Interfaith Alliance Raises Concerns About Potential First Amendment Violation in Reported Ferguson Church Raid
WASHINGTON – Following reports yesterday afternoon that police officers raided the Greater St. Mark Family Church under the pretense that they had been providing support and shelter to protestors in St. Louis County, Missouri, Interfaith Alliance president, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy sent the following letter to the St. Louis County Police Chief:
Chief John Belmar
St. Louis County Police Department
7900 Forsyth Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63105
August 21, 2014
Dear Chief Belmar,
On behalf of Interfaith Alliance, an organization committed to the separation of church and state representing Americans from over 75 faith traditions, I would like to register my concern regarding recent reports about St. Louis County Police treatment of houses of worship and religious communities. I find profoundly disturbing and constitutionally unsettling the reports coming out of St. Louis County, Missouri, that police officers have ‘raided’ a local church that opened its doors to aid protestors and provide a place of refuge for fatigued supporters of justice. Religious institutions hold a special status in our nation protected by the First Amendment. No religious body is above the law, but, without question, any government agency that enters a house of worship unwelcomed must be able to demonstrate a greater than usual reason for intrusion.
In looking carefully at what happened in Ferguson, what is ethical must be considered every bit as important as what is legal. The police action in question here was allegedly justified as dealing with a zoning violation or some other minor infraction by the church – a rationale for intrusion into a house of worship that is simply absurd. There is reasonable suspicion that the true intention of the law officers’ intrusion was to intimidate a religious community, which is deeply troubling regardless of the community’s participation in these protests. The greatest American religious leaders– from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – have taught us that social protest is a profound form of religious practice. To harass religious communities that engage in such protest violates the fundamental promise of religious freedom.
Interfaith Alliance remains concerned by the situation in Ferguson. The tragedy of Michael Brown’s death, the ensuing protests and the police’s startling response reaffirms the necessity of our recommitment to building communities that treat each other with civility, and working to ensure that our government respects the inherent dignity of every human being. The police action about which I write did exactly the opposite; it demonstrated an eagerness to silence the outcry of people of faith regarding injustice that perhaps some see as an embarrassment. So many people of different faith traditions and no faith tradition in Ferguson have proven the great power of communal action and responsibility. However, the police must do more to demonstrate the legitimacy of their legal rationale before engaging in behavior like raiding a church. Otherwise, officers of the law risk losing the public’s confidence and trust as public servants who safeguard the First Amendment and assure the civil rights of all those in Ferguson. I urge you to examine the incident in question and to ensure that your police department’s practices respect the rights of religious communities and the constitutional rights of all protestors.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
Interfaith Alliance Releases Election Year Guides as Religion Continues to Play a Disproportionate Role in Political Campaigns
Guides offer practical advice for houses of worship, candidates and voters seeking to navigate the legal and ethical boundaries between religion and politics
WASHINGTON – During a campaign season in which houses of worship are facing increased scrutiny from the IRS over political entanglements, Interfaith Alliance has released a set of election year guides for houses of worship and candidates. The guide for congregations offers legal and ethical counsel on how religious leaders, houses of worship and religious institutions may appropriately participate in the electoral process without violating the law or compromising their moral standing. The guide for candidates describes proper and improper ways to speak about one’s own religious background and to speak to religious voters in a campaign. Interfaith Alliance also created a pamphlet with five questions on faith and politics that voters can ask candidates for public office.
“Each election cycle seems to see an ever increasing amount of religion forced into the political process by candidates anxious to wrap themselves in the mantle of faith,” said the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy. “Unfortunately the cynical use of religion as a political tactic is made easier by houses of worship that are all too ready to gain favor with the political elite at the expense of their own moral standing. Interfaith Alliance has long been committed to providing resources to houses of worship and candidates in an effort to educate them on the appropriate legal and ethical boundaries.”
Interfaith Alliance’s guides, “A Campaign Season Guide for Houses of Worship” and “Running for Office in a Multi-Faith Nation,” serve as valuable resources that will help religious leaders, candidates and voters navigate the complex relationship between politics and religion. The guides offer practical advice for candidates speaking in houses of worship and talking about faith on the campaign trail, as well as explanations of encouraged and prohibited election season activities for congregations.
“During a hard-fought campaign, it is important that political candidates not use religion to divide Americans or to marginalize an opponent whose faith may differ from their own,” said Rev. Gaddy. “Faith leaders should encourage civic participation without crossing the line by making inappropriate partisan endorsements. These guides will help religious communities and political candidates engage in our great exercise of democracy with strengthened respect for religious diversity and religious freedom.”
The guides are available online at www.interfaithalliance.org/elections and from Interfaith Alliance’s state-based affiliates.
