Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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13 Teves 5763 - December 18, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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U.S. Aguda Opposes New York State Legislation To Expand Anti-Discrimination Law
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 the legislation.

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 entities?"

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 personal lives.

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."


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