Joseph Weiler, traditional Jew, defends the freedom to affix a Crucifix

Joseph H. H. Weiler, expert in international law, who has more degrees -earned and honorary- than almost anyone else has written a piece defending the freedom the affix a crucifix. Some of my readers may know him because he is mainly situated at NYU and is a traditional Jew. I was once on a panel with him post 9/11. In the post-EU world, one part of the EU can hold another part to its standards. The placing of a crucifix was brought to court of European Court of Human Rights and banned in school use. Italy appealed the ban. Below is part of the defense of the Crucifix by Joseph Weiler.

13. Consider a photograph of the Queen of England hanging in the classroom. Like the Cross, that picture has a double meaning. It is a photo of the Head of State. It is, too, a photo of the Titular head of the Church of England. It is a bit like the Pope who is a Head of State and Head of a Church. Would it be acceptable for someone to demand that the picture of the Queen may not hang in the school since it is incompatible with their religious conviction or their right to education since – they are Catholics, or Jews, or Muslims? Or with their philosophical conviction – they are atheists? Could the Irish Constitution or the German Constitution not hang on a class room wall or be read in class since in their Preambles we find a reference to the Holy Trinity and the Divine Lord Jesus Christ in the former and to God in the latter? Of course the right of freedom from religion must ensure that a pupil who objects may not be required actually to engage in a religious act, perform a religious ritual, or have some religious affiliation as a condition for state entitlements. He or she should certainly have the right not to sing God Save the Queen if that clashes with their world view. But can that student demand that no one else sing it?

21. Today, the principal social cleavage in our States as regards religion is not among, say Catholics and Protestants, but among the religious and the ‘secular’. Secularity, Laïcité is not an empty category which signifies absence of faith. It is to many a rich world view which holds, inter alia, the political conviction that religion only has a legitimate place in the private sphere and that there may not be any entanglement of public authority and religion. For example, only secular schools will be funded. Religious schools must be private and not enjoy public support. It is a political position, respectable, but certainly not “neutral.” The non-laique, whilst fully respecting freedom of and from religion, embrace some form of public religion as I have already noted. Laïcité advocates a naked public square, a classroom wall bereft of any religious symbol. It is legally disingenuous to adopt a political position which splits our society, and to claim that somehow it is neutral.

23. If the social pallet of society were only composed of blue yellow and red groups, than black – the absence of color – would be a neutral colour. But once one of the social forces in society has appropriated black as its colour, than that choice is no longer neutral. Secularism does not favour a wall deprived of all State symbols. It is religious symbols which are anathema.

24. What are the educational consequences of this?
25. Consider the following parable of Marco and Leonardo, two friends just about to begin school. Leonardo visits Marco at his home. He enters and notices a crucifix. What is that?’, he asks. ‘A crucifix – why, you don’t have one? Every house should have one.’ Leonardo returns to his home agitated. His mother patiently explains: ‘They are believing Catholics. We are not. We follow our path. Now imagine a visit by Marco to Leonardo’s house. ‘Wow!’, he exclaims, ‘no crucifix? An empty wall?’ “ We do not believe in that nonsense” says his friend. Marco returns agitated to his house. ‘Well’, explains his mother, ‘We follow our path.” The next day both kids go to school. Imagine the school with a crucifix. Leonardo returns home agitated: ‘The school is like Marco’s house. Are you sure, Mamma, that it is okay not to have a crucifix?’ That is the essence of Ms. Lausti’s complaint. But imagine, too, that on the first day the walls are naked. Marco returns home agitated. ‘The school is like Leonardo’s house,’ he cries. ‘You see, I told you we don’t need it.’

27. Make no mistake: A State-mandated naked wall, as in France, may suggest to pupils that the State is taking an anti-religious attitude. We trust the curriculum of the French Republic, to teach their children tolerance and pluralism and dispel that notion. There is always an interaction between what is on the wall and how it is discussed and taught in class. Likewise, a crucifix on the wall, might be perceived as coercive. Again, it depends on the curriculum to contextualize and teach the children in the Italian class tolerance and pluralism. There may be other solutions such as having symbols of more than one religion or finding other educationally appropriate ways to convey the message of pluralism.

Read the whole thing here.

Notice his definitions of the open society, tolerance and pluralism. A lack of religion in the public sphere is itself a religious decision. Also note how far the defense of the crucifix has no connection to medieval polemics or even the polemics of the age of tolerance and the Enlightenment. One is not proving either side right or wrong, nor is one conflating liberal tolerance with pluralism. Many modern orthodox Jews still respond to questions in medieval terms or attempting to fit Enlightenment tolerance into the classic positions. Neither one is where current discussions of human rights start.

