On June 8, 2012, the 223rd anniversary of the day James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights to the first Congress, including what would be later known as the First Amendment, rallies in support of Freedom of Religion were held in over 150 cities across the United States. Prompted by a January, 2012, new Department of Health and Human Services regulation under the Affordable Care Act mandating health insurance coverage requirements which most employers must provide for their employees including services which require some employers to violate their religious beliefs, the rallies were aimed at bringing additional focus on what their organizers believe is an assault on religious freedom.
In Chicago, the rally, held at Federal Plaza, drew a crowd of more than 3,500. One of the keynote speakers was Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz of Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation in Uptown, founding Chairman of the Legislative Commission of the Chicago Rabbinical Council. The Rabbi reminded the crowd of the motivation behind Emma Lazarus’ famous sonnet mounted on the wall in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty which, in part, reads “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” as referring to the Jewish sufferers of the Russian Pogroms following the death of Czar Alexander II in 1881. “For Jews, the official relationship of a religion with government, whether under Cross or Crescent, brought untold pain and death, to hundreds of thousands of Jewish men women and children. The “Goldena Medina,” the golden land, its first sighting for immigrant Jews being that grand Lady holding the torch of freedom aloft, meant Jews could finally practice their religion in dignity without fear of reprisal from the State.”
Discussing the famous letter of then President Thomas Jefferson to the Baptist community of Danbury Connecticut, written in 1802, in which the President states, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American People which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State,” Rabbi Lefkowitz reminded his audience that Jefferson had in mind the protection of the church from the state and not the state from the church. As proof to his assertion, he noted that on the very next Sunday after writing this letter, President Jefferson attended Church service at one of the largest Christian congregations then in the United States, which held its Sunday service in the hallowed halls of the United States Congress.
The Rabbi then read the Resolution of the Rabbinical Council of America passed at their May 10, 2012, annual convention which states:
Whereas as Americans we must never compromise freedom of religion for all of our citizens; and
Whereas the Rabbinical Council of America stands united with Americans of all faiths in supporting freedom of religion; and
Whereas in January of 2012, a new Department of Health and Human Services regulation under the Affordable Care Act mandated certain minimum health insurance coverage requirements that most employers must provide to their employees; and
Whereas many religious groups were concerned that these requirements would require some employers to violate the injunctions of their religion
Therefore, the Rabbinical Council of America
Commends the Catholic Church and other religious organizations for raising issues of concern on this matter; and
Commends the President and his administration for considering and responding to citizens concerns with said regulation; and
Urges the Administration, in consultation with relevant religious bodies, to include further necessary protections to safeguard the religious rights of all Americans.