Interfaith Alliance Sends Letter to Sen. Cruz, Others Asking Them to Defend the Rights of All Houses of Worship
Following the revelation that attorneys working for the city of Houston had subpoenaed the sermons of several local pastors, Interfaith Alliance joined a broad spectrum of voices criticizing this violation of religious freedom. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) was one of those vocally denouncing these subpoenas. Today, Rev. Welton Gaddy sent the following letter to Sen. Cruz urging him to extend his defense of the freedom of houses of worship to all religious communities, particularly the Muslim community who has frequently been the target of government overreach. Similar letters were sent to Senator Rand Paul, Governor Mike Huckabee, Houston area Congressman Steve Stockman, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, and Alliance Defending Freedom president Alan Sears.
The Honorable Ted Cruz
185 Dirksen Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510-4306
October 20, 2014
Dear Senator Cruz,
I have heard from many people over the last week noting the unlikely coalition that has come together to oppose the subpoenas issued to clergy in Houston and I would not be surprised if you had also heard a similar message. I am writing because I am curious if your commitment to this freedom of speech from the pulpit extends beyond clergy with whom you are ideologically aligned.
I know for myself the answer is yes, I adamantly disagree with the clergy that have been subpoenaed on the substance of their argument. I am a steadfast supporter of equal rights and protection for the LGBT community, and I support the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance at the heart of this debate. And yet I stand also with you in opposition to these subpoenas and the overreach they represent.
For years, law enforcement officials at the local, state and federal level have been monitoring sermons at mosques around the country. Your statements on the issue have been, at best, unconcerned with religious freedom of American Muslims and, at worst, suggestive that this trampling on the First Amendment is justified. We cannot assure real religious freedom in America unless we make clear that the government cannot intrude upon the autonomy of clergy and houses of worship – regardless of faith – without demonstrating overwhelming evidence.
Religious freedom is only meaningful if we protect the rights of all religious communities in America, not just Christians. I hope we can maintain the broad consensus we witnessed in the past days as other religious communities see their constitutional rights jeopardized when politicians, prosecutors, and law enforcement agencies overstep.
Will you join me, with all of the passion and power you demonstrated last week, in defense of the Muslim leaders and communities who are so often the victims of government overreach? Time and again we hear of mosques that have been spied on, imams who have been tracked by law enforcement, and Muslims and Sikhs who have been targeted simply because of their religious practice or appearance.
The devotion to religious freedom that you showed last week is laudable, but the truest test of that commitment is whether you are willing to stand up for the rights of those who do not share your personal beliefs.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
Interfaith Alliance Open Letter to the Mayor and City Attorney of Houston
October 15, 2014
Dear Mayor Parker and City Attorney Feldman,
On behalf of Interfaith Alliance, a national organization whose membership represents Americans from over 75 different religious traditions, as well as those who identify with no religious tradition, I write to express profound concern regarding the decision of Houston City Attorneys to subpoena the sermons of certain Houston clergy. Though we applaud your city’s non-discrimination ordinance and its intent to assure freedom and rights for all Americans, we abhor the idea of implementing this ordinance by infringing and violating the freedom of some Americans. To trample on one set of freedoms while seeking to expand another fails to capture the intent of the United States Constitution and violates the nature of our democracy. Although we are aware that this is an ongoing investigation and that media reports may not tell the whole story, what has come to light so far is profoundly disturbing and misrepresentative of those who have worked so hard to expand freedom for all.
I have been a consistently outspoken critic of efforts by law enforcement to monitor sermons at houses of worship, including, notably, the New York Police Department’s monitoring of mosques. Such religious freedom-compromising efforts have a dangerous, chilling effect on clergy and weaken religious freedom for everyone. At the same time, for well over a decade, I have argued that conservative challenges to anti-hate crime legislation – based on the fear that such laws would restrict ministers’ ability to preach freely – are unfounded.
Historically, the prophetic voice with which clergy and religious communities influence public policy, hold elected officials accountable, and shape the very contours of our democracy is one of the richest elements in our vibrant American religious tradition. Indeed, nothing has made me prouder over the last several years than the way that so many religious leaders have taken up the righteous cause of achieving equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. I personally have preached in churches across the country in support of legislation like Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance. I have supported clergy as they mobilized in support of marriage equality ballot initiatives. And I have helped religious communities raise their voice to protect LGBT couples’ right to adopt and foster children.
My understanding is that the sermons that reportedly were subpoenaed take a very different perspective than mine. However, I will work as hard to defend the freedom of speech from the pulpit for those with whom I disagree, as I will to defend the rights of the LGBT community. As long as a sermon is not inciting violence, the government has no business getting involved in the content of ministers’ sermons.