Any thoughts on his arguments? Would Judaism agree? Would Judaism seeking a place to defend its own religious liberty in the US agree?

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3 responses to “Joseph Weiler, traditional Jew, defends the freedom to affix a Crucifix

  1. Weiler’s argument only makes sense if atheism is just another form of religion. Certainly many treat it that way, but that doesn’t mean it is.

    On the other hand, it may be most fair to do so. I don’t think it is fair to pit “religious symbols” for the religious against “absence of religious symbols” for the secular. This means that, in a public context, the secular can veto religous displays. And if secularity is just another religious flavor, this would mean (in American legal terms), the establishment of a religion — which is constitutionally disallowed.

    It would be more fair to allow any social organization — religious or otherwise — to put up their organizational symbols in the public space. The Catholics can put up a picture of their pope, Chabad can put up a picture of the rebbe, and the secular can put up a picture of Voltaire.

    • One of Weiler’s last paragraphs had the option that you propose of needing to be exposed to all. Weiler will probably have a 300 page book explaining each paragraph out within months; it will serve as a starting point for future discussions, so I note it here so I can start thinking about it.

  2. Dr. Konrad Yona Riggenmann

    A Jewish professor of law, son of a Lithuanian Rabbi, is advocating the crucifix-loving governments of Bulgaria, Romania, Armenia, Russia and others at the European Court of Human Rights. Joseph Halevi Horovitz Weiler pleaded for „leaving the question to the governments”. Okay, so let’s leave all questions of human rights to the governments, so we don’t need either a European Convention, a European Court, a United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. Doesn’t J.H.H.W. really see how important universally valid human rights are especially for us, the Jewish people?
    My german newspaper’s report cited Weiler’s statement: „The court should only interfere in cases where religious coercion is exercised on the children”. What does he think that is exercised on children, if all Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, free thinking and Jewish children have to look up to the symbol of the one religion of redemption by cruel sacrifice, thirty hours every week? And what about the teachers? Do they have the right to teach in cross-free classrooms or don’t they?
    Michael Brenner, professor of Judaistik at Munich university, gave me support in my lawsuit for teachers’ rights when he wrote in the most important Bavarian newspaper:
    „Thus Bavaria followed her ‘special way’ which allows a cross-free classroom only if parents explicitly demand this. Imagine the Turkish father who complains to the school director about his daughter having to sit in front of a Christian symbol in public school. He will gladly dispense with such an action, anxious not to expose himself [and his daughter] to a ‘So where you guys think we are?’-reaction.” (Süddeutsche Zeitung, Jan 10, 2002).
    What would Weiler recommend to Austrian Film Producer Ruth Beckermann (daughter of holocaust survivers), who said in an interview (derStandard.at): „One reason why we didn’t put our son in an Austrian public school was the cross on the wall. I didn’t want my child to have to sit under the cross. Why should he have to? What is told him by that implicitly and permanently, is just what people believe: You killed him.”
    Mr. Weiler’s five children, may they be blessed, grew up in a Jerusalem public school and a Jewish day school in New York – and their father and mother were far away from such European problems!
    Weiler encourages us Europeans to keep to “our” Christian traditions. Vatican magazine „Civiltá Cattolica“ lamented the endangerment of these traditions yet in April 1897: „Also had to be removed the effigies of crucified Christ from the walls [of Vienna public schools], because they might have offended the tender feelings of the children of his crucifiers” (Kertzer, Die Päpste gegen die Juden, p.263).
    Let’s stay in Austria, Hitler’s and Eichmann’s home country. Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, Austrian pioneer of European unification, in 1935 explained the learning of Jew-hatred very pregnantly: “Anti-semitism is mostly sown in the years of earliest childhood. The child loves his Jesus in the manger, his Saviour. Looking at a representation of the crucified Christ, the child asks his mother, who then committed this awful abuse against beloved Jesus? – ‘The Jews!’ – Hatred and abhorrence sink down into the child’s soul. Years pass by, the forgotten experience transforms into an artificial instinct.” (Thus cited by Shalom Ben-Chorin: Überwindung des christlichen Antisemitismus. Rothenburg o.T. 1962; cf. Coudenhove-Kalergi 1935, p.35 f.)
    But Christian philosopher Sören Kierkegaard described the same psychological phenomenon yet in 1850, ending his very insightful explanation of Jew-hatred in the warning, that the cross-educated boy, „once he will be grown-up , will slay all those godless people, who acted so badly against the Loving One, against whom they shouted ‘Crucify him, crucify him’ … forgetting in children’s manner that they lived more than 1800 years ago” (Einübung im Christentum/Exercise in Christendom, 1850).
    How would Harvard professor Weiler argue against Jewish American philosopher Dagobert Runes, who said very openly: „The cross is for the Jew the symbol of pogrom, … hate and condemnation. (…) Indeed the cross and crucifix are the constant reminders of remembering the deviltry of the Jews, the G’d-hated murderers of His Son”? (The Jew and the Cross. New York 1966).
    American historian Daniel Goldhagen called the crucifix an „anti-semitic symbol and anti-semitic weapon” which, „as Caroll [an anglican theologian] arguments, will continue provoking antipathy against the Jews.” (Die katholische Kirche und der Holocaust, Berlin 2002, p.100 ff. and 318).
    And American lawyer Joseph Weiler cooperates. He is an excellent attorney, but Bavarian parson Ludwig Dallmeier is a more sensible educator: He removed the big Crucifix in his catholic kindergarten after nurses had told him that the children expressed fear passing by this symbol, and Father Dallmeier was courageous enough to answer publicly for this act of pedagogical responsibility (tz Munich, 19/20 jan 2002). Jewish resistance fighter Frank Andermann doesn’t talk about childrens’ classrooms, when he astonished remembers: „Once I saw in a sleeping room the cross above the bed and couldn’t grasp how one could sleep, the hanged one hanging above him. Didn’t he hear his cries of agony before falling asleep and while dreaming?” (Das große Gesicht. Munich 1970, p.39)

