Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Freedom in Israel

I have had some disagreement of late with a friend who maintains that the nation-state of Israel curtails religious freedom by certain laws and policies which favor Judaism and exclude other religions, particularly Christians, and specifically, proselyting Mormon missionaries.

My observation was that Israel is remarkably progressive in such matters, in light of circumstances.

I admit I'm arguing based on what some Israelis have to say about themselves and their nation. Maybe they are lying.

Excerpted from Freedom of Religion in Israel ...

Israel protects the freedom of Jews and non-Jews alike to engage in their chosen form of religious practice or worship. Likewise, in most cases the application of religious precepts by institutions of the State, such as in the prohibition of work on religious days of rest, does not compel Jews or non-Jews to violate the precepts of their chosen faith. However, freedom of religion is not an absolute right, but rather is subject to limitations and derogation. Thus, freedom of religion must be balanced with other rights and interests, and may be restricted for reasons of public order and security. In practice, however, Israeli authorities have exercised their power with great caution.
 The article further asserts...
The "Basic Law: Human Liberty and Dignity" (the foundational statement of constitutional law in Israel) refers to a "Jewish and democratic State". However, Judaism has not been proclaimed the official religion of Israel. Rather, the law and practice in Israel regarding religious freedom may best be understood as a sort of hybrid between non-intervention in religious affairs, on the one hand, and the inter-involvement of religion and government in several forms on the other, most notably by legislation establishing the jurisdiction of religious courts of the different faiths in specified matters of "personal status" by government funding of authorities which provide religious services to several of the religious communities; and by a series of legal institutions and practices which apply Jewish religious norms to the Jewish population.
On the proselyting issue -- from what I have been able to sort out from the explanations about how such things are regulated in Israel, I understand that certain religious groups have received some level of bureaucratic recognition in Israel, as referenced at the end of the above cite, and these officially recognized groups are granted more latitude that those not afforded such status. Apparently the Greek Orthodox Church is the most prominent among officially recognized Christian sects. The LDS Church is not currently among the recognized groups, and is subject to such restrictions as the Israeli government uniformly imposes on all such groups. I suppose that situation could change at any time. I know that similar impositions have been suddenly and surprisingly removed, in many other countries.

I'd admit that from our perspective it certainly seems like a heavy-handed restriction, but the general policy seems to be nothing specifically directed at the LDS Church.

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