As the New York State Senate considers a bill that would
expand the state's anti-discrimination statute to include
personal "orientation" to the list of protected categories,
Agudath Israel of America has weighed in as strongly opposing
In a detailed memorandum to the members of the Senate,
Agudath Israel attorneys Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, the
organization's executive vice president for government and
public affairs, and Mordechai Biser, its associate general
counsel, challenged both the claim that the legislation is
needed and the propriety of a law like the one the bill is
crafted to create.
The memo points out that, contrary to the claim asserted in
the preamble to the bill, no proof of widespread employment
or housing discrimination against people who engage in
actions considered immoral by others has ever been
established. Thus, "the bill rests on a factual foundation
that is fundamentally flawed and deceptively dishonest."
What is more, the Agudath Israel attorneys note further, the
promotion of personal rights in moral areas will inevitably
undermine the religious rights of others.
Should the bill in question become law, they contend,
religious citizens seeking to do simple things like rent an
apartment in their multifamily dwelling may find themselves
faced with the quandary of either "follow[ing] their
religious principles, and risk[ing] liability under the
secular law; or follow[ing] the secular law, and violat[ing]
the tenets of their religious faith."
For the law to impose such a dilemma on people who "seek
simply to live their lives in accordance with their faith,"
they maintain, "is wrong."
New York State law does indeed recognize that principles of
religious freedom outweigh the secular ideal of non-
discrimination with regard to religious organizations and
schools. If so, the Agudath Israel attorneys pointedly ask,
"why are religiously motivated persons entitled to any less
protection under the law than religiously motivated
Another point raised in the memo is that passage of the bill
could inhibit individuals who are morally opposed to certain
conduct from expressing their views.
Indeed, a recent case reported in The Wall Street
Journal involved a man who asked not to be sent
suggestions by his company, Kodak, about encouraging co-
workers engaged in immoral behavior to talk about their
Kodak's management deemed this an act that "created the
potential for a hostile work environment" and terminated the
employment of the man who made the request.
The bill under consideration, Mr. Zwiebel and Mr. Biser
contend, would both encourage employees to discuss their
personal lives and at the same time "discourage conscientious
objectors from voicing their views," lest they suffer the
same fate as the fired Kodak employee."
Prohibiting distinctions based on personal orientation, the
Agudath Israel lawyers add, "will jeopardize the favored
status accorded the institution of marriage." Moreover,
despite the bill's protestation that it "is not intended to
promote any particular attitude, course of conduct or way of
life," it will inevitably do precisely all those things.
"[T]he laws by which a society chooses to govern itself have,
among other things, an educative function; they establish
norms of conduct deemed acceptable by the society."
At the bottom of the slippery slope the bill's passage would
create, they assert, "lies the total abandonment of the
traditional conception of family and family values - a
prospect that should give lawmakers cause for pause."
In conclusion, the Agudath Israel memo notes that while "it
is never pleasant to oppose a legislative initiative graced
with the noble title of 'civil rights'," the bill in question
"would endanger religious freedom, inhibit free speech and
undermine the preferred status of marriage.
"Moreover, it would convey a social message that is deeply
offensive to many New Yorkers and lead to yet further
erosions in the traditional conception of family."
The New York State Senate was scheduled to vote on the
proposed legislation on December 17. The Assembly has
already passed the bill; and if it is passed by the Senate,
Governor Pataki is expected to sign it.
"The Senate has for many years stood firm in preventing this
misguided legislation from becoming the law of the state,"
asserted Mr. Zwiebel. "We call upon its members,
respectfully but urgently, to stand firm once again."