Rejection by religious institutions has been a major source of pain for LGBT people. Increasingly empowered by social and political change, the gay-rights movement has been settling old scores by using government power to punish their old antagonists who dare hold fast to traditionally religious ideas about sexuality. Without a First Amendment, LGBT activists overseas have had the most success, but troubling signs suggest danger for traditionally religious Americans, too.
The most shocking reent example comes out of England, where authorities are threatening to shutter Orthodox Jewish schools that don’t teach about LGBT people, including in early grades. The current controversy involves Vishnitz Girls School, sponsored by a Hasidic sect that dates to mid-19th century Eastern Europe. The school’s 212 girls ages three to eight speak Yiddish at home and learn both Jewish and secular studies at school.
The United Kingdom’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) acknowledges that the school teaches its girls to treat everyone with respect. But that’s not enough. A “full understanding of fundamental British values” requires Vishnitz to “teach pupils about all the protected characteristics, particularly those relating to gender re-assignment and sexual orientation,” according to an Ofsted report.
The little girls who attend Vizhnitz have never watched television, strictly follow Jewish law, and know few non-Vizhnitzers – much less members of the wider Jewish and general community. But since nobody’s teaching them about “the different lifestyles and partnerships that individuals may choose,” the school may be closed permanently.
That’s not a threat of withholding taxpayer funding. If it doesn’t change its curriculum, the taxpayer-funded independent school could be closed by the British Department for Education, and re-opening it will be illegal.
A 2010 law requiring schools to teach tolerance was prompted by concern about Muslims who weren’t integrating, but its practical effect now includes literal persecution of the Jews: a school facing shutdown for refusing to teach non-Jewish values to its students.
Other Jewish schools have surrendered to the government pressure. After Ofsted inspectors did not like the answers girls at the strictly Orthodox Beis Yaakov school in Manchester gave to questions like “Do you have a boyfriend?” and “What do you know about men being married to each other?” the school was forced, again under threat of closure, to add LGBT issues to the curriculum of health classes.
Now, sure, there are streams of Judaism that embrace LGBT rights. But Vizhnitz’s approach is solidly, classically Jewish and should not be overruled by the cultural imperialism of “Gay is Good.”
But that’s England, a country without a First Amendment. American Jews and members of other faiths can rest assured their schools are safe, right?
Not so fast.
In arguing for gay marriage in front of the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. acknowledged that a favorable ruling could very well threaten religious schools with the loss of tax exemptions for opposing same-sex unions or restricting couples housing to those in straight marriages.
While those fears have not yet come to pass, legislation in that direction is bubbling up around the country. For example, last year a California state senator introduced legislation (later dropped) that would allow LGBT students to recover damages if a religious institution sanctioned them for violating faith-based school rules about homosexuality.
When the idea that homosexuality was a sickness or a sin or a crime was widespread, gay people worked hard to make sure their ideas could be heard, too. But now that the belief in radical gay equality is becoming hegemonic, gay advocates are saying, “Actually, our morality is the only one that deserves to be expressed. If you don’t embrace it, we’ll take away your money, open you up to lawsuits, even shut you down.”
An official state ideology that differs from traditional Jewish ideas, and which cracks down on Jews who dare to pass those ideas on to their children? That’s religious persecution. It wasn’t OK in Rome, Berlin, Moscow, or Teheran over the course of Jewish history, and it’s not OK today in London or Atlanta either.