Interfaith Alliance Concerned by David Barton’s Invitation to Military Prayer Breakfast
May 1, 2013
The Honorable Chuck Hagel
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Hagel:
I write with great concern over the invitation of David Barton to speak at Fort Leonard Wood’s National Day of Prayer breakfast and to ask that he be disinvited from this event. I know that our colleagues at Military Religious Freedom Foundation and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have raised their concerns as well and we agree that Barton’s invitation should be rescinded. When government actors like military chaplains organize prayer events, it is imperative that they—and their guest speakers—be inclusive and non-sectarian. David Barton does not meet these criteria.
Inviting David Barton is a step backward in the process of creating a greater climate of religious respect in our military. He is a lightning rod, a leader of the movement of a vocal minority of Americans who have made it their life’s work to promulgate the (false) notion that ours is a “Christian nation.” Barton’s divisive message—that some American religious groups are entitled to more religious freedom than others—is the antithesis of what should be the message of such interfaith gatherings. His work and writings are prime examples of part of the stated theme of this year’s breakfast “why history matters,” but sadly, they are prime examples of why so much work must be done to dispel such faulty historical analysis.
For me, the issues at the center of this controversy are not so much what is legal, but what is wise. Generally speaking, government-sponsored prayer breakfasts (much like the National Day of Prayer itself) are rife for entanglement between the institutions of religion and government and of great concern to Interfaith Alliance. While I fervently believe that calls to prayer are best left to religious leaders and should not be facilitated in any way by government entities, if events such as these take place, it is paramount that they be inclusive of all religions and no specific religion. Even exceptional efforts should be made to ensure both the substance and appearance of inclusion. I wish that the chosen guest speaker had been someone who unites, instead of divides.
I am also concerned that even when attendance at events such as these is neither mandatory, nor necessarily even encouraged, a subtle and implicit coercion to attend and the stigma that accompanies not attending, are often abundantly clear to the would-be naysayer, thereby creating a de facto sense of forced attendance. It is crucial to ensure that service members are able to practice their faith—if they so choose—while serving our country and that no service member is pressured either to practice a particular faith in general, or to do so in a manner inconsistent with his or her beliefs. Our armed forces should reflect and respect the rich diversity of religious belief in America—not lift up the unfortunate divisiveness that can exist between religious perspectives.
Again, I urge that David Barton be disinvited from speaking at the Fort Leonard Wood National Day of Prayer breakfast. Thank you for consideration.
C. Welton Gaddy
Cc: Brigadier General Mark S. Inch
Interfaith Alliance President Welton Gaddy on the Passing of Rev. Bob Edgar
WASHINGTON, DC – On behalf of its members, board of directors and staff, Interfaith Alliance president Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy released the following statement on the death of Rev. Bob Edgar, who was a strong ally in the organization's work to protect religious freedom.
It is with profound sadness and shock that I learned of the death of Rev. Bob Edgar, a dear friend of mine, an avid supporter of Interfaith Alliance, president of Common Cause, former General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and a former member of Congress.
Bob has been one of most consistent and loudest cheerleaders for the work of Interfaith Alliance. And, he has been a close personal friend with whom private conversations were always valuable. Less than a week ago in a meeting at the Aspen Institute I teased Bob about his puns and jokes, but I admired the fact that I never once heard him stop hoping or saw him without a smile on his face. Standing on the sidewalk around Dupont Circle last week, Bob and I talked for a long time about our work and concerns. We spoke seriously about the personal cost involved in our commitment to the kind of unrelenting activity required in trying to make our country a better, more secure, and more caring place to live. We both agreed the toll it took was worth it because of the passion we had for our work
Bob Edgar will be missed by many of us who now, far too soon, grieve his death and who always will be grateful for his life.
Please enjoy this compelling interview Welton had with Bob in Vietnam in 2011.
Interfaith Alliance President Welton Gaddy Calls for Restraint in Reporting on the Boston Marathon Bombings
WASHINGTON, DC –Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy released the following statement today expressing his grief and anger at the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings, while urging the media and the public to resist the urge to assign motives until more information is known.
The bombings at the Boston Marathon were a horrible tragedy and their perpetrators must be brought to justice. Our hearts go out to the people of Boston and we share the grief and anger they feel. Following the release of the suspects’ photos yesterday, we awoke this morning to news that one suspect was killed and authorities were closing in on the other. At the same time it became clear that others may be involved.
