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Jewish Chief Justice of Massachusetts Supreme Court Vows to Protect Muslim Rights

Drawing on the Jewish experience of religious persecution, Ralph Gants assured the largest mosque in New England that ‘you do not stand alone’

Yair Rosenberg
January 06, 2016
Ralph Gants. YouTube
Ralph Gants. YouTube

Last month, a remarkable moment took place in Boston that was largely lost in the holiday hiatus. In the wake of presidential contender Donald Trump’s incendiary call to halt Muslim immigration to the United States, Ralph Gants, the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, was asked to address the largest mosque in New England, the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. In his speech, which took place on December 18, Gants drew on his legal expertise and Jewish heritage to assure the Muslim audience that the state would protect their rights during this trying time.

“This may surprise you, but this is not where I usually spend my Friday afternoons,” the Jewish justice opened. “I asked to speak with you today because I know that this is a difficult time for persons who practice the Islamic faith in this country. And I am here to assure you that you do not stand alone: you have a Constitution and laws to protect your right to practice your religion, to protect you from discrimination and the denial of your equal rights, and to protect you from acts of violence that might be committed because of your religion or your nation of origin.”

Gants went on to frame his message in more personal, Jewish terms. “I also bring you a second message, not so much in my role as Chief Justice, but as someone who is very old and a Jew,” he said. “The Old Testament many times reminds us, ‘Once we were strangers in the land of Egypt,’ and that line is the centerpiece of the Jewish holiday of Passover. I think of that phrase often, because I know that once my forefathers were strangers in the land of the United States, as were the forefathers of nearly all of us, and many of us were not so welcome here.”

The judge then offered a litany of immigrant groups and faiths that found themselves unwelcome at different times in American history. “The forefathers of African-Americans came to this country in chains,” he continued, “and we are still challenged by the legacy of slavery and of Jim Crow. But African-Americans were not the only ones who faced lynching in the American South. Leo Frank, a Southern Jew falsely accused of murder, also died from lynching, and his death in 1915 gave birth to the Anti-Defamation League.”

“If you add up all those who are Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, German-Americans, Asian-Americans, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Jewish-Americans, all those who were once were strangers in this land of Egypt, you end up with the vast majority of this nation,” he concluded.

“So I hold firm to the hope that, if we remember who we are and where we came from and what we once endured, if we remember that we, too, once were strangers in the land of Egypt, the vast majority of Americans will stand arm-in-arm with Muslim-Americans and, together, we will get past these troubling times.”

Watch the entire speech below:

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.