Rabbinic Group Blasts Judicial Decision: “‘Crying Wolf’ on Antisemitism”
August 29, 2023

Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV), representing over 2,500 traditional, Orthodox rabbis in matters of American public policy, today deplored the decision of a Tennessee Court of Appeals panel granting a Jewish couple standing to sue the state Department of Children’s Services for permitting religious foster care agencies to provide services in accordance with their religious principles. Calling the ruling a “blow to religious freedom that potentially places Jewish children at risk,” CJV expressly rejected the couple’s claim, now echoed by the Court and widely reported, that the couple was denied services “due to their Jewish faith,” implying antisemitic bias where none exists.

A recently-passed Tennessee law permits religious foster care agencies to operate in accordance with their religious mission. The case in question involves a Jewish couple denied foster training and home study services by the Holston United Methodist Home for Children, an agency which requires a statement of faith from families under its supervision that the couple could not sign. Three judges of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville ruled Thursday that the couple may sue the state for allowing Holston Home to provide foster care services while respecting its religious requirements.

The law in question previously earned CJV’s support in a letter to Governor Bill Lee that specifically endorsed Holston Home’s religious liberty claims despite clear theological differences in belief and practice. Referring to the Jewish tenet that a Jewish child “should be raised in a Jewish home and taught the principles of Judaism,” CJV pointed out that reversal of this law “could strip our community of the right to free exercise in accordance with that religious belief within the state, and have potential national ramifications.”

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“Beyond our religious liberty concerns, we object to the dishonest framing of this case as implying hostility towards the Jewish community,” said CJV Southern Regional Vice President Rabbi Moshe B. Parnes. “Holston Home’s President, Reverend Bradley Williams, was so moved by our support last year that he traveled to meet our Managing Director, Rabbi Yaakov Menken, and to learn about Jewish culture and beliefs from the religious Jewish community of Baltimore. Especially at a time of increasing verbal and even violent antisemitism, we must reject those who ‘cry wolf’ when religious agencies merely wish to work within their own faith communities.”

In a letter published jointly after Rev. Williams’ visit, he and Rabbi Menken celebrated their friendship and pointed to the strong support of the observant Jewish community for religious liberty:

Without exception, the rabbis and Jewish leaders voiced their conviction that Jewish and Christian agencies had the right to only partner with those sharing their faith while serving children. They felt the pursuit of our mutual religious freedom was both reasonable and non-discriminatory, because each agency is thus permitted to serve while observing the tenets of its faith. One used the words said by Moses to Joshua (Deut. 31:7), Chazak v’Ematz—Be Strong and of Good Courage, to encourage continued pursuit of our shared interest in religious liberty.

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