A dedicated philanthropist, Ryan Kavanaugh donates to a number of different organizations working to make the world a better place. In addition to medical research and programs for children in need, Ryan Kavanaugh supports the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization that was founded to combat anti-Semitism, but has since expanded into an organization that broadly defends personal freedoms and civil rights in the United States. One of the major issues that the ADL has taken on is protecting religious freedom.
While the United States is a country founded on the idea of religious freedom, this liberty must be closely protected from threats that would diminish it. The ADL defines religious freedom as the ability to practice any faith of one’s choosing, including no faith whatsoever. The organization believes that the American government should neutrally accommodate religious needs without showing favor for any one religion over another. Moreover, personal religions should not infringe upon the rights of others, or do any harm to them. Protecting religious freedom involves educating individuals on the concept, cultivating interfaith dialogue, fostering opportunities for collaboration, and building coalitions. Representatives from the ADL have also appeared in courts and legislatures to advocate for policies that protect religious freedom.
The ADL Advocates for State-Led Separation of Church and Government
This past July, the ADL filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court to defend a Missouri constitutional provision that provided for separation of church and state greater than that specified in the US Constitution. The case, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Pauley, involves Missouri’s refusal to provide aid directly to houses of worship under the provision. If the courts approve the provision of direct grants to houses of worship, argues the ADL, then those churches would be exposed to government oversight and intrusion. Such intrusion could jeopardize the religious freedom upon which the country was founded.
In 2013, Trinity Lutheran Church applied for a grant from the state of Missouri to replace the playground surface material at its preschool. The state rejected the church’s application, because Missouri’s constitution currently makes it illegal for the state to provide public aid directly or indirectly to houses of worship and religious institutions, even for secular purposes like resurfacing a playground.
Previously, the Supreme Court upheld a constitutional provision similar to that of Missouri, and the ADL asked that the Court do the same in this case. Most states do not make the church-state separation more apparent than in the US Constitution, but many do to protect taxpayers from being compelled to offer funding to religious organizations. The ADL holds that if houses of worship receive public grants, the government would be forced to monitor the use of the money to ensure that it does not fund religious purposes. The constitutional challenges that would arise would cause even more problems.
The ADL Speaks Out in Support of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge
The Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, an organization formed by the ADL in 2010, filed an amicus brief earlier this year on behalf of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge. This brief represented the opinions of a diverse coalition of interfaith and civil rights organizations and was backed by the ADL. In short, the brief claimed that the Township of Bernards’ denial of a land-use application to construct a mosque was discrimination. The ADL argues that, like other faiths, Muslims have the right to build places of worship, and it is the responsibility of other religious groups, including Jews and Christians, to stand up and fight for this basic religious freedom.
According to the ADL, all levels of government have a responsibility to treat faiths and religious institutions equally. The evidence in the case pointed to blatant discrimination when the township denied the application submitted by The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge. In the case, it became evident that members of the society were being treated differently simply because of their Muslim faith.
The society had struggled for four years to receive permission from the township’s planning board to build a mosque on their property—even though a house of worship was a permitted use on the site. Planners repeatedly cited arcane technical reasons related to parking, storm water management, and other issues to justify their denial of the society’s application. The township even altered the zoning regulations to make it extremely difficult to build new houses of worship.
The amicus brief submitted by the ADL argued that the rejection of the application was in direct violation of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, as well as the US Constitution, which guarantees religious freedom.
The ADL Protects Individuals from Religious-Based Persecution
The ADL also takes an interest in cases in which religion is used as justification to violate the civil rights of a minority group. This summer, a federal district court blocked the implementation of one of the most severe anti-LGBT laws in the history of the country. The Mississippi law would have made it legal for individuals, public officials, and businesses to discriminate against the LGBT community, as well as any unwed couples and single mothers, if they felt that their religious or moral beliefs compelled them to do so. The ADL applauded the court’s decision to step in and uphold the values of separation of church and state.
Under the US Constitution, no individuals should have the right to infringe upon the liberties of others based on their religious or moral beliefs. The law would have given individuals who had objections to same-sex marriage, transgender individuals, and sexual relations outside of marriage license to persecute them without fear of government penalty.