The Chicago Tribune reported this week that Ohev Shalom, one of the oldest and most distinguished orthodox synagogues on the Westside of Chicago has decided to close its operations. The decision, according to spokesman David Hacohen, came in response to its loss of two five-year-long law suits filed by the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of West Rogers Park.
The first suit claimed that the synagogue had unfairly discriminated against two gay applicants who had responded to a publicly advertised cantorial position at the synagogue. A second claimed that the synagogue’s religious school’s refusal to teach the sanctity of same-sex unions violated State anti-discrimination laws. Hacohen told reporters that since the law suits were launched, the synagogue had been the subject of a continuous stream of threats and picketing from the surrounding gay community. The synagogue had also spent millions in defending the cases. “Rather than violate our principles and beliefs by considering gays and lesbians as applicants or agreeing to teach same sex marriage in our school,” he said, “we have decided to close down the synagogue and religious school altogether.”
These draconian measures come just three weeks after an Amish group in Lancaster County, PA decided to close down its three general stores because of a successful discrimination law suit brought it against it by a nearby gay community. Representatives of that community had complained that signs which prohibited “ untoward fondling and kissing” on the store premises were discriminatory and insulting.
OK…….relax. This never actually happened. There is no Ohev Shalom in West Rogers Park and the Amish general stores are still, thankfully, open. But if you think that these scenarios are far fetched, you might consider what has been happening in California since Proposition 8 passed six weeks ago. Proposition 8 proposed an amendment to the State constitution which effectively banned gay marriage. It passed by a 52%- 48% majority. Since then, hundreds of individuals, businesses, non-profit organizations and religious groups publicly listed as financial supporters of the measure, have been the subject of a vindictive campaign of harassment by gay and lesbian activists. Churches have been daubed with graffiti, the Mormon Center near my home has been continuously picketed, businesses have been boycotted, individuals have received threatening letters and a vicious email campaign has spun into existence, denouncing all contributors. A law suit has even been launched by gay activists to urge the California State Supreme Court to overturn the popular will and restore an earlier Court decision sanctioning same sex unions.
A few high profile individuals have even lost their jobs. Take the case of Richard Raddon, former director of the Los Angeles Film Festival. Within days of the proposition’s passage, Raddon, a practicing Mormon, was “outed” as a financial supporter. Angry calls began to pour into the Festival’s offices demanding his resignation. By his own count he received over three hundred threatening telephone calls and email messages describing him as a bigot and covert racist. The Festival then began receiving communications from distributors and film makers, threatening that if Raddon was not terminated, their participation in the festival would end. Raddon, responsibly recognizing the threat to the Festival’s future, graciously offered the Board his resignation. They refused. But as pressure mounted and the Festival looked as though it would not survive, they relented and Raddon went down in flames.
Now remember that Raddon was an individual exercising what his country has commonly referred to as freedom of conscience. He had supported, both with his vote and his pocket book, a cause in which he believes passionately. That was not just his democratic right. It is the foundation on which our civil society is built. If men and women cannot express their opinions and beliefs without fear of harassment or losing their jobs, our democracy itself becomes a farce and free expression nothing but a code word for political correctness.
The tar and feathering of Richard Raddon didn’t seem to elicit much response from the city’s liberal press. In an editorial last week, the Los Angeles Times opined that the civil disturbances which had attended the passage of Proposition 8 had come “ too little, too late,” a surreptitious sanctioning of the campaign of harassment. No civic leader has chosen to take a stand defying the powerful gay and lesbian interests on Los Angeles’ Westside and the governor, a would-be conservative, has even gone on record as urging them on.
Further evidence of the clout of the gay movement arrived about the same time from New Jersey. The on-line dating site, eHarmony, created by evangelicals and one of the largest businesses of its kind, was coerced by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights into starting up a gay dating site. This occurred after the business lost a law suit filed by a gay man who claimed discrimination by the site against those seeking same sex partners. It was the first instance in this country of a private business being forced to cater to same sex mores in defiance of an owner’s own moral positions.
How dangerous is this? Well if you are a religious Jew, a practicing Christian or a devout Muslim you should be very concerned. Because the acquiescence to such a campaign of intimidation (reminiscent of the darkest days of McCarthyism) opens the door to much graver perils in the future. It is a future where an unwillingness to countenance gay marriage or gay lifestyles as normative conduct will be seen on all levels – political, social and legal – as discrimination. It is a window on a world where freedom of conscience on a given moral attitude is actually not tolerated.
And thus I refer you to the scenarios I painted above. The result of a successful movement for gay marriage in California will be to flush the purveyors of intimidation and harassment with a deep confidence that such tactics work. Not immediately perhaps, but over the next ten to twenty years, the movement could seek to coerce religious institutions to abandon entrenched moral positions and adopt inimical moral points of view. Given the absence of a supporting political and intellectual environment which vouchsafes freedom of conscience, many religious institutions may seek to fall on their swords, rather than succumb to the terror of political correctness.
You may have already begun to suspect what I have been alluding to for some time in this and previous columns: That the campaign for gay marriage is less a struggle for the rights of homosexuals for equality before the law, than it is an attack on religion and the moral superstructure of our society. Support for this view finds vindication in the way the opponents of Proposition 8 conducted their campaign In a television advertisement which ran in California on the eve of the vote, two Mormon missionaries are seen knocking on the door of a lesbian couple. “Hi, we’re from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” says the first one, “and we’re here to take away your rights.” Without further ado, the Mormons smilingly yank the couple’s wedding rings from their fingers and tear up their marriage license. As they leave, one says to the other, “That was too easy.” His smirking comrade replies, “Yeah, what should we ban next?” An ominous voice-over implores viewers: “Say no to a church taking over your government.”
The reverse discrimination of this ad is self-evident and speaks volumes about the sneering campaign and abiding contempt that gay activists and their supporters hold for religious institutions.
The great saving grace of a democracy is that debate and dialogue allows for all points of view on any matter of public concern to be heard. But the debate on gay marriage can never effectively take place while its proponents refuse to acknowledge that millions of Americans harbor deep apprehension about the moral implications of same sex unions. The absence of respect for that position, the hectoring attitude that all opposition to their point of view is simple bigotry and the increasing willingness to turn political discourse into harassment, intimidation and violence is an augury of profound concern. It should make all Americans think twice about a movement whose quest for civil rights may have as its ultimate objective the destruction of rights for millions of others.