    German Jewish journalist Michael Friedman dared to write a headline „Take Jesus Down From the Cross!” The famous Muslim poet and „Hessischer Staatspreis”-awarded author Navid Kermani dared to call the crucifix a „blasphemy and idolatry” (Rafael Seligman in SEMIT. Independent Jewish magazine, 04/2009, p.43). And a Jewish professor is helpful in mounting crosses.
    Moses Mendelssohn’s friend Immanuel Kant recommended frequenting church services, but only under the condition that these churches are free of certain „formalities which lead to idolatry and thus bother conscience, for instance certain reverences of God … under the name of a man, because the physical presentation of this man is contrary to the commandment of reason, ‘You shall not make yourself an image’” (Kant, Immanuel: Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloßen Vernunft, 1793. Stuttgart 1996, pp.264 f.)
    And Professor Weiler recommends those presentations not for churches, but for public claasrooms! Might it be that the Jewish expert of European law simply forgot Moses’ second „law” and Kant’s „law of reason” as well as Kant’s statement, that „religious submission” (Unmündigkeit) is „not only the most harmful, but the most dishonouring of all submissions”?
    (Kant 1784: What Is Enlightenment?)
    Jewish philosopher Ernst Bloch is fiercely contra this „backsliding from sanctification of the name [kiddush ha’shem] to such a barbaric image of G’d … originating in long avoided human sacrifice, which had been common the last time yet before – Moloch” (Atheismus im Christentum, Frankfurt 1973, pp.184 ff). And a well-renowned Jewish attorney is pro! The son of a Rabbi surely knows, what Torah and prophets write about images of G’d (particularly Ex 20,4 and 34,17; Lev 26,1; Dt 4,15 as well as 5,8 und 26,15; Wisdom 13,10-19; Iesaja 44,9-19; Jeremia 10,3-5).
    But this lawyer is flexible. Maybe his father in Lithuania, long ago, had been told by his father to turn around at every crucifix they had to pass by on their way, as Poland-born Dov Berkovitz remembers. But one day little Dov wants to risk it – and turns around! „What’s that to mean? Is that he? … The impression was uncanny, terrifying in its strangeness … But there came a peasant on his cart, stopped and made the cross sign on his breast. When he saw me standing there, his face turned gloomy, he uttered a curse and lashed his whip against me.” (Pinchas Lapide, Ist das nicht Josephs Sohn? Jesus im heutigen Judentum. Stuttgart 1976, p.17).
    Simon Wiesenthal stated: „The Jews have been prosecuted in the sign of the cross.“ (Segel der Hoffnung, Berlin 1991, p.234). Pope John XXIII., who saved thousands of Jews from deportation, shortly before his death wrote down his prayer to Jesus: „Forgive us the curse we unjustly fixed on the name of the Jew. Forgive us, that we crucified You in their flesh for the second time.” Real crucifications of Jews have been executed in the concentration camps of Sachsenhausen, Majdanek and Dachau. Pinchas Lapide reports a Lithuanian remake: „In the Vilna ghetto there was a Jew, whom the SS-sentinels liked to scoff at as ‘Jew Jesus’. One day they seized him, scratched his head with a crown of barbed wire and then crucified him on the lager gate.” (Lapide, Wer war schuld an Jesu Tod? Gütersloh 1987, p.99 f).
    And the son of a Lithuanian rabbi lets himself be engaged by cross-mounters, so they can say to Europe: „Jews don’t mind crosses. Look, how good our Hofjude (court Jew) is doing his job.”

