Paul L. Caron

Sunday, July 31, 2022

LA Times: Jews, Muslims And Others Say Roe vs. Wade Reversal Threatens Their Religious Freedom

Following up on my previous post, Does Religious Freedom Protect A Right To An Abortion?:  Los Angeles Times, Jews, Muslims and Others Say Roe vs. Wade Reversal Threatens Their Religious Freedom:

L.A. TimesFor 25 years Rabbi Barry Silver has served as the spiritual leader of L’Dor Va-Dor, a progressive synagogue in Boynton Beach, Fla. Like most congregational rabbis, he offers a Jewish perspective on major life events, giving weekly sermons, performing weddings, funerals and baby namings, and occasionally counseling congregants wrestling with whether to have an abortion.

Silver tells his congregation that contrary to Roman Catholic and evangelical teachings, which state that life begins at conception, traditional Jewish law, known as Halakha, says life begins at birth: when the baby draws its first breath. Before then, the mother’s physical and emotional well-being is paramount.

In some extreme cases — such as when the mother’s life is at stake — an abortion is not just permitted by Jewish law, but required.

“Right in the beginning of the Torah, Genesis states that God formed the human, Adam, from the dust of the Earth, like you create a work of pottery. Then he breathed the breath of life in him and he lived,” Silver said. “We equate breathing with living.”

For decades, antiabortion Catholic and evangelical Christian perspectives have dominated the religious conversation around abortion. But people of faith hold a variety of views on the issue, rooted in their own traditions, teachings and laws.

Muslim teachings hold that the soul is breathed into a fetus 120 days after conception, and other religious groups — Unitarians, the Oklevueha Native American Church, and the Satanic Temple (a global organization that is headquartered in Salem, Mass., and that, despite its name, doesn’t actually worship the Prince of Darkness) — considerreproductive choice and bodily autonomy to be sacred.  ...

Silver, a progressive activist who also works as a civil rights attorney, made headlines this month after he filed a religious liberty lawsuit challenging a Florida law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. He said the ban makes abortion unlawful even in situations in which it’s mandated by Jewish law. Silver is the first religious leader to file such a suit; legal experts say that after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision overturning Roe vs. Wade, he won’t be the last. ...

Jews in particular are waking up to what abortion restrictions at the state level could mean for their religious freedom. ...

Michael Helfand, a professor at Pepperdine University’s Caruso School of Law, says Jews are well positioned to argue that abortion restrictions violate an individual’s religious liberties, especially in states where so-called religious freedom restoration laws provide heightened protections for religious exercise. ...

Whether Florida’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act will help Silver’s case is still to be determined, but Helfand says he believes the lawsuit it is too garbled to be successful.

“It tries to take a little religious liberty and a little separation of church and state and mash them up,” he said. “It’s not the best way to advance in court.” ...

Ultimately, however, legal experts say it’s still unclear exactly how religious groups will litigate for abortion rights and how many will take this on.

Bond-Theriault at Columbia Law School says that although she is certain there will be a deluge of religious liberty lawsuits around abortion, she expects that most of them won’t happen right away. The Dobbs decision is still new, and it’s not yet clear what laws will be passed in which states, or how those laws will be implemented.

“People are upset and angry, but right now it’s become the Wild West of case litigation and theory,” she said. “We’re here for the long haul, and we’re thinking strategically about how to do this in a way so we can include as many people under the tent as possible.”

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