Interfaith Alliance: Obama’s Faith-Based Plan an Improvement
Further Safeguards are Needed to Protect Constitutional Boundaries
Washington, DC – Today the Interfaith Alliance praised Senator Barack Obama for his plan to scrap the Bush Administration’s faith-based initiative, but urged the presumptive Democratic candidate for the presidency to include stronger constitutional safeguards in his new faith-based plan.
“I agree with Senator Obama that the Bush Administration’s faith-based initiative has been a colossal failure. I hope President Bush’s executive orders related to the faith-based initiative are repealed on the next president’s first day in office,” said Rev. Gaddy.
Unlike President Bush’s faith-based program, Senator Obama’s plan would require that religious charities obey Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in hiring charity staff. However, Senator Obama’s plan would still allow direct government funding of religious institutions, while the Interfaith Alliance would prefer religious institutions establish separate 501(c)(3) organizations to handle government grants. Our proposal keeps the government out of the business of investigating the internal affairs of houses of worship.
“To uphold the Constitution’s boundaries between religion and government, faith-based charities must obey much stronger safeguards. Senator Obama’s plan is a step in the right direction, though I would like him to go further,” said Rev. Gaddy.
In 2006 former White House Faith-Based Office staffer David Kuo wrote a tell-all book, which documented how the Bush Administration would funnel money to fly-by-night charities on the Religious Right, while more established, secular charities were left out. That policy, Kuo admits, was designed to win votes for President Bush and other Republican candidates.
“It is time to close the Pandora’s Box opened by the Clinton Administration and exploited by the Bush Administration. No future president should turn religious groups into political pawns in order to advance their own partisan ambitions,” said Rev. Gaddy.
Interfaith Alliance Condemns Cronyism in Faith-Based Initiative
According to the June 24 story, the Justice Department
awarded a $1.2 million grant jointly to an evangelical youth charity called Victory Outreach and a consulting
firm run by a former Faith-Based Office staffer. Several career DOJ employees objected to the
grant because one-third of the money will line the coffers of the consulting
firm and not be used to help children. The DOJ employees also noted that Victory Outreach had mismanaged a
prior grant made by the state of
incident of cronyism removes all doubts that the real mission of the
faith-based initiative is to aid the Religious Right,” said Rev. Dr. C.
Accusations of manipulation in the Faith-Based Office first surfaced in 2006 when former White House staffer David Kuo wrote a tell-all book. In it, he documented how federal funds were funneled to fly-by-night evangelical Christian charities without any congressional approval.
The Interfaith Alliance is also concerned about how Victory Outreach would have used its grant. On its website, Victory Outreach describes itself as a “church-oriented Christian ministry called to the task of evangelizing and disciplining the hurting people of the world, with the message of hope and plan of Jesus Christ.”
“The Constitution makes it clear that taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund sectarian proselytizing,” said Rev. Gaddy. “Children who need social services should not be forced to submit to a religious agenda as a condition of receiving help.”
Interfaith Alliance to Candidates: Respect All Americans Equally
Rev. Dr. Gaddy’s Letter follows:
24 June 2008
TO: Presidential Campaigns of Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama
FROM: The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
President, Interfaith Alliance
Religion has carried a high profile in the 2008 campaign season so far, but not all faith groups are feeling welcomed into the political process. A recent New York Times article in which Muslim leaders complain of exclusion from the campaign process highlights the challenge: Selecting the leader of all Americans must involve the participation of all Americans. This year’s presidential candidates have an historic opportunity to make that happen.
There are 2.35 million Muslims in America, living in cities and suburbs and rural areas in every region of the country. The nation’s largest communities make their homes in big cities in New York and Michigan, but the country’s first mosque still stands in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (pop. 125,000). Though they fall across the spectrum demographically, America’s Muslims share one thing: marginalization because of a false association of their religion with violence and extremism.
John McCain and Barack Obama have the chance to help make 2008 the year that stops.
To the Obama campaign, we issue this challenge: The next time someone asks if you are Muslim, don’t just say no and recite your Christian bona fides. Ask them why it matters. We’ve seen already that some of your opponents will try to use your family religious history against you. Rise above that, and use the moment to teach someone why calling you a Muslim isn’t correct, but it certainly isn’t a slur.
To the McCain campaign, a slightly different but no less important challenge: Don’t ignore the Muslim community because you assume they’ll vote the other way. Every citizen should hear clear, strong messages from all political parties in order to make an educated decision in the voting booth.
Both campaigns bear responsibility for making sure that Muslim Americans are fully included in the political process. To be clear, we are not asking for politically orchestrated photo-ops in front of mosques (or any other houses of worship, for that matter). We want to see real engagement of the Muslim community on substantive issues affecting their lives.
If the electoral process is not truly open to all Muslims who are American citizens, religious freedom in this nation is in serious jeopardy for people of all religions and people of no religion. We call on Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain to lead the nation away from ugly stereotyping and toward a process of civic involvement for all America’s citizens that strengthens the nation’s commitment to freedom and justice for all.
President, Interfaith Alliance
5 Ways to Protect Marriage & Religious Freedom
The proposed Constitutional Amendment would have imposed one religious definition of marriage over other religious views. This would take the debate and power away from houses of worship to decide who they will or will not marry and put it squarely in the hands of the federal government.
