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Letters to the Editor Week of Oct. 27, 2005

October 27, 2005 By:
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Why Should a Nominee's Religion Be Off-Limits?

Jonathan Tobin writes: "The notion put forward by some less-guarded critics that John Roberts' stance as a faithful Catholic ought to be taken into consideration when voting on his nomination was both out of bounds and offensive" (A Matter of Opinion: "Religious Tests and the Court," Oct. 12).

He's just plain wrong. Why is religion out of bounds for questioning?

Religion deserves no more regard than any other consideration that may determine how a judge votes.

In view of the fact that the official position of the Catholic Church is anti-abortion - and that Roberts is a member of the Catholic Church - one may very reasonably ask whether his religious beliefs will affect abortion rights, a significant domestic concern.

Religion is no more or less exalted than any other point of view, nor are the religious any more "moral" than other, nonreligious citizens, though they often pretend to be.

All avenues of questioning must be open when examining Supreme Court nominees, given their influence on society.

Harry Fisher
Los Angeles

Waiting for What Will Come Out in the Wash

Religion should play no part in the nomination process for the Supreme Court (A Matter of Opinion: "Religious Tests and the Court," Oct. 12).

So, why did it?

While Sen. Joseph Lieberman's open embrace of Judaism received rapturous reviews from the left, those same folks swooned when an openly religious Christian conservative candidate pounded his or her chest during the election process. But that was in the context of a presidential campaign, where it all "comes out in the wash" of the ballot box.

Beneath the religious fears and innuendoes are a trio of tipping points: marriage and its attendant issues, including gay rights; abortion rights; and international judicial influence on the Supreme Court. Not surprisingly, the former two receive most of the press.

States themselves will most likely deal with marital definitions. And a revolution would occur in the United States if the basic protections of Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.

However, in the current global economy, issues such as which country's law will decide cases here and what precedent to use still hang in the balance.

Helen Miers is intriguing. She is a 60-year-old woman who has taken a journey from one political side to the other. She has yet to have a hearing in the Senate; perhaps something will come out in the wash then.

Lynne Lechter
King of Prussia

City Fire Commissioner Commended for Action

On behalf of Philadelphia's Jewish community, this letter is to express our appreciation to Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers for his timely and considerate actions in rescheduling a citywide fire drill that would have interfered with Yom Kippur services at numerous synagogues.

On Wednesday, Oct. 12, a small article about a citywide home fire drill appeared in a local newspaper, announcing that the citywide sounding of sirens was scheduled on Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m., during Yom Kippur services. This generated deep concern throughout the Jewish community.

We brought the issue to the commissioner's attention and explained the importance of the holiday services, as well as how the simultaneous sounding of sirens during Yom Kippur would not only alarm worshippers, but harken back to the commencement of Israel's Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Commissioner Ayers acted immediately to make sure the fire drill did not interfere with Yom Kippur services or other Jewish services. His actions also enabled many Jewish families to participate in the Fire Department's important safety outreach program.

The commissioner's quick response and consideration to Philadelphia's Jewish community were exemplary, and serve to reaffirm the well-earned respect our community has for the Fire Department and other municipal public services.

Harold S. Goldman
Jewish Federationof Greater Philadelphia

Barry Morrison
Regional director
Anti-Defamation League

A Man Characterized by the Pursuit of Justice

At the recent shivah for Stefan Presser - the late general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania - Rabbi Leonard Gordon said that Presser followed the tradition of pursuing justice, as commanded in Deuteronomy: Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof - "Justice, Justice, You Shall Pursue!"

These three powerful Hebrew words are often cited for the drumbeat effect of the repetition of tzedek ("justice"), emphasizing its importance in the biblical legal regime.

Deuteronomy 16:18 commands the appointment of judges, "and they shall judge the people with due justice." The next verse enjoins the judges to judge fairly, take no bribes and show no partiality.

But the text goes on - Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof - which seems odd because both the ends (justice) and the means (judges commanded to do justice) are already specified.

What else is needed - or intended? The answer comes from a closer reading.

The command to the judges is in the plural. But Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof is in the singular, indicating that it pertains to the individual and not the courts. That contrast is confirmed by the explanation that the duty imposed upon each of us is to earn the right to "live and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you."

Thus, it becomes clear that we are required to do whatever is necessary to pursue justice, even to correct injustice committed by judges.

Such was the understanding of great civil-rights leaders, whose vision of a just society was neither daunted nor dimmed by a benighted government or its judiciary.

Stefan Presser was that rare individual who was motivated by both the Bible and the Constitution. He took them as a personal command, acting upon a deep belief in both charters of liberty.

Burton Caine
Professor of law
Temple Law School

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