Nathan Diament, the director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union (the OU’s political action and lobbying arm), has responded to an Op-Ed that philanthropist Lynn Schusterman recently published on JTA calling for other funders to press the organized Jewish community to be more inclusive of gay Jews and other Jewish minorities by providing financial disincentives if organizations did not change their hiring processes.
Schusterman, who has been pretty vocal of late on Jewish gay rights, wrote that her foundation — one of the Jewish world’s largest Jewish-centric foundations — has implemented a policy stipulating that only organizations with a formal non-discrimination policy would get support. She then called on other funders to follow suit.
In his response, Diament argues that Schusterman may be well-intentioned, but she is ultimately prescribing intolerance in the name of tolerance — by trampling on the religious libery of Orthodox Jewish institutions that cannot condone homosexual behavior in any way:
While the value of including all Jews within the community is important, Schusterman’s proposal, if fully implemented, would include some Jews by virtue of excluding others and trample upon a value that is at least as important to American Jewry — religious liberty.
Schusterman, who of course is free to allocate her private foundation’s funds as she wishes, has overlooked the simple fact that many synagogues and day schools, as well as other institutions, run under Orthodox auspices or the auspices of other “traditional” views, cannot embrace or validate homosexual activity as legitimate. This perspective is based upon clear and firm teachings of Jewish law and tradition going back to the Bible.
Thus an Orthodox, or otherwise traditional, Jewish institution cannot adopt a policy that recognizes a person’s “sexual orientation” as a feature of the same status as their race, ethnicity or gender without violating religious principles. And the coercion of such an institution to adopt such a policy would be a violation of its religious liberty, not to mention intolerant of its deeply held beliefs.
Diament notes that even some Jewish groups working for gay rights believe in carving out some exemptions for religious organizations:
In that last point lies an irony of Schusterman’s call to action. In her essay Schusterman approvingly cites an effort last year in which thousands of Jews lobbied Congress for the passage of pending gay rights laws — including the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The irony is that the act contains an explicit and broad exemption for religious institutions, such as synagogues and day schools, from its coverage.
My organization, together with Catholic and other Christian representatives, successfully negotiated this exemption with proponents of gay rights in the workplace led by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, with the blessing of the Human Rights Campaign, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, the Anti-Defamation League and many other gay rights advocates. They realized that an exemption for religious employers is a necessary balancing of civil rights for gays with the religious liberties of sectarian institutions.