Chick-fil-A question spurs an open letter to Rick Santorum

Lily Berger
Lily Berger: Why should our Jewish marriages be defined by other people's religions?
Photo courtesy of Lily Berger

By Lily Berger

Lily Berger, product engineer at a medical device company in the Twin Cities, is a source in MPR News' Public Insight Network.

Dear Mr. Santorum:

In an Aug. 1 email to your supporters about the Chick-fil-A controversy, you said:

"What crime have they [Chick-fil-A] committed? ... The leader of this privately held company, the son of its founder, said he believes in the Biblical view of the family."

You then went on to talk about religious freedom in America. Let me tell you about what religious freedom means to me, and why I don't support Chick-fil-A.

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I am a Jewish American. I grew up attending synagogue regularly, celebrating the chagim (holidays) with my family and going to Jewish day school from preschool all the way through 12th grade. As Jews, we know what it's like to be persecuted for practicing our religion, and even to be persecuted just for who we are, as occurred in the Holocaust. We also know what it's like to have other religions forced on us. That's why the Maccabees stood up to the Greeks when they tried to force the Jews to worship Greek gods, and it's why tens of thousands of Jews fled from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition rather than choose between converting to Christianity or being tortured and killed. And that's why to Jews in America, the First Amendment is especially precious — it safeguards our freedom to practice our religion, and prevents any government within the United States from forcing anyone else's religion on us.

I am a Conservative Jew. That means I belong to the Conservative Movement of Judaism. You may not know this, but Conservative Judaism allows same-sex marriage; so do Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism — that's three out of the four Jewish movements, which comprise the vast majority of Jews in America. So when people try to enact laws making those marriages — religiously sanctioned marriages, performed in traditional Jewish wedding ceremonies in synagogues across the country — legally invalid, this infringes on our religious freedom. Why should our Jewish marriages be defined by other people's religions? People working to make or keep same-sex marriage illegal are working to violate my and my coreligionists' First Amendment rights.

Which brings me back to Chick-fil-A. I am not upset that Dan Cathy said he opposes same-sex marriage. He is entitled to his opinion and beliefs just as I am entitled to mine. What upsets me and other critics of Chick-fil-A is that they donate money to organizations like the Marriage & Family Foundation and the Family Research Council, both organizations that support efforts to violate my religious freedom by trying to make same-sex marriage illegal across the country. And so, Mr. Santorum, you are misleading your supporters by not telling them the real reason we oppose Chick-fil-A.

To be perfectly honest, Chick-fil-A is not losing my business, because I already don't eat there — the food is not kosher. But keep in mind that I would never support a law that made all restaurants follow the rules of kashrut; that would be forcing my religion on everyone, and a violation of the First Amendment. I'm OK with simply avoiding restaurants that don't serve kosher food. Similarly, you shouldn't try to force your religious beliefs on people who don't share them. You are free to avoid attending Jewish same-sex weddings in my synagogue or any others. Just don't tell us they should be illegal.