Did you hear what happened to Aryeh Ralbag, chief rabbi of Amsterdam? He was suspended from his post by his own Orthodox Jewish community “for cosigning a declaration which said homosexuality was a ‘treatable’ inclination.” Oh the crime!
The declaration, signed to date by 185 rabbis, community leaders, and mental health professionals, states that, “The Torah makes a clear statement that homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle or a genuine identity by severely prohibiting its conduct.” It also claims that, “Same-sex attractions can be modified and healed,” that “Behaviors are changeable,” that there is a “process of healing,” and that there is a Jewish commandment of “love and compassion.”
The end of the statement reads, “We need to do everything in our power to lovingly uplift struggling individuals towards a full and healthy life that is filled with love, joy and the wisdom of the Torah.”
Yet for signing this very kosher, Orthodox Jewish statement, the Orthodox Jewish community of Amsterdam suspended their chief rabbi.
They were concerned that, “Rabbi Ralbag’s signature may give the impression the Orthodox Jewish community of Amsterdam shares his view. This is absolutely untrue. Homosexuals are welcome at the Amsterdam Jewish community.” (Presumably this includes sexually active, out and proud, “Orthodox gays.”)
Rabbi Ralbag told The Jerusalem Post he found it “scandalous that a chief rabbi cannot state the Torah viewpoint for his community without being penalized.” And he described his suspension as “intolerant on the part of the Jewish community – it is to deny the community’s rabbi the right to express the halachic [Jewish legal] standpoint. This is unheard of.”
Apparently he was not aware that freedoms of religion and speech are frequently trumped by gay rights and perceived gay sensitivities, even in (or, especially in?) a “tolerant” country like the Netherlands. He has now learned that when it comes to gay issues, “tolerance” is a one-way street, and rather than being “unheard of,” such discriminatory acts are becoming more common, not to mention more egregious.
On September 27, 2011, the Culturewatch website cited a report from the UK that, “Jamie Murray was warned by two police officers to stop playing DVDs of the New Testament in his cafe following a complaint from a customer that it was inciting hatred against homosexuals. Mr Murray, 31, was left shocked after he was questioned for nearly an hour by the officers, who arrived unannounced at the premises. He said he had turned off the Bible DVD after an ‘aggressive inquisition’ during which he thought he was going to be arrested and ‘frog-marched out of the cafe like a criminal’.” (Yes, you got that right: Murray was interrogated by police for playing Bible DVD’s in his own Christian café.)
Here in the States, Dr. Kenneth Howell, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois, was fired in 2010 “after a student complained that he was ‘offended’ by Howell’s academic discussion of the Catholic Church’s position on homosexual behavior in an Introduction to Catholicism course. The student was not even enrolled in the class.”
So, a Catholic professor teaching a course on Catholicism (within the school’s Religion department, at that) was fired for accurately conveying to the students what Catholics believe about homosexuality. (In Howell’s own words, written in an email to the students, “I tried to show them that under utilitarianism, homosexual acts would not be considered immoral whereas under natural moral law they would.”)
It was only after a national outcry, along with pressure from attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, that Howell was reinstated.
More recently, Vicki Knox, a special education teacher at Union High School in New Jersey with 20 years of experience, was suspended because of anti-homosexuality comments she posted on her personal Facebook page. She was upset because a display board was put up in her school celebrating Lesbian Gay Bi Transgender History Month, expressed her disapproval on her Facebook page, along with her abhorrence of homosexuality. (She also expressed her strong Christian faith.)
Whether you agree with the tenor of her comments or not, she certainly had the legal right to express herself. Yet she has been suspended and there are ongoing attempts to get her fired. Whatever happened to freedom of speech?
As expressed by John Paragano, a former local government official and municipal judge, “Hateful public comments from a teacher cannot be tolerated. She has a right to say it. But she does not have a right to keep her job after saying it.” Really?
So, it is fine for a school to publicly celebrate homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism – no matter how many students or teachers are offended – but when a teacher expresses her personal disagreement, she is in danger of losing her job.
That’s why I’ve been urging my fellow religious leaders, along with all those in roles of moral and educational influence, to “speak now or forever hold your peace,” and to do so today. Tomorrow might be too late.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.