwich annually recognizes various nationalities and ethnic groups and celebrates their heritage," Tesei said. Furthermore, the town acted no differently than it would on say St. Patrick’s Day when it raises an Irish flag. In addition Pamela Ehrenkranz, Executive Director of the UJA Federation of Greenwich, states the events of the day were secular and thus should be permitted as all other national or ethnic celebrations. Ehrenkranz stated, "I believe that other groups celebrate other national independence days. The celebration of Israeli Independence Day is not a religious event. It was by no means connected to a religious holiday or observance."

The case argues that by allowing a religious ceremony to take place on town property it is endorsing one religion over another. Holding the Bar Mitzvah in the town hall does, in my opinion, breach the no establishment clause of the First Amendment. There should be no religious ceremonies being held on this government property. Rob Boston, stresses in the article that, “it’s all about consistency.” Although she stated that this Bar Mitzvah was a nontraditional one, it is still implicit in the ceremony that there be Jewish prayers read, otherwise it would not be considered a Bar Mitzvah. I agree that prayer events should not be held at government property, regardless of if they are in conjunction with other events. An individual may have been going to the town hall to participate in the political activities and been met with a Rabbi performing a religious ceremony with religious texts.

This idea of consistency must be included in the other aspect of this case. The town annually recognizes other nationalities and ethnicities with flag raising ceremonies. Israel is a nationally recognized state regardless of the religious practices of those within the territory. There are many who support Israel who are not Jewish and the celebration of Israel as a country does not imply the endorsement of one religion.

Law and religion intersect here in a unique way. The political affiliations between the United States and Israel have long created controversy and angered many people who believe this to be an endorsement of the Jewish faith. The religion practiced in the state of Israel should have no bearing on whether they should be able to represent their support in the form of a flag. Although many residents do not view Israel’s independence as a reason for celebration, their disagreement does not make the event unconstitutional. The same could be said of those who object to other flag raising ceremonies for political reasons. It is note-able that no one would be taken seriously if they objected to an Italian heritage celebration on Columbus Day. In addition, the UJA Federation paid a fee of $351.83 for the use of the space and custodian cleaning. The celebration followed all of the requirements that other groups must obey. It seems that objection to the raising of the Israeli flag comes not wholly from political disagreement but from a religious bias.

I disagree with the idea of precedence raised with the display of the Ten Commandments on public property. I argue that although the Star of David is a religious symbol, the flag of the country of Israel is a political object and not a religious one. In this context it is not endorsing Judaism and is celebrating a country, not a faith.

1 comment:

Harry R. said...

I agree with Zoey's assessment of this issue. A bar mitzvah is a distinctly religious ceremony marking religious entry into manhood including many prayers and religious symbolism. As such, a town hall is an inappropriate location for such a ceremony to be held. However, the arguments against displaying the Israeli flag are not justified. The plaintiffs are claiming a nation's flag to be a religious symbol similar to if someone claimed the American flag to be religious. This argument is completely invalid and would unconstitutionally single out one cultural group were it supported.