How Dare You, Mayor De Blasio

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference for the outbreak of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at City Hall in New York City, March 17, 2020. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

I understand that the anxiety level remains high. And I understand that maybe it’s getting even higher as people who will be held responsible — at least as far as public opinion goes — wonder what will happen when people start to move around again.

I also understand that in New York, where Hassidic communities are, there tend to be big gatherings of people. And that’s precisely because they retain some of the best of our traditions: religion and family. These remain priorities for them.

Perhaps some of us who were quick to surrender the “essential” nature of worship could learn from them.

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When I saw the mayor of New York’s tweet last night, all I could think about was my one visit to Auschwitz a few years ago. It was a brutally hot, unforgiving afternoon and evening. It was right before World Youth Day in Poland, just before Pope Francis would arrive. And I was walking and kneeling and praying and singing with the Sisters of Life, some Dominican priests, and College Knights of Columbus. God’s love and mercy for all those who suffered and died so cruelly, treated like they were subhuman, surrounded us. It was clear we could see that because otherwise the evil that was so evident would be too unbearable.

How dare any government official speak with such disregard and even contempt for any religious community. And this after his threat to permanently shut down places of worship that do not obey his commands. It’s your job, yes, to protect the common good, and a public-health emergency is at the top of that list. But religious freedom! We are not free without it. And, for heaven’s sake, know your obligation to not just this first freedom, but to a people that have been so persecuted — the Holocaust, Mr. Mayor. We owe our Jewish neighbors — our elder brothers, for those of us who are Christians — an extra sensitivity. And the Hasidic community today continues to be persecuted here in New York! The evil violence against Hasidic men and women and families hasn’t been by the government, but now what is the government encouraging with such reckless words and threats? This obviously comes nothing close to the Holocaust, but what does “Never Again” mean? Never, ever express contempt for a religious community. Love our neighbors. See their humanity!

And, to our Jewish brothers and sisters: we weep as you continue to suffer. We suffer together and we look forward to the day when we can worship as we ought again in community. And even together. Some of our ecumenical gatherings are so powerful.

At precisely the time when the government should be encouraging prudent re-openings in religious communities — for the sake of religious freedom and the health of our cities and states and nation — threats are the last thing that should be seen — and with the promise of police force!

And thank you, people of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, for being ready to come to the defense of the Jewish men and women of New York City.


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