Religious communities, of course, do not have unfettered rights to participate in the political process. The IRS rightly restricts the ability of houses of worship to endorse candidates and political parties, to direct money to campaigns, and to spend above a certain percentage of their time on political activities. However, it should be clearly understood that the IRS does allow houses of worship to take positions on ballot initiatives and to advocate for those positions. These are common sense measures that strengthen the boundaries between religion and government and protect the independence of each.
In order to be effective, these laws must be enforced judiciously, equitably, and transparently. If religious communities fear that they can be targeted by state officials with whom they disagree, then religious freedom is in serious jeopardy. Subpoenaing the sermons of certain clergy because of their political, or even offensive, content sends a dangerous message to all clergy in Houston and across the country. If your office does not quickly seek to rectify or clarify this intrusion into a liberty protected by the First Amendment, then the ability of clergy to freely preach their religious beliefs and to minister to their congregations will be unnecessarily damaged.
While affirming your action to eliminate discrimination, I urge you to take swift action to ensure the freedom of all of Houston’s clergy – both those who support and those who oppose equality for members of the LGBT community – to use the voice guaranteed to them by the Constitution.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
President, Interfaith Alliance
Interfaith Alliance Welcomes Step Forward on Marriage Equality, Urges Quick and Decisive Action
WASHINGTON – Following today’s decision by the Supreme Court to decline to review the same-sex marriage cases from the 10th, 4th and 7th Circuit Courts, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance, released the following statement:
“My heart is filled with joy for the couples that will see their relationships legally affirmed following today’s decision. The Supreme Court thankfully brings the wait for equality to an end for couples in Wisconsin, Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana and Virginia. However, it leaves far too many others in limbo, denied equality before the law. That lack of resolution is unacceptable in our democracy that claims equal justice for everybody.”
“While the political and legal logic of today’s decision are evident, the moral logic remains confounding. How can we abide a decision that denies people living in some states the same fundamental human right to marry that is given to people in other states? If the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom mandates that no one religion’s definition of marriage can be given precedence by the state, how can that freedom be limited to only those Americans who happen to live in the right jurisdiction? Our nation’s leaders – whether through the courts or the legislature – must act swiftly to secure equality and freedom for all Americans. There is no moral justification for delay.”
Interfaith Alliance President Welcomes Louisiana Marriage Recognition Ruling
Washington, D.C. – Following today’s decision by a judge in Louisiana requiring the state to recognize a same-sex marriage, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance and Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster Church in Monroe, LA, released the following statement:
“My first reaction to hearing today’s ruling was to shout ‘Hallelujah.’ This judgment of the court is a sign of hope amid the maelstrom of despair and confusion that Louisiana’s LGBT community has lived through recently. It is also a promise that at least some in the state’s political and legal structure are motivated less by prejudice and politics than by the Constitution’s promise of equality and religious freedom. I sincerely hope that the rest of our state’s leadership learns from the courage of Angela Marie Costanza and Chasity Shanelle Brewer and Judge Rubin’s prudent ruling.”
“My most heartfelt congratulations go out to this family who has had their love and legal status affirmed by the court today. It is time for our Governor and Attorney General to stop spending taxpayer dollars trying to undermine families like this one. The two conflicting decisions from Louisiana judges in the last month serve as yet more proof that the Supreme Court must act swiftly to ensure the freedom to marry for all Louisianans and, indeed, for all Americans.”
Interfaith Alliance Applauds Change in Air Force Oath Policy
Washington – Following today’s announcement that the U.S. Air Force has revised its policy to allow service-members to omit the phrase “So help me God” from its required oath after an air man was denied re-enlistment several weeks ago, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance, released the following statement:
“I applaud the Air Force’s decision to revise its policy requiring service-members to say the words ‘so help me God’ in the oath they are obligating to take in order to serve. Not to do so would have been to continue a discriminatory practice in direct contradiction to the religious freedom of the men and women in the armed services. We regularly ask service members to make great sacrifices on behalf of our country; we dare not also ask them to sacrifice their own right to affirm their personal beliefs.
It should be of no consequence that the airman at the center of this policy change was secular. Compliant with the First Amendment to our Constitution, the free-exercise rights of secular service-members must be safeguarded just as surely as the rights of Christians and Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. Time and time again the secular community has proven to be among our staunchest allies in the struggle for religious freedom in America. People who enjoy freedom in their practice of faith must readily rise together to defend the rights of the growing number of Americans who claim no faith.
While I celebrate the Air Force’s decision today, I am disheartened that this policy existed in the first place and that it took so long to change. Clearly, all responsible citizens must remain steadfast working to ensure that all service-members are protected by the Constitution they have volunteered to defend."