Information on the background of the suspects has been scarce, and what we have been told about them has changed significantly as new evidence emerges. Authorities have been careful not to assign motives to these suspects and I would urge the news media and the public at large to follow that example. Justice for the victims of the bombings will not be served by stereotyping, rampant speculation, and hatred; rather it will be achieved by prosecuting those responsible under the rule of law.
Unfortunately, in the last few days too many members of the media have engaged in conjecture based on stereotypes and grainy photos. They have assumed motive based on skin color and ethnic origin. This shoddy reporting has resulted in innocent bystanders being implicated in crimes they had nothing to do with, where they were in fact as much victims as anyone else. Sadly, we have also already heard reports of innocent individuals who are or “look” Muslim being accosted and attacked in the streets.
Regardless of the religious background or the ethnic origin of the suspects, it says no more about the broader communities from which they come than Timothy McVeigh’s actions said about Christians when he bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on this very day 18 years ago.
The actions of the sick individuals behind this terrorist attack have already devastated the lives of far too many people. We cannot allow them to cause further damage by letting their actions inspire hatred and violence against Muslims, other religious minorities, and people presumed to belong to these maligned minority groups. That kind of collective punishment goes against everything we stand for as Americans.
Interfaith Alliance Joins Legal Brief Opposing Louisiana’s School Voucher Program
Washington — Seeking to invalidate a Louisiana school voucher program recently signed in to law by Governor Bobby Jindal, Interfaith Alliance has joined an amicus brief that challenges to the program on the grounds of religious freedom. The brief, submitted on behalf of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the ACLU, the ACLU of Louisiana and the Interfaith Alliance, argues that the scheme will impermissibly redirect taxpayer dollars intended for public schools, to private schools who will use those funds to provide a religion-based education.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, who has been an outspoken critic of the voucher scheme both as president of Interfaith Alliance and in his capacity of Pastor for Preaching and Worship of Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, La. Rev. Gaddy issued the following statement:
"Louisiana’s school voucher program is bad for religious freedom and bad for public education. It allows tax dollars to be used to fund curricula infused with theology at every level and across subject matters. While not all private schools teach from a religion-based curriculum, nearly every private school available to Louisiana students is a religious school. As a pastor and resident of Louisiana myself, this issue is not merely philosophical—it is one in which I have a personal stake."
'Let me be clear: I am not bothered by a Christian school teaching its students the same tenets that children in my church learn every Sunday. What I find appalling is that these schools are teaching theology in science, history and math classes and, through school vouchers, are doing so with my taxes. I defend their right to teach future generations about their faith, and the right of any Louisiana citizen to choose a private religious school over a public one—but neither the parents nor the schools should receive financial support from our government to do so."
Interfaith Alliance Celebrates the Appointment of Melissa Rogers to Head the White House Faith-Based Office
Washington, D.C.—Today, the White House announced President Barack Obama’s appointment of Melissa Rogers as the new Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Interfaith Alliance President, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy issued the following statement praising the appointment of Rogers:
"I know of no better person President Obama could have appointed as the new Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships than my valued friend and longtime colleague Melissa Rogers. For more than 25 years, Melissa has been a trusted coworker in the fight to protect religious liberty. Melissa’s rich experience in the dialogue between law and faith, as well as between religion and government, will serve our nation well."
"During President Obama’s first term, great efforts were made to bring the faith-based initiative more in line with the Constitution and to better protect social service beneficiaries. As a member of the task force on the President’s Advisory Council charged with bringing the faith-based office more in line with the Constitution, I saw the benefits of Melissa Rogers’ wisdom, skill, and leadership among diverse traditions and differing points of view. Though I have been opposed to a faith-based office in the White House since the entity was first established, with Melissa as the leader of that office, I have more confidence than I ever have felt before that the office will pay close attention to the religious liberty clauses in the Constitution. Much work is yet to be done on the proper relationship between federal money and sectarian organizations, including resolving whether these organizations can continue to accept taxpayer dollars while discriminating in hiring based on religion—which I do not believe they should be allowed to do. I know of no individual better suited to oversee this important endeavor, with sensitivity to the competing views and priorities at play, and with great integrity, than Melissa Rogers."