Buddhist leader Maya Malay will join a Unitarian Universalist (UU) leader to add their voices to a series of calls to abolish Florida’s new state law, which bans abortions after 15 weeks, saying that the law violates their freedom of religion as well as the US Constitutional right to privacy. The two will join the legal challenge launched by Jewish Rabbi Barry Silver late last month.
The retired UU Reverend Harris Riordan will join Buddhist minister Maya Malay in filing a lawsuit in state court this week.
“We are excited to expand this lawsuit to include outstanding representatives of the Buddhist and Unitarian traditions,” Silver said. “Maya Malay and Harris Riordan are wonderful teachers of their own traditions and have dedicated their lives to improving the world for people of all faiths and religions.” (NBC News)
Silver continued: “We look forward to building coalitions with people of all faiths and backgrounds, including atheists and freethinkers, to repair the wall of separation between church and state, and to unite the people of the world to protect human rights and save our precious planet.” (NBC News)
The Florida law, which went into effect on 1 July, was challenged preemptively by Silver and his synagogue, Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor in Palm Beach County. He planned last week to update his complaint as an individual plaintiff. Silver’s attorney, David Ferleger, will also represent Riordan and Malay. Ferleger has already argued cases before the US Supreme Court five times.
“All Floridians have a constitutional right to religious freedom. Florida laws must respect that right,” Ferleger said in a statement. “The law must fall because the abortion law forces Jews to surrender their religious beliefs.” (NBC News)
The Jewish position on abortion, as documented by a 2019 statement from the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), holds that: “Our Jewish values compel us to support full access to safe and legal abortion care as basic health care.” (NCJW)
In the statement, the NCJW noted that, for them, life does not begin at conception and that a fetus does not have independent rights until it takes its first breath. They went on to state that abortion bans unduly favor certain religious viewpoints over others, including their own.
Silver told the media that he believed anti-abortion laws across the US amounted to “theocratic tyranny.” He continued: “When life begins is a fundamental religious question, and the government now is trying to answer that for everyone, based on fundamentalist Christianity.” (NBC News)
The Unitarian Universalist Association likewise affirmed its belief, dating to 1968, in the freedom of choice for those seeking an abortion. The 1968 general resolution on the topic of abortion urged UU members to make efforts to abolish existing laws, “leaving the decision as to an abortion to the doctor and his patient.” (Unitarian Universalist Association)
Buddhists, coming from traditions spanning the globe, hold a wide spectrum of views on abortion. Most hold that life begins at conception. However, compassion for a pregnant person is also a factor to be considered, leading many to agree with the Dalai Lama, who has said: “It depends on the circumstances. . . . I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance.”*
In a statement, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said: “Our comment on this lawsuit is the same as our comment on any other legal challenge to the pro-life HB 5 legislation.” (NBC News)
* Buddhistdoor View: On the Moral and Traditional Complexities of Abortion (Buddhistdoor Global)
Unitarian and Buddhist ministers are joining a rabbi’s legal fight against Florida’s new abortion law (NBC News)
Judaism and Abortion (National Council of Jewish Women)
Abortion: 1968 General Resolution (Unitarian Universalist Association)
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