RABBI MICHAEL BARCLAY: Americans of faith must speak out against the digital 'yellow stars' parishioners at Santa Clara County Calvary Church are forced to wear

Religious faith is by definition a private issue. We may choose to make it part of our public lives, but it is ultimately a private relationship that each of us have with God. Whether that relationship is through the Jewish practice of mitzvot (observing God’s commandments), the Catholic and Christian practice of fully accepting Jesus in our hearts, or even the semi-secular practice of the 12 steps of addiction recovery—each of us develop our own personal relationship with God. And like a loving parent, God loves each of His children as individuals.

Which is why every person of faith should be scared of what is happening to a Calvary Church in California, and carefully watching the lawsuit that has been brought against Santa Clara County.

The county and church have a challenging history. The church did not close during the pandemic, and is still fighting against the $1.2 million in fines that the county assessed them for staying open. Composed mainly of politically conservative members, this spiritual community is filled with people who oppose the dangers of big government as modeled by the State of California. But while that fight continues, the lawsuit, represented by Advocates for Faith and Feedom, contends that the county has been violating the 4th Amendment of parishioners through the use of tracking when congregants come to church.

Using a method known as geofencing, based on apps like Google that are on congregants’ phones, the county has been able to identify who is going to church and when. Even though no one gave permission for these apps to be used this way, the county has conspired with tech companies to track every parishioner in real time

As a Jew with a knowledge of history, this is terrifying.

It was only in the last century that Jews experienced the same type of “tracking” and “marking” in Nazi Germany with the brand of the “Yellow Star.” Jews were forced to wear yellow stars embroidered on their clothing so they could easily be identified by the regime. This practice actually started in the 8th century caliphates, and reached it’s zenith with the Nazis; who used it not only as a way of keeping track of their “enemies”, but to make it easier when the time came to round the Jews up to send to the death camps.

Instead of embroidery, the government is now using smart phones to identify, label, and follow potential “disruptors” and future “enemies”.

For all people of faith, this should send chills up our spines.

Let’s forget for a moment how this is clearly against the ethical principles and laws of our nation. It is a practice that is frightening on the deepest of levels as it attacks our choices of personal prayer.

Consider how this practice can affect each individual. What if there is a church or synagogue that you wish to experience; but you know that the government is targeting that pastor, rabbi, or priest. You know that by attending you will be marked as a disruptor by the government, and it may ultimately negatively affect multiple aspects of your life; so you become scared and avoid deepening your personal faith because of fear of being tracked and marked. Think of how this could destroy religious practices, and subjugate religion to the state. Consider how it hurt inter-faith events, as clergy only interact with “safe” clergy so as not to become marked.

As a Rabbi, I have made it a point for years to honor my Catholic and Christian brothers and sisters by attending Christmas Eve services. Am I now to check out which church I go to based on the personal politics of the clergy? Can I no longer go experience the wisdom of Bishop Strickland or my dear friend Pastor Rob McCoy out of concern for being branded by the government? Should people be scared of being tagged and no longer come to our synagogue because I have been branded for the different outlets I write in, and our temple has been marked as being the only temple in the state of California that never closed our doors during the pandemic?

Fear is a powerful motivator, and the government is clearly trying to use it to keep congregants away from their houses of worship. But the remedy for fear is faith. It is an unquestioned truth that faith and fear cannot exist in the same place at the same time: the more of one, the less of the other.

This is exactly why authoritarian governments have always attacked religion. While a regime wants to increase control through fear, religions encourage a faith that subdues fear, and as a result, decreases the power of any fear based government on the individual. Personal faith will always triumph over fear based control.

This is why all people of faith must support this church in it’s fight. This is why we must refuse to allow anyone or any organization, government, or company to affect our personal spiritual beliefs or practices.

And it is why it is more important than ever that we continue to support our religious communities with our attendance…in spite of, and because of the attempts of big tech and governments to stop our religious practices.

A few years ago, musicians Jimmy Levy and Hi-Rez wrote the song “This is a War", in which they point out that mandated vaccines are not just a “war on the children”, but a “war on religion.” Any time that fear is encouraged or even mandated, our faith is being attacked. Each time anyone tries to “mark” us with a yellow star for being a person of faith, we must stand up for all people of all faiths.

May we all reject fear entirely in favor of embracing our faith, our religion, and our relationship with God.

Image: Title: Yellow star church