    Professor Michael Brenner, in his above mentioned article titled „Wir da und die da” (We here and them there) puts a question which professor Weiler should have answered before giving his yarmulke show in Strasbourg: „Surely one should defend his own culture, and the more so in an increasingly multicultural society. But is the classroom the place for this? Shouldn’t this classroom rather be a place, where all participants can equally feel at home? Just because the ‘outsiders’ are a numerically small minority, the religious values of the majority may not be forced upon them. Exactly this, however, is what a mistaken tolerance proposes in this question, a tolerance which identifies Christendom with religion plainly.”

    Professor Brenner teaches in Munich, the former “capital of the movement”, where Nazi Secretary of Culture Adolf Wagner confessed in 1937: „Why should we remove the crucifixes out of the schools? Just why? Leave the crosses hanging! If I would be a teacher, I would say every morning: Boys and girls! Look at this, that’s how the Jew nailed Jesus on the cross! Every morning I would do this. I wouldn’t even think about removing the crucifix.” (Pfister/Kornacker/Laube, ed.: Kardinal Michael von Faulhaber 1869-1952. State Archives of Bavaria, Munich 2002, p. 294-99).
    After the Shoah, when Israeli author Lea Fleischmann, daughter of holocaust survivors, grew up in a Bavarian DP-Camp, she once went on a discovery trip with her friend in the camp’s vicinity. The two girls passed by a crucifix. „It’s your guilt that they killed the Jews”, she said to the wooden crucified Jew. Fourty years later her judgement was more considerate: „For the Jewish people Jesus could be a teacher of high morality and a high ranking parable speaker, as Klausner writes. Unfortunately, to Jews his person is connected with blood and suffering, with angst and misery, because in his name the Jewish people through the centuries has been burnt, broken on wheel, hanged and torn to pieces… Jesus as brother, as the Jewish theologian Ben-Chorin calls him, would be still acceptable for Jewish mode of thinking, but Jesus as Son-of-God is blasphemous and unthinkable, for thus God is given a form; the Infinite and Eternal is pressed into a mould.” (Fleischmann, Lea: Schabbat. Hamburg 1994, p.95).
    Sybille Sarah Niemoeller, the Jewish wife of concentration camp prisoner Pastor Martin Niemoeller, emphasizes the same commandment: „What started to trouble me especially was the total omission of the commandment ‘You shall not make yourself an image of God’ by the Christians. If Jesus to them was really a God, how could they dare to present him publicly in pictures and sculptures, again and again throughout millennia? (Homolka/Seidel: Nicht durch Geburt allein. Berlin 2006, p.235).

    And if this presentation of a tortured body could be called a „corpus delicti“ – the exhibit of a committed crime – then we ought to remember what Haim Cohn, the German born first Israeli Secretary of Justice, states about this crime: „Hundreds of generations of Jews everywhere in the Christian world have been accused of a crime, which neither they nor their ancestors had committed. Even worse, through centuries and millennia they had to suffer all kinds of torture, persecution and humiliation due to the role which has been attributed to their ancestors in the proceedings and the crucifixion of Jesus, while these ancestors most evidently by no means took part in this, but rather did everything possible by human standards to save this Jesus, whom they loved as one of theirs, from his tragical end by the hands of the Roman oppressors. If we can find a grain of consolation anywhere against this perversion of Justice, then in the very words of Jesus himself: „Blissful those ones persecuted for the sake of justice, for their’s will be the world to come” (Haim Cohn: Process and Death of Jesus, summary).

    Professor Weiler’s advocating of classroom crucifixes is outrageous.
    Dr. Konrad Yona Riggenmann

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