Press Releases

Interfaith Alliance Celebrates Confirmation of Rabbi David Saperstein

WASHINGTON – Following today’s vote to confirm Rabbi David Saperstein to the position of U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom by a bipartisan vote of the U.S. Senate, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance, released the following statement:

“It gives me great pleasure to extend my dear friend and colleague Rabbi David Saperstein a proud and heartfelt Mazal Tov. When David steps into this position he not only achieves a remarkable capstone to what has been a long and successful career, he brings to our nation’s foreign policy a wealth of knowledge and a fierce dedication to religious freedom and the rights of religious minorities. David’s work has always been guided by the Jewish commandment to repair the world – he has now been given an incredible platform to do just that.

“Those of us who have followed religious freedom issues at home and abroad over the years know how dire the situation is today for many religious communities around the world. Rights of conscience continue to be restricted, religious minorities continue to be persecuted, and religion continues to be held up as smokescreen for too many grave human rights abuses. David’s leadership has never been more needed, may he go from strength to strength.”  

Rev. Gaddy Submits Testimony on Hate Crimes for Hearing on the State of Civil Rights in the United States

WASHINGTON – Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance, submitted the following testimony for the Statement of Record for hearing on the “State of Civil and Human Rights in the United States” for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

Written Testimony of Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of Interfaith Alliance
Submitted to
The Senate Judiciary Committee,
Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights

For the Hearing Record on “The State of Civil and Human Rights in the United States”
December 9, 2014

On behalf of the Interfaith Alliance, a national organization committed to defending religious freedom whose membership comes from over 75 different religious traditions, I would like to thank Chairman Durbin and the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, for the opportunity to submit this statement for the record. On a personal note, as I prepare to step aside from the helm of Interfaith Alliance at the end of this month, I welcome this final chance to share my thoughts with this Subcommittee.

As I reflect on my 16 years as president of Interfaith Alliance, there is no issue I look back on with more pride in our accomplishments than our work to prevent hate crimes. I applaud the fierce dedication to this issue displayed by so many members of this committee, and I urge you to continue your many achievements to combat hate-motivated violence in the 114th Congress.

I began my tenure at Interfaith Alliance just months before Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder in Laramie, Wyoming. Witnessing that tragedy, and watching the rhetoric from the Religious Right that followed, it became clear to us at Interfaith Alliance that violence had been done to more than just Matthew alone. A crime had been committed against every lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person in America; a crime had been committed against anyone who was perceived as different – racial minorities, religious minorities, women, people with disabilities and many others. Something had occurred that threatened our Constitution’s promise of equality and freedom.

It was also clear that more people than just those who perpetrated the violence were implicated in this brutal attack. There is a culture of hate that is kept alive in American society by specific groups, certain voices in the media and sadly, even community leaders. While we are not all members or targets of these movements, we are all a part of a nation filled with the fear and insecurity they create.

This realization led a truly inspiring collection of organizations to come together and take up the fight to pass powerful hate crimes prevention legislation. Interfaith Alliance worked with religious groups from every different faith, with LGBT groups and racial justice groups, and people representing every identity imaginable joined forces to help pass legislation that would strengthen training and education around hate crimes, help the government collect statistics on hate crimes and hate groups, and increase penalties for violence that targeted an entire community. We were proud to be part of the early stages of advocating for legislation that ultimately became the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, championed by so many of you and ultimately passed by this committee and Congress in 2009.

For my organization and for me personally, this legislation stood not only as a way to honor and make meaningful the deaths of people like Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr., but as a testament to the enduring strength of religious freedom in America. When this legislation was initially proposed, the Religious Right tried to scare Americans into thinking that the federal government would lock up preachers who taught their beliefs about human sexuality, violate the freedom of churches, and target conservative anti-gay religious communities.