“For those people who want to protect marriage, let me offer a few suggestions,” said the Rev. Welton Gaddy, President of The Interfaith Alliance. “Raise the public’s consciousness of the dignity and importance of women in our still deeply patriarchal society; increase the minimum wage and offer tax breaks to the working poor so that spouses can see each other for quality lengths of time, rather than briefly passing on their way to two jobs; encourage family planning; start a plan to deal with domestic violence; and work to cover mental health care in medical insurance policies so serious emotional difficulties can be prevented from tearing marriages apart.”
Gaddy stressed these are real world solutions for dealing with the real world problem of protecting marriage and thanked members of The Interfaith Alliance for lending the support and time to fight the amendment.
“Our grassroots activists helped stop this amendment,” said Gaddy. “More than 5,000 members of The Interfaith Alliance contacted their Senators by email, phone call, fax or letter telling them to stay out of the houses of worship for the sake of religion and the institution of marriage.”
The U.S. House is looking to introduce similar legislation as early as this summer and The Interfaith Alliance will continue its work to ensure religious liberty for all Americans.
Interfaith Alliance to Political Parties: Respect the Sanctity of Religion
Washington, September 19 - The Interfaith Alliance released the text of a memo sent jointly to the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee, calling on all political parties and candidates for public office to respect the sanctity of religion in America. This letter comes in response to two recent incidents where candidates have used religion for partisan, political purposes. Representative and U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr., (D-TN) recently aired a campaign commercial filmed inside a church, and Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline (R) has written a memo in which he targeted pastors to help his campaign's fundraising efforts.
TO: Ken Mehlman, Chairman, The Republican National Committee
Howard Dean, Chairman, The Democratic National Committee
CC: RNC/ DNC Campaign Committees
DATE: September 19, 2006
RE: Partisan Politics and Preserving the Sanctity of Religion and the
Autonomy of Houses of Worship
The recent rush of candidates/political parties- and their often aggressive tactics - to reach out to "people of faith" lures religious organizations and religious leaders into dangerous legal territory.
I write you today out of concern for religion and what the manipulation of religion for partisan gain is doing to Americans of all faith traditions. A partnership between religion and government should preserve the autonomy of houses of worship and ensure that religious institutions are not held hostage to the priorities and interests of federal, state, or local governments. Religion's powerful healing force will be severely compromised if America's shared values are replaced by values that advance only one particular sectarian interest.
Houses of worship are permitted by the IRS, and encouraged by The Interfaith Alliance to provide nonpartisan information to worshippers on a broad range of issues and to encourage civic participation and hold non-partisan voter registrations. The Interfaith Alliance and its 185,000 members from over 75 faith traditions believe it is important that religious leaders encourage their worshipers to cast informed votes this November. Yet when candidates and their supporters use the language of faith to advance partisan interests, or when they seek to emphasize their beliefs as the only truth, Americans and our houses of worship become deeply divided.
For the sake of religion's prophetic voice, The Interfaith Alliance urges you to carefully consider and advise your respective state parties and/or political candidates to:
Refrain from speaking from the pulpit, bema or lectern;
Refrain from using sanctuaries or houses of worship as backdrops for campaign ads;
Refrain from collecting and/or using congregational membership directories;
Refrain from organizing congregants inside a house of worship or distributing partisan material on behalf of a candidate.
The Interfaith Alliance does not mean to suggest that religious leaders should refrain from discussing the important issues of the day with their congregations.
We firmly believe religious leaders can and should encourage an open dialogue about issues important to the country, the communities, and the congregations. Many historians contend that no other form of discourse has held the place of importance in this nation's life as that of preaching. Those of us who deliver meditations, homilies, and sermons have a responsibility to seize teachable moments in our national life -moments like those involved in a national election -as opportunities for talking with people about the basic values that emerge from our sacred scriptures and oral traditions and how those values impact and shape our civic involvement.
If we omit politics from the subjects to which we turn in those moments, people will assume either that politics is not important enough to be included in discussions of matters of faith or, worse still, that religion has nothing to say about politics. Truly great preaching -or any form of religious discourse -can no more ignore the great issues of the day than it can ignore the great texts and truths of the scriptures of the tradition within which it is done. Congregations look to their religious leaders for guidance - spiritual, moral, and otherwise - not manipulation on behalf of political organizations with a partisan agenda.
Our nation can benefit from a recovery of a real, vital, and viable partnership between religion, politics, and government in which each treats the other realms with appreciation and respect without seeking to confuse them or join forces with them.
The core values of the nation's religions ultimately will lend strong support for the core values of our democracy. And our democracy will continue with vitality by allowing religion to remain independent as a contributor to the public's conscience, a facilitator of healing, an advocate for the weakest and poorest among us, and as a community of prophets, priests, and care-givers.
I also point you to our election year guides for political candidates located online at InterfaithAlliance.org/Elections. This resource helps political candidates to draw the distinctions between: Reaching out to religion for personal strength; Respecting all religions publicly; Misusing religion for partisan political purposes; and Misusing religion as a strategy for winning. These guides have been mailed to your respective organizations but we are happy to send you additional copies.
I also make myself or any member of The Interfaith Alliance available to you for further discussion on these important matters.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
President, The Interfaith Alliance
Pastor for Preaching and Worship, Northminster (Baptist) Church (Monroe, LA)