By Stephen E. Lipken
American Jewish Committee (AJC) Westchester/Fairfield in conjunction with Larchmont Temple presented former United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Rabbi David Saperstein, Washington, DC, who gave the Keynote Presentation on Wednesday, October 18.
Before Rabbi Saperstein spoke, AJC Westchester/Fairfield Regional Director Scott Richman stated that his organization meets in 115 different countries on a regular basis and is seen as, “The State Department of the Jewish People”
Introduced by Joel Negrin, AJC Westchester/Fairfield Co-Chair, Diplomatic Outreach Committee, Saperstein, a cousin of Village of Mamaroneck Mayor Norman Rosenblum said, “I take the debates that we have about religious freedom in America very seriously.
“There is the question whether corporations have religious freedom under the Constitution. I am going to turn to the international scene. Today 75% of the world’s population has restrictions of religious freedom, harassed for worshiping G-d in the way that they believe.
“Here you have your fundamental religious rights as long as they don’t impinge on anybody else’s. We did not get there all at once. There were clashes in Philadelphia between Protestants and Catholics in the 1860’s and ’70’s…
“Today with religious freedom we face serious problems. Hate crimes have escalated against Muslims. African Americans are still targets of hate crimes. Fights against the LGBTQ community have escalated. Since the end of World War II, the number of anti-Semitic incidents has fallen fairly consistently, according to ADL polls, co-incidentally with rise of educational standards, although there are new forms of anti-Semitism on our college campuses.”
Saperstein went on to say that the President is seeking to repeal the Johnson Amendment, originated by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson in 1954, preventing a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization from opposing or supporting political candidates.
Rabbi Saperstein then delineated the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s decision on May 30, 2014, determining that Masterpiece Bakeshop unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to sell them a wedding cake.
Discussing corporate religious freedom, Saperstein cited the case of Hobby Lobby, a “closely held” (family owned) for-profit corporation where the Supreme Court ruled that they had a right to their Christian beliefs and did not have to pay insurance coverage for contraceptives for their employees.
Approximately 250 citizens from Westchester and outlying Jewish communities attended the presentation.