The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) expresses its disappointment and horror about a federal district court ruling last week, which determined that weekly antisemitic and anti-Israel protests outside of Beth Israel Congregation, a Michigan synagogue, are protected under the First Amendment and can continue. The protests, ongoing every Saturday since 2003, coincide with the synagogue’s Shabbat services. Every week, the protestors place 18-20 signs outside the synagogue with messages such as “Resist Jewish Power,” “Jewish Power Corrupts,” “End the Palestinian Holocaust,” and “Zionism is Racism.”
In dismissing the lawsuit challenging the protestors’ actions, U.S. District Judge Victoria A. Roberts wrote: “There is no allegation that the protestors prevent Plaintiffs from attending Sabbath services, that they block Plaintiffs’ path onto the property or to the Synagogue, or that the protests and signs outside affect the services inside. Plaintiffs merely allege that the Defendants’ conduct causes them distress and ‘interferes’ with their enjoyment of attending religious services.”
Expressing outrage about the lawsuit’s outcome, ZOA National President Morton A. Klein and ZOA National Board Chair Mark S. Levenson, Esq. stated: “The ZOA of course understands the free speech rights afforded to us under the First Amendment. We support those rights.
“But we believe that the court gave insufficient weight to the First Amendment rights of those who simply wished to pray as Jews on Shabbat, unhampered. That right should not be limited strictly to the actual prayer service. The right to freely worship should include the right of Jews to go in and out of their synagogue with peace of mind and without any fear or worry of being accosted each week by 18 to 20 signs attacking them as Jews and supporters of their religious and ancestral homeland, the Jewish state of Israel. These protests do affect the Plaintiffs’ right to worship as Jews.
“The judge could have placed reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on the protestors – for example, by ordering that the protests take place physically further away from the synagogue, or that they take place at a time that does not coincide with when most of the worshippers enter and exit the synagogue to pray. Such reasonable restrictions would protect the protestors’ First Amendment rights while at the same time protecting Jewish worshippers’ First Amendment right to practice their religion as they choose, unimpeded.
“We understand that the Plaintiffs are moving for reconsideration of Judge Roberts’ decision. We respectfully urge the court to modify last week’s ruling so that everyone’s constitutional rights are protected.”