Of course, hardly any of this happened. In implementing hate crimes legislation, our law enforcement agencies have proven remarkably adept at distinguishing between legally protected speech and religious practice and acts of hate and violence. Moreover, the implementation of this law has done significant work to protect the rights of religious communities across the country, for we cannot have freedom to worship without the freedom from fear of violence and hate. This fact has demonstrated what many of us have always known, that civil rights and religious freedom are never mutually exclusive and that we are all strengthened by increased protections against hate-motivated violence.

There is, however, considerable work left to be done to implement and strengthen the Hate Crimes Prevention Act – and this Subcommittee cannot afford to consider this legislation simply as a past accomplishment. We must all continue our work to ensure that this law protects as many people as possible, that its required reporting remains strong and that it continues to effectively connect law enforcement with communities in need.

Every civil rights initiative I have had the honor to work on has gone through the same evolution: as our knowledge of the issues confronting different segments of our society grows, we understand that our laws, guidance and training need to be updated. Law enforcement and advocacy communities saw this need to evolve in recent years when it became apparent that many people who were mistakenly identified as Muslim were the victims of hate violence in our nation’s recent wave of anti-Muslim bigotry. The initial parameters of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act’s data collection had no way of capturing the full picture of this violence, but advocates, law enforcement, and political leaders worked together to update our policies to include collecting data about violence against Arab-Americans, South Asians and Sikhs. The members of this Subcommittee must remain vigilant in understanding the changing needs of communities who live in fear of hate-motivated violence and work to ensure that everyone is protected by this important legislation.

However, none of the rules for data collection are significant if police departments around the country continue to dramatically underreport hate crimes in their jurisdictions or fail to report them at all. Too many cities and jurisdictions claim that no hate crimes occur on their watch, or that the crimes that do occur are not worth reporting to the federal government – the stories we hear from people across the country show that this simply is not true. This Subcommittee and the Department of Justice must explore creative ways to work with police departments and encourage them to accurately report the hate crimes that occur in their communities. This law cannot be fully effective until every community fully participates in its enforcement.

Improving this data collection is just one of the ways that this Subcommittee and the federal government must engage with local police departments to ensure that officers and departments are properly equipped to enforce this law. The training and education that the DOJ has already undertaken have been laudable, but they must be continued – and continuously updated.

The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, and the demonstrations that have followed in their wake, have illustrated the deep divide between law enforcement and racial and religious minorities across the country. Investment in the prevention and prosecution of hate crimes can be a powerful way for law enforcement to build bridges with the communities they serve. Doing this well could show that law enforcement will go out of its way to protect the safety of at-risk communities and that the government does indeed recognize that all lives matter. As this Subcommittee considers other mechanisms necessary to rectifying the divide between police and certain communities, I urge you to make strong hate crime protections a core part of this work.

I had the privilege to speak with Matthew Shepard’s parents when the Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed and to speak with them again this year on the fifth anniversary of its passage. I know that it means so much to them that their son’s legacy has led to increased rights and protections for so many people across America. As we transition to the next Congress, it is incumbent on this Subcommittee to ensure that Matthew’s legacy and the legacies of so many others continue to be honored through the urgent work to prevent hate-motivated violence.

Interfaith Alliance Welcomes Progress on Racial and Religious Profiling, Demands More Complete Policy

WASHINGTON – Today, the Obama Administration released its long-awaited reforms to policies regarding profiling by federal law enforcement. These reforms add religion, gender national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected categories that law enforcement cannot consider in its investigations. However, today’s announcement unfortunately maintained broad exemptions for law enforcement operating in immigration, airport and national security scenarios. Following the release of this policy, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance, made the following statement:

“Profiling of all kinds by law enforcement is, I believe, both ineffective and unconstitutional. Profiling on the basis of religion fundamentally misunderstands the complex nature of our religious identities and the diversity of our religious communities. To think that you know what someone thinks or how they might act because of where they go to church is simply absurd; to presume someone’s criminality because of how and with whom they pray is profoundly offensive. When law enforcement uses specific religious practices as criteria in their investigations, they chill the freedom of religious practice that is at the very core of American life.

