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Religious Freedom? A Judge Bans a Jewish Ritual in California


That should not happen in America,” exclaimed a left-leaning friend of mine upon hearing that a federal judge had prohibited some Jewish Californians from engaging in a ritual that Jews have performed for thousands of years. Unfortunately, it did happen in America, and it is not an isolated event. It is part of what Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito has described as an “ominous” trend that should cause “great concern” to “those who value religious freedom.”

In United Poultry Concerns v. Chabad of Irvine, a group of chickens’-rights activists petitioned a federal judge to prohibit a California Jewish organization, Chabad of Irvine, from engaging in Kapparot, a Jewish ritual. This tradition is associated with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and involves symbolically casting off one’s sins. Some Jews, including the defendants in this case, symbolically “transfer” their sins to live chickens. The chickens are then killed and, typically, donated to needy families.

The judge initially granted the plaintiffs’ request and prohibited the Chabad rabbi, Alter Tenenbaum, from engaging in the ritual use of live chickens. Eventually the judge lifted the ban, but only after it was already too late for Chabad to perform the ritual this year. The damage had been done and can never be entirely remedied. That a federal judge granted such a ban highlights a disturbing trend currently playing out in America’s public and legal understandings of religious liberty. I have written about how foes of religious liberty seek to re-categorize that liberty as an indulgence, doled out at the discretion and convenience of the majority, rather than a fundamental right that may be denied only in rare and exceptional cases. That desire is manifest in this case.

Read more at National Review.

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