Jurist Says Judge’s View of a Christian America Should Be Challenged

A prominent jurist, Alan Dershowitz, said that the latest instance of what he called “the Christianization of America” should be challenged.

“There ought to be something done,” he said, about the view expressed by a judge in Chicago that “America’s origins are Christian” and that the “founding fathers intended and achieved full religious freedom for all within the context of a Christian nation in the First Amendment as it was adopted, rather than as we have rewritten it.”

Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor and a spokesperson for civil liberties and human rights, was referring to the ruling on November 5 by U.S. District Court Judge Frank McGarr that a creche should stand on the grounds of Chicago’s City Hall. (See full story in the November 24 Bulletin.)

Addressing the annual Benjamin Epstein Memorial Lecture of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith Sunday, Dershowitz urged resistance to those “who are trying, by a two-step process, to turn this country, in which all citizens are supposed to be equal, into a Christian nation where Jews are tolerated.”

He said that “being tolerated was something very good for us in most countries of the world. We spent so much of our history in Poland because Poland was one of the first countries to tolerate us as merely second-class citizens.” Jews, he said, were also so tolerated “in the golden age of Jewish exile in the Arab countries.”

CAUTIONS ABOUT ‘SEDUCTIVE MYTHS’

Dershowitz cautioned those who would say “What’s so wrong with tolerance?” and those who claim that “second-class citizenship is much better than something else.” He scored the oft-used term “Judaeo-Christian tradition” as “one of the most seductive myths ever fostered on the American people. This is not a Judaeo-Christian country. This is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious country. Judaism has no claim to being the second religion both because it has claim not to be second and because it has no right to claim to be second over others.”

Dershowitz said “We must fight efforts to try to get us to take money from government to help our institutions. We must continue to fight for the survival of our Jewish institutions, but we have to pay the way, because he who pays the piper calls the tune. And we don’t want the tunes called” either by Christian fundamentalists or by Jewish Orthodoxy.

He warned against prayer in the public schools “because there is no prayer without price. There is no prayer without inevitably asking the question, ‘Who is it we are praying to’?”

He said that either the Chicago judge or those who say that America is a religious country will have to answer, because “There’s no such thing as a religious country which doesn’t eventually pick its favorite religion,” like a favorite state flower, song or bird. “Inevitably, there will be a state religion if we allow this two-step process to go forward.”

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