News and Commentary

SAMUELS: Is There A Different Standard For Religious People?

By now it’s clear that the original video clip of the Covington Catholic high school boys on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was intended to incite a visceral reaction. The disseminators of that video tried to create a narrative that the boys were vindictive and hateful. That narrative was utterly false. The thorough disproof of that narrative came from the most unlikely of places. The designated hate group (as designated by the Left’s own Southern Poverty Law Center), the “Black Hebrew Israelites,” posted a video that captured the entire course of events that led up to that moment.

Thank G-d they posted that video. I mean that literally.

An unbiased person watching that video would see that the group of boys acted in a way consistent with what one would expect of a group of teenage boys. One could actually see that a large number of boys in the group acted with an impressive level of restraint and tolerance. At one point in the video, when the boys were being told that they were “incest babies,” and were called fake Christians because Jesus was black, some boys responded that it didn’t matter what color skin Jesus had. What’s also clear is that the boys’ chants and cheers only started as a means to drown out the hateful rhetoric that was being hurled at them. While chanting at the Lincoln Memorial might not be appropriate under normal circumstances, this was not a normal circumstance.

One could argue that the best course of action at that point would have been for the boys to ignore the hate and walk away. In hindsight, that’s an easy argument to make. I’ve been a Rabbi in an all-boys orthodox Jewish high school for the past fourteen years. If I were chaperoning a group under those circumstances, I would have likely tried to get the boys to ignore the insanity going on around them. But that’s not as easy to do as it sounds. It’s very hard to control all the actions of a group of boys that are gathering at a set meeting point.

Whenever I’m part of a school-wide trip, one of my biggest concerns is that we might cause what’s called in Hebrew a “Chillul Hashem,” a desecration of G-d. If we, as a large group of Jewish people, do something inappropriate, then it might reflect negatively on Jewish people and religion in general. My students often object that they should be allowed to act like any normal group of teenagers would. I respond by telling them that we are judged by a different standard. Groups of religious people aren’t looked at as individuals; they’re looked at as a representation of the values of their religion. I’ll now have this episode of the Covington boys in front of the Lincoln Memorial as an example of this reality.

The boys in front of the Lincoln Memorial were viewed as a representation of Catholics and Catholic education. They weren’t viewed as individuals. Unfortunately, if the only video released from that day had been the one that most people originally saw, then I believe the students’ explanation of events would mostly have fallen on deaf ears. Unfortunately, the truth would have been drowned out by the optics of that fallacious video clip. If the “Black Hebrew Israelites” had not posted their video on YouTube, the boys would have faced an uphill battle explaining that they were not the aggressors. Would that have been fair? No! But that would have been the reality.

Religious people, fair or not, have to accept the fact that we are held to a different standard. We can’t expect that there will be exculpatory video evidence proving our side of the story. And, unfortunately, we certainly can’t expect to be given the benefit of the doubt. Is that the way it should be? No! But we’ll take the hit. We’ll wear it as a badge of honor that our actions reflect something beyond our individual selves.