Originally published 9/18/07, 11:05 AM, Eastern Daylight Time.
Someone just sent me an e-mail featuring some statements made by political leaders in Australia. There was praise, within this e-mail, for these statements -- and in many ways I shared this positive feeling towards these statements - they basically attacked Islamic fundamentalism, and declared that if someone wanted to live in Australia they had better accept the values of Australia. Of course, these values reflect secular humanism and generally provide for a tolerant society that will still be welcoming to most. Yet, there is still a reason for concern.
In the past few years, often in response to Islamic fundamentalism, there has been a reaction by various societies, declaring that for one to live within the society, one has to abide by the values of the society. This leads to encroachment on minorities, specifically in regard to religion, where concern develops that the religion is challenging the dominant values within the society. In my own mind, places such as France, Quebec and now Australia come to mind. In Ontario I just wrote an article in this regard concerning the fair funding debate that is a major issue within the province's present election campaign.
The problem is, that on one hand, I also share the concern that allowing any religion to present its values can lead to problems, including specific problems for the Jewish community. Yet placing restrictions on religious expression simply because this religion's view may challenge the values of the dominant group in society may cause other problems, including great problems for the Jewish community. The expulsion from Spain ultimately occurred because the Catholic leadership did not want a group within the country that presented values contrary to the dominant group.
So we now face a real dilemma. The dominant value structure in Secular Humanism, which does have greater values of tolerance than medieval Spain's Catholic Church, but the rhetoric is getting dangerously close. Yet, under the veil of freedom of religion, we do find expressions of values that indeed are challenging even to this tolerance. We have to work out not a practical, case by case, solution. We have to work out how to maintain this dominant value of freedom of religion, that has allowed the Jewish community to blossom in many places (the question of the problems this freedom has brought upon Torah within these communities, albeit that Torah has in many ways also flourished within this world -- thus prompting Rav Moshe to refer to the U.S. as a country of chesed -- is beyond the parameters of this post), while still limiting the expression of negativity that may also arise.