TAG | Conscientous Objection
Via The New York Post:
Two children are dead, more are injured — yet a group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis say they plan to defy a health order in the name of religious freedom.
Less than a year after a Brooklyn tot died following an ancient circumcision ritual, the rabbis say they will ignore a proposed law that would mandate parental-consent forms before performing the dangerous procedure.
Over the past decade, at least one other newborn died after contracting herpes from the rite, in which the rabbi draws blood from the penis with his mouth.
But ultra-Orthodox leaders are lashing out at the city’s “evil plans” ahead of the Board of Health’s vote next week.
About 200 rabbis signed a proclamation claiming the Health Department “printed and spread lies . . . in order to justify their evil decree.”
“It is clear to us, that there is not even an iota of blame or danger in this ancient and holy custom,” the letter states.
Most modern mohels — men trained to perform religious circumcisions, who are usually rabbis or doctors — remove blood from the baby’s wound using a sterile pipette.
But some Orthodox Jewish parents insist on an ancient “suction by mouth” ritual called metzitzah b’peh.
The city’s law would require mohels to distribute consent waivers, detailing the herpes risk, before the ritual.
Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, said no one will comply with the law, even if it’s passed.
“For the government to force a rabbi who’s practicing a religious act to tell his congregants it’s dangerous is totally unacceptable,” Niederman told The Post…
Writing in the (British) Catholic Herald, Francis Phillips claims that she “feels a shiver when I see the parallels between our world and that of St John Fisher”.
The context, inevitably, is of officialdom’s supposed attack on religious freedom in the UK. Fisher (1469-1535) is allegedly relevant because this English cardinal was eventually executed for refusing to go along with Henry VIII’s attempt to ensure that England should determine its own laws.
To Phillips, Fisher is a example to be praised, martyred because he would not go against his conscience. Oddly, she doesn’t mention another aspect of this sinister fanatic’s career, his role in the trial and execution of Thomas Hitton, the man often described as England’s first protestant martyr.
Thanks to Wikipedia (in this case, why not), we learn that George Joye (1495-1553) was not so reticent:
“And [Thomas] More amonge his other blasphemies in his Dialoge sayth that none of vs dare abyde by our fayth vnto deeth: but shortlye therafter/ god to proue More/ that he hath euer bene/ euen a false lyare/ gaue strength vnto his servaunte syr Thomas Hitton/ to confesse and that vnto the deeth the fayth of his holie sonne Iesus/ whiche Tomas the bishopes of Caunterburye & Rochester [Fisher]/ after they had dieted and tormented him secretlye murthered at Maydstone most cruellye.
Fisher was no defender of freedom of conscience. What he was defender of his conscience. And, indeed, enforcer of it on others. As for his fate, well, biter bit.
As I noted the other day, Fisher, and another of those responsible for Hitton’s execution, Thomas More, were recently drafted by New York’s Cardinal Dolan into the fight against the Obamacare contraception mandate in the name of religious freedom.
They were not, perhaps, the best of choices.
Proposals to draft ultra-Orthodox men into the Israeli army, ending an exemption that has lasted for 64 years, are bitterly dividing prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition government ahead of a crucial debate on Monday.
A new bill allowing the draft is due to be submitted for its first reading in the Knesset, following a ruling by the country’s supreme court that the Tal Law, exempting Haredi Jews from military service, was unconstitutional. That law is due to expire on 1 August, but what will replace it has become the subject of ferocious argument over one of the most sensitive issues in Israeli society…
Yaakov Uri, who runs a pizza parlour in Geula, an Orthodox neighbourhood in Jerusalem, said the problem was that secular Israelis like Yosam had no understanding of the sacrifices religious Jews make for them. “You think it’s so easy to sit and study all day, bring up seven children on $700 a month? No, it’s very hard,” he said.
These men, in his opinion, are as critical for the defence of Israel as the army. They provide spiritual protection. “The Torah is saving and guarding the Jews,” Uri said. “Take the Iraq war. Saddam Hussein sent 39 Scud missiles into Israel. They didn’t touch anyone. What is this? It wasn’t the army – they sat with their arms folded. It was the Torah,” he said. “There many kinds of soldiers, on planes, on ships, but also in the yeshiva.”
As a compromise, he suggested that yeshiva students who were not truly devoted to Torah studies – around one-third, he thought – should serve in the army. But this was provided, of course, that they were served kosher food, given enough time to pray and segregated from women.
There are points when religious freedom becomes religious privilege, and this is one of them.
I’m no fan of conscription, to put it mildly, but, if a state is going to insist on it, it should do so fairly.That does not appear to be the case in Israel, where the ability of the ultra-orthodox to avoid compulsory military service smacks more of religious privilege than religious freedom.
The New York Times reports:
Last year, about 17 percent of 18-year-old Haredim [ultra-orthodox] joined the Army, compared with about 75 percent of other Jewish men; an additional 14 percent of Haredim and 8 percent of Arab citizens signed up for civilian service. Over all, just over half of Israelis now do military duty, a far cry from the generally accepted notion that there is a universal draft.
