Is a person by definition compassionate if he opposes equal rights for homosexuals on religious grounds rather than out of simple prejudice? If so, would that mean that an evangelical who opposes funding of faith-based organizations that are Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist or Muslim on religious grounds be classified as doing so with compassion because he cares about the souls of sinners? Now what if that fundamentalist is Dov Hikind, and what he opposes is gay marriage?
The United States is not a Christian country.
We are a secular country that protects freedom of religion.
But that freedom is not absolute.
You can't kill a person because you believe he is a heretic. You can't deny your minor children lifesaving medical care because you're a Christian Scientist.
The law and our society does not recognize the fundamentalist murderer or the Christian Scientist parents as justified or their actions as compassionate.
In theory, a fundamentalist Muslim could be elected to the New York State Senate. He could stand up during floor debate, pick up a Muslim holy book, and read passages calling Jews monkeys and unclean. And he could use those passages to justify blocking the appointment of a Jewish judge or funds allocated to a Jewish faith based organization.
He could do so and say as he is doing it that he is compassionate because Allah is compassionate and all he is doing is following Allah's wishes. After all, he's holding Allah's book and he is reading Allah's words. He can claim to care for the souls of Jews, and he can urge them to follow Allah's law.
Of course, we would all strongly oppose this Muslim fundamentalist, and we wouldn't consider him to be compassionate. We would consider him to be a dangerous extremist. All the more so if the Muslim fundamentalist had a history of associating with a violent group.
Dov Hikind, the former Jewish Defense League member who is a New York State Assemblyperson, stood up in the Assembly yesterday, waved a Hebrew Bible, and said he should not be lectured about compassion because his mother is a Holocaust survivor and the book he is holding is God's word. And God, Hikind said, is against gay marriage. Is God not compassionate? Hikind baitingly asked.
Is Allah not compassionate? Buddha? Would a White Supremest holding a copy of the Turner Diaries and Bible not be compassionate? After all, he only wants to prevent a race war by sending all African Americans back to Africa and all Jews somewhere – anywhere – else.
People should not be embarassed about their religious beliefs. But they must also realize that in a civil society they do not have the right to force those religious beliefs on others.
Opposing gay marriage on religious reasons is no different from the a Muslim fundamentalist opposing a judge's nomination because the judge is Jewish.
The Hebrew bible does not command Jews to go to non-Jewish countries and force the adoption of anti-gay Jewish law.
Indeed, what the Hebrew bible actually prohibits has itself been debated by Jewish sages for hundreds of years. The most common understanding among them is that the Hebrew bible prohibits anal intercourse between men, and many would argue that only applies to Jewish men.
If Dov Hikind doesn't want to wake up one day and find out that Jews can no longer serve as elected officials, or that Jewish nonprofits can no longer receive state aid, he needs to realize that his religion is not necessarily our religion, and that God's compassion is better displayed by helping the poor, the sick and the downtrodden than it is by using it to justify bigotry.