As part of its effort, Interfaith Alliance has also developed a resource for voters seeking to better understand the perspectives of candidates. Its “Five Questions for Candidates on the Role of Religion in American Public Life” provides voters with questions to ask candidates who are running for office this fall. The recommended questions are:
- What role will your faith or values play in creating public policy or making appointments?
- What are your views on the boundaries between religion and government?
- What steps will you take to protect the rights of your constituents regardless of their faith or beliefs?
- How will you speak about your beliefs without making them just another political tool?
- How will you balance the principles of your faith and your obligation to defend the Constitution, particularly if the two come into conflict?
Interfaith Alliance praises nomination of Rabbi David Saperstein as the next U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom
Washington, DC – Interfaith Alliance president, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, released the following statement today following Rabbi David Saperstein’s nomination as U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom by President Barack Obama. Saperstein is a longtime member of Interfaith Alliance Foundation’s board of directors.
"President Obama’s appointment of Rabbi David Saperstein as U.S. Ambassador for International religious freedom is the best possible decision that he could have made for this office. David has been a friend and ally in our efforts to protect religious freedom here in the United States and around the world. Interfaith Alliance Foundation has been honored to have him as a longtime member of our board. Additionally, we have been proud to partner with him throughout his four decades as the leader of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. During that time, David has served as a model in the social justice community for building relationships based on respect and understanding. These are skills that will serve him well in his new role."
"Now, more than ever, we need an ambassador who understands the challenges we face on a global scale. We need someone who is deeply committed to changing the lives of people whose freedom of conscience is severely restricted because of who they are or where they live. David Saperstein understands these challenges and will work to protect the rights of all people regardless of their faith or belief."
Interfaith Alliance Applauds President Obama’s Executive Order, Thanks The President for Not Creating a New Religious Exemption
WASHINGTON – Following President Barack Obama’s signing of an executive order barring discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance, issued this statement:
“The president’s decision to bar discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity demonstrates his compassion for those Americans who fear discrimination; his decision not to include a new religious exemption is a testament to his understanding of religious freedom. We cannot secure the separation of church and state if religious organizations are allowed to use federal money to pursue a sectarian agenda. This executive order is an important step toward ensuring that public money does not fund religiously motivated discrimination.”
“While I whole-heartedly applaud the president’s action today, I am disappointed that he did not go further to undo the provisions that President George W. Bush signed allowing for religious organizations to discriminate against people of other religions in their hiring. I was deeply moved by the way the faith community mobilized to support this executive order: 100 faith leaders demanded that there not be a religious exemption; countless religious and civil rights organizations joined together to urge a comprehensive executive order; and thousands of people of faith from across the country added their voice to the call. It is my sincere hope that we can keep up this energy, maintain this momentum, as we continue the unfinished work of ending government-funded religious discrimination and protecting the rights of all LGBT workers in America.”
Interfaith Alliance, Sikh Coalition File Brief Arguing NYPD Surveillance Jeopardizes Religious Freedom
WASHINGTON – Today Interfaith Alliance and Sikh Coalition filed an amicus brief in the case Hassan v. City of New York, which is before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The case concerns the New York Police Department’s program of targeted surveillance against Muslims, Muslim community centers and houses of worship in New Jersey. The Sikh Coalition and Interfaith Alliance assert that this program raises serious First Amendment concerns and jeopardizes America’s promise of religious freedom. Interfaith Alliance and Sikh Coalition were joined in filing the brief by more than 20 other organizations representing America’s wide spectrum of religious backgrounds.
“The targeting and surveillance of the American Muslim community should be deeply disturbing for all those who cherish religious liberty.” Said Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance. “Our religious exercise cannot truly be free if we are concerned that our choices are being carefully monitored. Our houses of worship cannot be places of learning and spiritual growth when there is a credible fear that they may be infiltrated by law enforcement. Our religious leaders cannot serve as the prophetic voices that have shaped America for generations when they are punished or intimidated because of their beliefs.”
“Imagine worshipping while wondering if law enforcement is peering over your shoulder,” said, Amardeep Singh, Program Director of the Sikh Coalition. “The surveillance of a whole community without regard for individual culpability is the definition of ‘collective punishment.’ If it can happen to the American Muslim community it can happen to any faith community. We hope the courts will agree that our values and freedoms as a nation are irretrievably compromised by the overbroad surveillance in this case.”
Interfaith Alliance, a national organization whose membership makes up over 75 different faith traditions, works to combat religious discrimination and to defend the religious freedom of all Americans. The Sikh Coalition is the nation’s largest Sikh civil rights organization.
The full brief can be found here: http://www.muslimadvocates.org/files/Hassan-_-Religious-Liberty-Brief.pdf