Nov 26 2014
WASHINGTON – Following a suspected arson attack at the Flood Christian Church in St. Louis, whose leadership had spoken out vocally about the death of Michael Brown and where Michael Brown Sr. had recently been baptized, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance, released the following statement:
“As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, we remember that the freedom to worship without fear of persecution or the threat of violence was the very reason so many of our ancestors came to this land. That guarantee, enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution, can only be safeguarded if every house of worship in our nation is free from the threat of attack. Violence targeting religious communities for what they believe or preach, like the suspected arson at the Flood Christian Church, does more than terrorize one community; it jeopardizes the very core of the American promise and, indeed, threatens us all. While the relationship between law enforcement and the community in the St. Louis area remains dangerously divided, I hope that this tragic event will be investigated swiftly and thoroughly. My prayers are with the family and friends of Michael Brown as they continue to mourn, and with the community in Ferguson that continues to seek a peaceful and just way forward.
“The specifics of this attack are particularly chilling because they recall some of the darkest moments in American history. Throughout the twentieth century black churches were burned and brutalized as a means of silencing the prophetic voice of African American religious communities who demanded civil rights and equality. In the twenty-first century all Americans must stand with those religious communities who are victimized for their beliefs and declare that we will not be silenced. We dare not be divided or allow others to divide us into black churches or white churches, synagogues or mosques in this matter. Religious freedom is only safe if it protects us all.
“Our nation’s observance of Thanksgiving Day provides us with a great opportunity to reaffirm the necessity of religious freedom and for all Americans to recommit themselves to the application and protection of that freedom every day for every person.”
Nov 07 2014
WASHINGTON – Following yesterday’s decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding bans on marriage equality in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky – contradicting every other Circuit Court decision since the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 – Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance, issued the following statement:
“The decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding bans on marriage equality is a tragic development for those couples and families in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky, who have waited so long and worked so hard for full legal recognition. Beyond that, it is a blow to those of us who have fought to see marriage equality spread and hope to see equality nationwide soon.
“Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote in the majority opinion that allowing the court, rather than the voters, to deliver marriage equality denied the opportunity for ‘people, gay and straight alike, [to] become the heroes of their own stories…’ Apparently, Judge Sutton does not know the heroes that I do. Without the heroic actions of thousands of LGBT couples across America, cases like this one would never have been brought. Without the leadership of countless civil rights activists and faith leaders we would not have seen the growing popular support for LGBT equality we see today. And, yes, without the courageous acts of those attorneys and judges who were unwilling to accept the previous status quo we would not have achieved the legal consensus that this decision defied. As Judge Sutton says, these stories need to be told – but they also need the legal affirmation from all of our nation’s courts that they so righteously deserve.
“It is my sincere hope that this misguided decision spurs quick action from the Supreme Court to bring marriage equality and religious freedom to all Americans. Until then, our thoughts and prayers are with those heroes who have been asked to remain unrecognized and unequal before that ultimate justice is rendered.”
Interfaith Alliance Sends Letter to Sen. Cruz, Others Asking Them to Defend the Rights of All Houses of Worship
Oct 20 2014
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
Oct 15 2014
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