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In Response to Kansas Bill HB2453

This speech was delivered at the Equality Kansas Rally on February 25, 2014, in opposition to Kansas Bill HB2453, which explicitly protects religious individuals, groups, and businesses that refuse services to same-sex couples.

Look around you! Look where you are standing! You are standing at the State Capitol in Topeka, Kansas. In less than 3 months, on May 17th, it will be exactly 60 years since the Supreme Court of the United States decided that school segregation is illegal and against the Constitution of the United States. 

My God, people: have our legislators learned nothing?  How long will God tolerate our stubborn insistence rebelling against God’s word: Human beings are created, every one of us, in God’s own image?

I am Mark Levin. I am a Jew; I am a rabbi; and I am a founder of the Mainstream Coalition.

I am here today as an American, the land of the free and the home of the brave.  I know what preserves our freedom. It’s the rule of law.

I remember segregated schools. I attended racially segregated schools. How dare people in Topeka, Kansas, 60 years after Brown vs. the Board of Education, argue that religious exclusionists have a right to exclude citizens from equality? Many churches argued that blacks were inferior human beings, and did not have the right to be educated with whites, as the local Westboro Baptist Church argues that God hates gays today.  Really!  Our legislature wants to side with the Westboro Church? 

What protected those African American families, the 13 families and 20 children who sued the Board of Education for equal rights under the law? What integrated our schools and brought African Americans and whites together: equality under the law!

“NO JEWS OR DOGS ALLOWED.” That sign kept my father out of the public swimming pool where I as a child swam 30 years later. My father was routinely called a Christ-killer; only one anonymous phone-caller ever dared call me “a damn Jew.” Between dad’s childhood and mine came the Nazi murder of millions of Jews, gays, lesbians, and Roma. American soldiers fought the Nazis. The Nazis murdered Jews. Therefore suddenly in the public mind Jew-hater meant Nazi. Auschwitz killed the Nazi brand because it taught where hatred leads.

In my father’s childhood, businesses discriminated by religious belief. In Johnson County the City of Leawood excluded Jewish and African American home ownership. Blacks could not swim in my childhood pool in Baltimore because they were considered inferior to whites. All this murder and hatred was religiously justified.

Fashions change. Hatred remains. The Nazis made hating Jews unfashionable, at least overtly in polite society. But the law forbids Americans to turn their religious hatred into refusal to do business. Society demands that if you are open for business to anyone you are open for business to everyone.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally ended discrimination in public accommodations against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities, and women. Restaurants had to serve blacks, no matter how much a religion justified hatred. But now, some Kansans again seek to get the law to permit their religious hatred of other Americans. We’ve walked this path before.  Have we learned nothing from hatred and bigotry?

Christians and Jews both believe in a God of love. Genesis teaches that all humans are created in God’s own image. For those who believe that there is to be divine punishment of actions you consider to be a sin, then let God take care of it. God commands God’s people to love the image of God: every human being

We do hold something sacred as a nation and a people: it’s called the Declaration of Independence of the United States of American:  We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

We are the mainstream in Kansas.  We are the truly religious, who value God’s creation.  Let segregation, bigotry, and hatred cease. Let us rise to the love that God commands for all of God’s creatures.

Rabbi Mark H. Levin, DHL, is the Founding Rabbi of Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park, KS.  He was ordained at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati in 1976.


5 replies on “In Response to Kansas Bill HB2453”

Thank you. Here is a good exercise. For every explanation that says, “It is my religious right not to serve gays, replace gays with “Jews,” or “African-Americans,” or “Catholics,” or “Evangelical Christians,” or “Democrats,” or “Republicans,” or “Tea Party Members” and see if you agree. At one time in our history, this argument has been employed to discriminate against at least the first 3 categories of people.
Rabbi Irwin Goldenberg

Beautifully and passionately expressed, Mark. I’m proud that you are leading the way. It is a message we all have to share. But who would have believed we’d still be doing it in the 21st century?!

When a state prohibits blacks and whites to go to school together, or forces businesses to place 7′ separation and have separate entrances for blacks and whites, that is discrimination.
When I as a Rabbi, refuse to marry a Jew and a Gentile, because it is against my religious principles, that is my right as an individual to free expression of my faith (First Amendment). Similarly, when I as a Rabbi, cannot marry two Jewish men or women because they cannot be Jewishly married in my opinion, I am again not infringing on their rights, just asserting mine.
The declaration of Independence stated: “All men are created equal” not all types of unions are defined as marriages.
Some of us can re-define marriage, and I can respect that, but a diatribe against those of us who do not choose to change our definition is bigoted, and does not represent an effort to “rise to the love that God Commands for all of God’s creatures”.
I have sent people who wished to intermarry to other Rabbi’s that perform it. I might do that for gay’s or lesbian’s as well, but to compare me to state mandated segregation is going beyond the pale.
Rabbi Leon Rogson

Rabbi Rogson: It seems you have not read the bill. I am sorry my remarks were not clearer. I was not commenting in any fashion on officiating at weddings. Rather, Kansas Bill HB2453 would allow restaurants to refuse to serve gay couples, anyone in the wedding industry to refuse to provide services for weddings, and a host of other refusals for public accommodations. The scope of the bill is not entirely clear. A Kansan would be able to discriminate against someone simply based on sincerely held religious beliefs: like Jews are inferior people. Obviously, every clergyperson has the right to define religion for her/himself. So do Kansans. But The State of Kansas ought not allow its citizens to refuse service to people based on their religious beliefs. If that were legal, why would it not be legal to refuse service to a Jew whom someone honestly believes to fall into the category of Christ-killer? That would be covered in this bill as well theoretically. That’s obviously discrimination in public accommodations, and so is refusing to provide a meal to someone who appears to be gay or lesbian. It’s classic discrimination in public accommodations, not aimed at clergy to change someone’s theology.

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