Proclaim Liberty Throughout The Land

Merriam Webster defines liberty as: ‘the quality or state of being free; the power to do as one pleases; the positive enjoyment of various social, political or economic rights and privileges; the power of choice.’

Growing up in the Northeast, I have a fondness for our country’s early history; it was so easy to visit so many of the sites that held memories and relics of the historic movement of our nation’s founders to embrace a new life based on important principles and ideals.  I loved visiting Philadelphia, and my favorite stop would be at the Liberty Bell.  I remember how proud I was as an eight year-old when I discovered that the powerful quote on the Liberty Bell was from Torah, in this week’s Torah portion: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land, unto all of its inhabitants.” (Leviticus chapter 25, verse 10). One’s liberty cannot infringe on another person’s rights.

Consider the fact that when William Penn created Pennsylvania’s government, he allowed citizens to take part in making laws and gave them the right to choose the religion they wanted.  We need to remain cognizant of the values that Penn was conveying.  The colonists were proud of the religious freedom that Penn granted; it is a hallmark of our nation’s founding must continue to remain a steadfast principle.

Praying is universal; people of all faith traditions pray, in their own ways and words. Our country embraced the notion that liberty is universal, even as it took time and conflict to resolve and embody. Freedom of prayer, in prayer is exactly about the universality of prayer. The Founders of our country were fled their old lives in order to find freedom in prayer.  And our Jewish tradition reminds us over and over again that we are to remember what it was like to be enslaved, exactly so that we will not perpetrate that on anyone else.  How ironic that this week, with these words from Torah in our hearts, the United States Supreme Court upheld the practice of public prayer before local-government meetings, rejecting arguments that overwhelmingly Christian invocations violate the constitutional bar on the establishment of an official religion. The Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism condemned the ruling:

The Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the Constitution is meant to guarantee that while we can be a religious country and people, the particulars of each individual belief will not find their way into an individual’s participation in politics and government. By allowing specific religious practices to be infused into the political fabric of our country with the Greece vs. Galloway ruling, under the cover of pursuing ‘religious freedom’, is a destructive interpretation of the Establishment Clause.  The liberty that I believe was intended by the inscription on this iconic symbol of freedom does not state that one person’s pursuit of liberty can be at the expense of another.  Let us continue to work and speak out for a nation that perpetuates a system of religious liberty that has proved to be generally fair and effective, one in which religion and the state flourish best when they are separate, allowing and valuing the religious beliefs of each citizen separate from governance.

[Behar 2014]


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