Jewish leaders explain why overturning Roe would be a blatant assault on 'religious freedom'

Jewish leaders explain why overturning Roe would be a blatant assault on 'religious freedom'
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A common but very misleading talking point among Christian nationalists and far-right White evangelicals is that “separation of church and state” is not in the U.S. Constitution. But in fact, the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

This means that Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Bahais and Buddhists are all free to worship as they see fit; it also means that atheists and agnostics are free to be nonbelievers. But Christian nationalists believe that U.S. law should be based on strict fundamentalist Christianity, not unlike shariah law in Saudi Arabia.

In an op-ed published by the Cincinnati Enquirer on May 28, two practicing Jews, Rabbi Robert B. Barr and Rachel J. Smith, argue that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito — in a leaked majority draft opinion in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade — is seeking to impose an ultra-strict interpretation of Christianity.

“Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization proposes an alarming erosion of the vital wall that separates church from state — between personally held religious beliefs and our shared government,” Barr and Smith explain. “If the U.S. Supreme Court adopts the draft opinion, the Court will be issuing an historic, precedent-breaking opinion based on the religious beliefs held by many of the current justices. Religion will be dictating public policy.”

Barr is the founding rabbi of Congregation Beth Adam in Loveland, Ohio (a Cincinnati suburb), and Smith is its board president. Both of them are all for freedom of religion, but how Americans do or don’t worship, they emphasize, shouldn’t be decided by Supreme Court justices.

“The establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits all levels of government from advancing or inhibiting religion,” Barr and Smith note. “The Constitution prohibits the government from favoring one religious view over another or favoring religion over non-religion, and yet, that is exactly what this proposed opinion will do. This Court’s decision would adopt a narrow religious-based definition of when life begins and impose it on everyone in our nation. While some religions believe life begins at conception, others do not. Yet, the Court will impose one set of religious beliefs on everyone.”

Barr and Smith continue, “Judaism holds that a fetus is not a separate and independent life from the pregnant person. Moreover, Judaism recognizes that abortion is allowed if the health or life of the pregnant individual is endangered. This includes psychological health as well…. Reversing Roe and allowing states to adopt draconian anti-abortion laws means that an extreme religious perspective will become the basis for state laws while other religious perspectives are ignored. The wall between religion and government will have crumbled.”

When the Founding Fathers of the United States created the 1st Amendment, Barr and Smith point out, they wanted to protect “religious freedom” by preventing “one religion from imposing its religious beliefs on all citizens” — and Alito’s draft opinion, they lament, is “moving America closer to having state-imposed religious-based laws.”

“This should frighten all of us,” Barr and Smith warn. “The separation of church and state allows for diverse moral opinions on the issue of abortion and other personal decisions. This is how it should be.”

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