But Israel’s governing coalition is in trouble over plans to change the rules granting an exemption from the draft to thousands studying in the country’s yeshivas (thanks to a Supreme Court ruling it is obliged to do so by August 1):
The leader of a committee that Mr. Netanyahu appointed — and this week disbanded — to prepare a replacement law released a 100-page report on Wednesday that called for 80 percent of the ultra-Orthodox to serve in the military by 2016, and for fines of about $25,000 for those who do not.
Shaul Mofaz, the Kadima Party leader whose surprise alliance with Mr. Netanyahu two months ago created an unheard-of 94-seat majority in the 120-member Parliament, said Wednesday that he would quit the coalition within days if the committee’s work did not form the basis of the new law. But religious and right-wing factions have also vowed to bolt the coalition if personal sanctions are included or Arabs are not drafted as well.
“It’s a possibility of civil war between sectors,” said Yedidia Stern, who…served on the committee charged with rewriting the draft law.
“What’s at stake is two cultures, two civilizations,” Professor Stern added, referring to the ultra-Orthodox…and other Jews here. “These two civilizations used to live in some kind of peace because each one thought that the other is going to disappear eventually. Nowadays I think everybody realizes that the two camps are here to stay, and we have to decide what will be the identity in the public sphere.”
At issue is not so much the pragmatic needs of the military, where integrating large numbers of Haredim promises to be more hassle than help, but a growing resentment over who serves the state and who reaps its rewards. Last year, about 17 percent of 18-year-old Haredim joined the Army, compared with about 75 percent of other Jewish men; an additional 14 percent of Haredim and 8 percent of Arab citizens signed up for civilian service. Over all, just over half of Israelis now do military duty, a far cry from the generally accepted notion that there is a universal draft.
…Some 56 percent of Haredim live in poverty, and the average annual income in their community is about half that of the national norm, with many of their large families relying on welfare, housing grants and subsidies for yeshiva study.
If demographics are destiny, it makes sense that this long-simmering tension is reaching a rolling boil. While Haredim account for less than 10 percent of Israel’s seven million citizens, and Arabs 20 percent, their high birthrates mean that about 46 percent of today’s kindergartners come from the two groups, growth that is “challenging the basic formula” of Israeli society, according to Aluf Benn, editor of the left-leaning newspaper Haaretz.
“These groups don’t want a larger slice of the pie, they want a different recipe,” Mr. Benn said in an interview. “If Israel defines itself as a Jewish democratic state, the Arabs would do away with the Jewish part, and the ultra-Orthodox at least in their dream would get rid of the democracy. They respect the authority of the rabbis.”
Einat Wilf, one of five lawmakers who served on the committee, said that the solution was not a universal draft, but an acceptance that “the people’s army” is a fiction — and a reworking of benefits accordingly.
“We have to accept the fact that 64 years ago they did not want the state to come about, and they still have no faith in the structures of the state,” Ms. Wilf said, referring to the utra-Orthodox and Arab citizens. “Solidarity is a two-way street. The state will guarantee everyone the absolute minimum, but beyond that the state will reward people who give, not just people who take.”
Starship Troopers here we come?
After two years of struggling to balance the rights of patients against the beliefs of health-care workers, the Obama administration on Friday finally rescinded most of a federal regulation designed to protect those who refuse to provide care they find objectionable on moral or religious grounds.
The decision guts one of President George W. Bush’s most controversial legacies: a rule that was widely interpreted as shielding workers who refuse to participate in a range of medical services, such as providing birth control pills, caring for gay men with AIDS and performing in-vitro fertilization for lesbians or single women…The new rule leaves intact only long-standing “conscience” protections for doctors and nurses who do not want to perform abortions or sterilizations. It also retains the process for allowing health workers whose rights are violated to file complaints.
This strikes me as an entirely reasonable compromise. There must be some limit on the extent to which people can use their religious (or, for that matter, other philosophical) beliefs to force their employer to allow them to opt out of some of their job. It’s not always easy to say where that line should be drawn, but the Obama administration seems to have got it right on this occasion.
I touched on a related issue a few years back in course of a discussion on the Corner:
David, your post raises some extremely intriguing issues. When should reasons of conscience allow people to opt out of aspects of their job? Would you, for example, allow the owner of a drug store to fire a pharmacist he employed if, contrary to his instructions, that pharmacist declined to dispense the ‘morning-after’ pill? The drug store is, after all, his property.
As to the related issue of professionals being forced by the state to do things that they find morally abhorrent as a condition of receiving the license that they need to practice their trade, I wonder what you think about this story from the London Times:
“Some Muslim medical students are refusing to attend lectures or answer exam questions on alcohol-related or sexually transmitted diseases because they claim it offends their religious beliefs. Some trainee doctors say learning to treat the diseases conflicts with their faith, which states that Muslims should not drink alcohol and rejects sexual promiscuity. The religious objections by students have been confirmed by the British Medical Association (BMA) and General Medical Council (GMC), which both stressed that they did not approve of such actions.”
Of course there is a big difference between being trained to carry out a procedure, and being compelled actually to do it, but the whole piece is well worth reading: it covers some of the issues, and some of the conundrums, that you raise.