There is a battle going on for the soul of this nation. Although protected by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, local and state officials around the country are attacking our houses of worship, making singing in prayer services illegal, and forbidding any indoor worship services. The framers of our Constitution, some of whom went on to become president or vice president, understood the importance of ensuring that the government would be unable to control religious activity. But all too many governmental officials today are ignoring that First Amendment right, seeking to control the electorate through controlling religious worship.
So where does vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris stand on this issue? How does she interact with religious rights, values, and freedoms?
Catholic League President Bill Donahue has made it clear that. Ms. Harris will have a hard time demonstrating that she has any respect for religion in general and Catholicism in particular. In 2018, Sen. Harris attempted to block the nomination of Brian Buescher for a federal judge position based on his Catholicism. She attempted to use an unconstitutional religious test to disqualify him from the bench (he was eventually confirmed and seated). Her objection was based on the fact that he was a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization. Hence, it was, in reality, a direct attack on the Church. (If it really was simply his membership in a club that she had a problem with, she would be objecting to any nominee who is an Elk or Freemason as well.)
But her disdain for Catholic values has been seen throughout her career. She has led the fight against a 20-week abortion ban and has a 100% approval rating from Planned Parenthood Action. She sued pregnancy centers in 2015 as California attorney general (ultimately losing in the Supreme Court case NIFLA vs. Becerra in 2018). She has a history of being a champion for gay and transgender causes, which are typically antithetical to traditional Catholic values.
What about Judaism and Israel? Ms. Harris is married to a Jewish man, and has Jewish stepchildren. Although she has often spoken about her support for Israel, she also noticeably chose to stay away from the AIPAC conference after having attended and spoken brilliantly for Israel in 2017. Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Mort Klein and Chairman Mark Levenson are “very concerned” about her support of Obama’s Iran deal, her opposition to annexation, and her failure to condemn her colleagues, Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, for their repeated anti-Semitic comments and tropes. The question is still unresolved as to whether she will ultimately stand on the side of Israel or with the evils of Black Lives Matter, Omar, and Tlaib.
The great religious/political question right now is whether Ms. Harris supports the opening of churches or if she believes the states have the right to close them out of concern for COVID-19. Although the hotbed of this controversy is in Harris’ home state of California, where Gov. Gavin Newsome (D) has forbidden indoor religious services of any attendance, she has noticeably been absent in the dialogue between Newsome and clergy and their legal representation. We are all still waiting to see whether she stands on the side of the Establishment Clause or with her friend Gavin Newsome in this fight for religious freedom
Coming from a multicultural home, Harris was exposed both to Baptist Christianity and Hinduism. This may mean that she is extremely respectful of all religions, or that she has rejected all religious practices entirely, or she is somewhere in between. Or she may have one set of personal beliefs, and another set of diametrically opposite actions that she promotes in her candidacy.
Forcing her to take one side or another on the religious issues above, from abortion to Israel to BLM, is the only way to ascertain where she is really standing. All individuals, spiritual communities, and media must insist that she specifically address these issues and take a stand so that all people of faith know whether she is a candidate to support or reject. We must not let her slide and avoid the issue, but confront her whenever possible to make her take a position that she can be held to.
May we all soon find out where Ms. Harris really stands on these important religious issues, and whether she is a true supporter of the Constitution and the First Amendment, or if she only is an advocate when it is politically convenient.
Rabbi Michael Barclay is the Spiritual Leader of Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village, CA. (www.NerSimcha.org) and the author of “Sacred Relationships: Biblical Wisdom for Deepening Our Lives Together.” He can be reached directly at [email protected], and followed on Facebook at facebook.com/Rabbi.Michael.Barclay