Testimony of Orthodox Union
in support of SB 750
Maryland General Assembly | The Senate | Finance Committee
Annapolis, MD | March 3, 2011
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee:
It is a foundational principle of American democracy that no one should suffer any discrimination, whether based on race, sex, ethnicity or religion. Maryland’s own discrimination laws recognize this as well the State’s constitution. No one should ever have to choose between their faith and their livelihood. Sadly, in Maryland, and at the Federal level, that protection is not guaranteed. A person needing time off for a Sabbath or holy day can be denied accommodation and no current provision in either Federal law or Maryland law offers them adequate recourse or protection. SB 750 would remedy that.
Therefore, the Orthodox Union (Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America), the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, submits this testimony in support of SB 750, the Religious Observance Accommodations Act. We do so on behalf of our member synagogues, rabbis, and thousands of individual members – here in Maryland – but also across the country and indeed, throughout the world, as well as on behalf of Marylanders of all faiths.
Because SB 750 is a statement as much about Maryland and its citizens – and what they value – as it is any particular law. And what this legislation says is we respect and tolerate everyone in this state.
SB 750 is modeled on legislation enacted within the past decade in both New Jersey and New York. It is very carefully calibrated so that it would help real people across Maryland without imposing undue burdens on employers or cause courts to be overwhelmed. Rather, it affords those with sincerely held religious beliefs the right to be reasonably accommodated. Both of those states saw their laws enacted with broad – and bipartisan – support. New York’s was a partnership of then Governor George Pataki, a Republican, and Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, also having the support of the Republican Senate Majority Leader and the State’s Democratic Attorney General. In New Jersey, Democratic Governor Jon Corzine signed the legislation in 2008 with the support of the Republican legislative leadership.
This legislation is carefully tailored. It is not a bright line or catch all. It recognizes the need for case by case decision making, including the need to balance the needs of small businesses or other sensitive positions against the sincerely held religious needs of employees. Not every employee will get everything they think they are entitled to under this legislation. Nor will every business. This legislation strikes a careful and delicate balance. But it is one that protects both employers and employees, ensures religious liberty and promotes tolerance and respect for all.
As you know, America was founded by individuals fleeing persecution an ocean away and to ensure that no one in this new world would suffer the cruel fate in the old, they enshrined as the very first freedom in the Bill of Rights the freedom of religion. Maryland itself, under the leadership of Lord Baltimore enacted an Act of Toleration in 1649. It took the lead then, and we urge the Senate and the General Assembly to take the lead again, so that, to paraphrase President Washington’s famous letter to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island, the United States shall give to persecution no assistance and to bigotry no sanction (we append President Washington’s entire letter hereto).
We urge you to act favorably on SB 750 for the benefit of Marylanders of all faiths. It is the right thing to do, will help real people and is fully consistent with the constitutions of Maryland and of the United States. Thank you.
Howie Beigelman, Deputy Director of Public Policy
Appendix: Letter of President George Washington to the Jewish Community of Newport, RI
To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island
[Newport, R.I., 18 August 1790]
While I receive, with much satisfaction, your Address replete with expressions of affection and esteem; I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you, that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in my visit to Newport, from all classes of Citizens.
The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet, from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security. If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and a happy people.
The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.