Press Releases

Interfaith Alliance Letter to President Obama on the Role of Faith in His Administration

February 4, 2010
 
The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
 
Dear Mr. President,
 
You already have received an in-depth letter from the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination (CARD), of which I am a member, addressing concerns with your Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  I am writing to you directly to highlight some additional concerns I have regarding the role of faith in your administration.
 
I appreciate your administration’s willingness to engage in a discussion about the makeup and role of the faith-based office and your stated commitment to the constitutional boundary between church and state.  I was honored to be asked to serve on the taskforce charged with reforming the office and gratified by the significant amount of work we did preparing to formalize our recommendations.  However, I am dismayed that this process has resulted in the Bush Administration’s policies being left in place a year into your administration. 
 
You will soon be receiving recommendations from your Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  Much of what they will recommend should be implemented as soon as possible. However, as you may already know, there will be two or three recommendations on which members of the taskforce could not reach a consensus and on which, frankly, the majority opinion flies in the face of the appropriate boundaries between the institutions of religion and the institutions of government. Though full weight and consideration should be given to recommendations from your Advisory Council, decisions on recommendations passed along without consensus need to be your own.
 
On the issue of separate incorporation, I cannot stand behind the recommendation the council appears ready to make – that it is not necessary for a house of worship or other religious organization to separately incorporate to receive government funds. When I shared this point of view with your transition team and stated my support for the requirement of a separate 501(c)3 entity, I was told by Josh Dubois that the opinion I expressed coincided with your point of view. Failure to require a separate entity to receive government funds would dangerously blur the already shaky line between religion and government and invite lawsuits filed against pervasively sectarian organizations using government money to do their sectarian work. To allow government money to flow straight into houses of worship violates the Constitution. It is neither good for religion, nor for government.
 
President Obama, I hope that your commitment to preventing religious discrimination in government-funded hiring has not wavered. I have been encouraged by your candor on this topic and I have voiced support for your decision to take this issue out of the purview of your Advisory Council.  I am disappointed, though, that your administration has taken no apparent steps to correct this problem. As my colleagues and I have asked on a number of occasions, most recently last September, it is crucial that the Department of Justice and Office of Legal Council be directed to review and withdraw the 2007 Memorandum on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that made such practices possible. I also remain deeply troubled by the case-by-case approach to review violations, particularly when no concrete guidelines seems to exist.
 
Finally, I worry about the transparency of the process involving the Advisory Council. Even in my capacity as a taskforce member, the deliberations of the Advisory Council as a whole have been foggy, beyond the few public meetings and the process by which the recommendations will undergo your Administration’s review. A lack of understanding is even greater among the general public. 
 
Again, I am thankful for your consideration of these issues and your recognition of the need for greater adherence to the constitutional principles that have allowed both religion and democracy to flourish in our nation. I hope you will seriously consider my concerns and those of my colleagues in the CARD coalition as you move forward with your decision.  I would be pleased to discuss these matters with you or any member of your staff.
 
Sincerely,
 

Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
President
Interfaith Alliance


cc: The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General of the United States;

Joshua DuBois, White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Interfaith Alliance Criticizes Supreme Court Decision on Campaign Finance

Washington, DC – Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy issued the following statement today following the supreme Court’s decision overturning large portions of the nations campaign finance laws. Interfaith Alliance became involved in campaign finance issues following the 2000 election based on the principles of equality, integrity and fairness which are fundamental to the vast majority of faith traditions.


Today’s campaign finance ruling by the United States Supreme Court should be of great concern to anyone who values freedom of religion. Interfaith Alliance has been a long time supporter of campaign finance reform based on the idea that equality, integrity and fairness are fundamental to the vast majority of faith traditions. Today’s ruling dismisses those principles in favor of unregulated spending by corporations and special interest groups.

Given that the court based its ruling around a misguided understanding of free speech, I am also concerned that this ruling may foreshadow the direction of the court on a church/state issue like clergy endorsements from the pulpit.

