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Don’t be naïve — those who attack Jews will soon attack you, too

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The violent attacks against Jews going to an event on Sunday at a local synagogue in Los Angeles are the latest in a long line of terrible precedents for the rights of people of faith across the country. We saw flagrant violations of civil rights and criminal assault on individuals based on their Jewish identity, resulting only in a single arrest. What is happening to Jews across America should be another canary in the coal mine for members of all other faiths.

The response to Sunday’s violence from political leaders was underwhelming to say the least.

President Biden, California Governor Newsom, and other top Democrats read from the same script the next day — all were “appalled” by the violence. “Intimidating Jewish congregants is dangerous, unconscionable, antisemitic, and un-American.” None of them mentioned the illegality of the violence or civil rights violations, or the intent to prosecute the perpetrators.

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Despite what the New York Times called “unusually swift and forceful condemnation from top Democratic leaders,” it was only swift and forceful compared to their response to antisemitic campus protests in the past eight months. The public hemming and hawing and handwringing of politicians over antisemitic violence is more than a national embarrassment, it’s a travesty.

Many of their past comments have reinforced an almost absolute right to free speech and freedom of association for antisemitic protesters. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that the right to freedom of association “does not extend to joining with others for the purpose of depriving third parties of their lawful rights” (Brown v. Hartledge, 1982), which the pro-Palestinian protesters were clearly doing. By virtue of targeting Jews specifically, they also were engaged in violations of Jews’ civil rights.

Perhaps the key lesson from Sunday’s events is not a reaffirmation that the center of the Democratic party is still struggling to decide what to do with the antisemitic far left, but that leaders on the American left are no longer fully committed to protecting religious liberty and in many cases are assaulting it.

Government now does precious little to protect religious groups from discrimination and hostility. The Anti-Defamation League tracked nearly 9,000 antisemitic incidents in 2023, up 140% from the the previous year. The Family Research Council counted more than 400 incidents of hostility against Christian churches in 2023, leaving aside individual cases of hostility. Anti-Muslim incidents have likewise increased significantly since 2020.

But the numbers do not account for government-directed anti-religious laws and regulations, or selective prosecutions. On the one hand, prosecutors target Christian individuals and business owners like florists and cake artists, churches, and pro-life activists. On the other, they drag their feet investigating violence against pregnancy support centers, crimes committed by Antifa members, and antisemitic attacks.

Antisemitism is focused on the racial identity of Jews, not on the beliefs of Judaism per se; however, Jewish belief and identity are closely intertwined. Anti-Muslim sentiments are based both on Islamic belief and on a perceived stereotypical “Arab” racial identity. Prejudice against Christians is focused primarily on religious beliefs and not racial identity.

These individual acts of violence and hostility are accumulating rapidly into a broad social antipathy towards religious faith and identity, nursed along by activists, legislators, and prosecutors on the left. It is time that all of us began working together.

We need to demand answers from local and state law enforcement chiefs and prosecutors about how they would handle a situation like what unfolded in Los Angeles. Demand that prosecutors keep the public apprised of their investigations into these crimes. Watch closely to see if they follow through on commitments to step up protection, work with the affected religious community, and combat anti-religious attitudes.

In reflecting on the Holocaust, German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller penned these words:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.

Who will speak out for the Jews, and who will speak out for all those of religious faith in America?

Dr. Tom Copeland is the Director of Research at the Centennial Institute of Colorado Christian University. He writes regularly on public policy and the intersection of politics, culture, and religion. The views expressed by the author are his own and do not represent the views of Centennial Institute or Colorado Christian University.

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