Even before a U.S. federal judge in Hawaii issued an emergency halt to his revised travel ban citing a likely violation of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents religious discrimination, a federal judge in Maryland, Theodore D. Chuang asked, regarding the revised travel ban on Muslims, "The government says the executive order is to protect the public. On what basis can I overrule that?"
A just answer is that the ban is offensively counter to the very fabric of being a Marylander, especially to those who practice the Abrahamic faiths, including Judaism. Maryland history is interwoven with our courageously historic struggle of overcoming religious discrimination.
Thomas Kennedy, who served in the Maryland state legislature, at great danger to himself, valiantly struggled to improve Maryland’s religious tenor at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
In Maryland, even after the ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the state Constitution included a discriminatory ban that prevented non-Christians from holding government positions or holding state office. In 1826, Kennedy, after six failed attempts in as many years, succeeded in passing a measure known as “the Jew Bill.” Only then were Jews allowed to vote as well as serve in Maryland government.
As the only rabbi serving in an area that Kennedy called home, I am proud that Thomas Kennedy is fondly remembered, even revered, by Jew and Gentile alike in my region. Religious minorities in Washington County where I work and live - a conservative area within a mostly liberal state - are embraced by the much larger Christian community. I have some personal experience that testifies to this reality.
Recently, I took a stand where I was worried that I might be criticized by my fellow local clergy. At the very start of this administration, I declined an invitation to represent Judaism at the Inaugural Prayer Service at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. Surprisingly, not a single member of my local ministerial council expressed to me their disapproval. Rather, local ministers shared their mutual devotion to be vigilant in our defense of minority groups, particularly religious minorities.
More recently, I had the pleasure to serve in my first local interreligious worship opportunity since the inaugural invitation. A Muslim woman expressed an idea for an interreligious vigil to support her community and other marginalized communities.
In a local Church, at a ceremony endorsed by our local inter-religious council of thirty-four faith communities, I offered a concluding prayer in Hebrew from a pulpit emblazoned by a cross. This service was led by community leaders, including two Muslims. Praying with a full gathering of worshippers, the majority of whom were white and Christian, we pledged our support to one another.
At a time of divisiveness and derision, people of faith all across Maryland and the United States are boldly committed to support one another. We live and work together. We laugh and cry, together. We are married to one another. We even take our “self”-ies, together. Our lives are intertwined for as many purposes as there are stars in the sky and sand on the seashore.
Judge Chuang himself recognized this Thursday, answering his own question: he determined that Trump's executive order was "the realization of the long-envisioned Muslim ban," pointing to comments made by the president throughout his campaign.
It is also important at this time to remember that it's not enough to unite to be against something; we must all be for something. While all Marylanders - and all Americans - seek vigorous ways to vet immigrants in order to protect our country, the legacy of Thomas Kennedy reminds us that we are also to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Ari Plost is the rabbi of B’nai Abraham in Hagerstown, Maryland and Vice President of the Hagerstown Area Religious Council.
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