“Today’s announcement by the Obama Administration that they have added religion and a number of other categories to those protected from law enforcement profiling is strong victory for our ideal of religious freedom in America. However, the practical implementation of this policy – maintaining broad exemptions for immigration enforcement, airport screenings and national security investigations – falls short. Religious freedom is only truly safe if it protected in every corner of the nation, in every facet of our lives. A person’s religious identity is no less complex when she is at the border. A person’s religious practices are no less personal and private when he crosses a TSA checkpoint. Our nation faces real security threats, but racial and religious profiling will not address them.

“While we welcome the progress toward religious freedom and equality reflected in today’s announcement, we urge the Administration to finish the task of eliminating law enforcement profiling once and for all.”

Interfaith Alliance Express Solidarity With Kansas City Muslim Community Following Suspected Hate Crime

WASHINGTON - Following the death of a Muslim teenager in an apparent hate crime in Kansas City, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance sent the following letter expressing his solidarity to several local Muslim leaders:

Naji Ahamand
President
Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City
8501 E 99th St
Kansas City, MO 64134

December 5, 2014

Dear Mr. Ahamand,

My heart, and the thoughts and prayers of every member of Interfaith Alliance, are with you, your community and the family of the young boy who was killed yesterday. It is too soon to know the exact details of this attack, but it is not too soon to recognize the pain that your community is experiencing today.  We have, sadly, seen too many situations over the years like the brutal attack that occurred in Kansas City yesterday and we know that this violence affects more than just a particular individual.  Violence of this nature targets an entire community and attempts to tell that community that they are less a part of the fabric of American life, less entitled to the freedom of religion and protection of civil rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution. I write to you today to promise that no matter how pronounced the voices and actions of those who seek to isolate and denigrate American Muslims, the interfaith community will stand stronger in defense of religious freedom and equal rights.

It is troubling to reflect that recently I have had to write similar statements to the leaders of communities not so far away from your own, including the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park and the Flood Christian Church near Ferguson. The purveyors of hate who seek to terrorize minority communities in America are not limited in the targets of their vitriol. Today the Muslim community is joined in their grief by the Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist and Hindu communities who still grieve for the members of their communities that have been lost to hate and injustice. This violence endangers all of those who openly and proudly celebrate their religion - none of our religious freedom is truly secure until it is secure for all of us.

The fact that this pain is neither new nor unique to the Muslim community should not distract from the fact that there has been a surge in violence against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim in recent years. It is incumbent on people of all faiths and those of no particular faith tradition to stand together in this moment and demand an end to this kind of violence and discrimination against American Muslims. I urge law enforcement to do everything possible to ensure that justice is done for this young man and this community, and I urge all those in Kansas City and Overland Park, across the region and across the country, to continue to show solidarity for the Muslim community of greater Kansas City.

Sincerely,

Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
President,
Interfaith Alliance

Interfaith Alliance Welcomes Feds' Step Toward Barring Discrimination By Federal Contractors

WASHINGTON – Following the Department of Labor’s move to prohibit discrimination by federal contractors and subcontractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity – implementing the Executive Order signed by President Obama in July – Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance, released the following statement:

“This action marks another goalpost in the ongoing effort to end discrimination against, and to achieve full legal equality for, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The result of a several year campaign on the part of various civil rights and religious organizations united in support of ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, today’s victory would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of countless activists nor, indeed, the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Perez.

“Though the members of Interfaith Alliance will not truly celebrate until we have ensured employment protections for all Americans, regardless of where they’re employed, for those of us dedicated to ensuring that federal money is never used to further a religious ideology, there is a special victory in barring discrimination by those receiving federal contracts. The Religious Right put an enormous amount of pressure on the administration to carve out a special exemption to all religious contractors to discriminate against the LGBT community, but the President and Secretary Perez stood strong in defense of the Constitution and equality for all Americans. I look forward to continuing to work with the administration, Congress, and the unyielding coalition we have built, to prohibit all forms of discrimination against the LGBT community, and to ensure that the federal government doesn't fund religious discrimination of any kind.”