I urge Congress to take corrective action as soon as possible

 

Letter to President Obama regarding the placement of bible verses on military gun sights

January 21, 2010

The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

I write to you out of deep concern regarding the recent revelation that a military contractor has been placing coded biblical references on gun sights used by soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.  While I was happy to hear that this incident will be scrutinized, I remain concerned that this episode is only the latest in a long line of violations of the boundaries between religion and government within the military.  I respectfully ask that you direct the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to conduct a thorough investigation aimed at creating guidelines that ensure that religion no longer plays an inappropriate role in our armed forces.

The Bible verse-inscribed telescopic gun sights clearly violate a government rule prohibiting proselytizing.  These weapons are being used by American soldiers not only to root out terrorists but also to train Afghan and Iraqi soldiers; images of American soldiers as Christian crusaders come to mind when they are carrying weaponry bearing such verses.  This incident simply adds to the perception that religion rather than national security is at the heart of our military’s presence abroad.  In recent years, we also have seen Department of Defense reports using biblical verses as cover pages and soldiers stationed in Afghanistan distributing Bibles.

The original response of U.S. Central Command did nothing to raise my confidence in this matter.  A spokesman likened this incident to the presence of “In God We Trust” on our currency.  The comparison between a New Testament inscription and the more universal phrase found on the dollar bill is deeply troubling.  The verses chosen by Trijicon for their telescoping sights are testaments to the saving power of belief in Jesus Christ, and are clearly sectarian in nature.

One of the greatest, and arguably most unifying, aspects of being an American is that we are not all members of the same religious tradition or, indeed, of any religious tradition at all.  The same holds true for the men and women serving in our armed forces. Trijicon’s actions should be of concern to people of all faiths including Christians, but it is particularly appalling that soldiers who do not practice Christianity have been unknowingly wielding weaponry in service to their country that preaches the merits of a religion to which they do not adhere.  It is equally troubling that these men and women will continue to have their beliefs ignored and belittled in this manner until this situation can be rectified.

As our Commander-in-Chief, I hope you will:

  • •Direct the Secretary of Defense to institute policies that ensure national security while continuing our historic, constitutional mission to protect freedom – not promote religion.
  • •Review and revise the military’s procurement process to ensure that contractors are told they may not imbed religious messages in military equipment.
  • •Ensure that the government will halt purchases from Trijicon until assurances have been given that the equipment will be free of any sectarian statements.
  • •Direct the Secretary of Defense to ensure that telescopic sights manufactured by Trijicon with these engravings are rapidly phased out in favor of weaponry that does not promote religion in any way.


Unfortunately, this is just the latest in a long list of ways in which military leaders have promoted the perception that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are “us vs. them” conflicts on a religious level, and of the sad state of religious freedom in our military.  The investigation would benefit the nation best if it goes even deeper than this most recent incident. 

Sincerely,


Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy

cc: The Honorable Robert M. Gates, Secretary of Defense
Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Honorable Carl Levin, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair
The Honorable John McCain, Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member
The Honorable Buck McKeon, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member
The Honorable Ike Skelton, House Armed Services Committee Chair


 

Interfaith Alliance Statement on The Placement of Bible Verses on U.S. Military Weapons

Washington, DC – Interfaith Alliance President, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy issued the following statement today following a report from ABC News that U.S. military weapons have been inscribed with coded biblical messages by their manufacturer, Trijicon. The issue was brought to the attention of ABC News by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. According to the report, the inscriptions on the weapons were done without the knowledge or permission of the military.

Reports that coded biblical verses have been inscribed on gun sights used by the U.S. military by their manufacturer are extremely disturbing and should be investigated by military authorities and the practice stopped immediately. Religious undertones have all too often been a part of military rhetoric and actions in recent years. Following reports in the last year that biblical verses regularly were printed on a defense department documents and accounts of proselytizing by military personnel in Afghanistan, this latest incident adds to the perception that religion rather than national security is at the heart of our military’s presence abroad. 

Obviously, Trijicon, the defense contractor, knew they were doing something wrong and trying to get away with it or they would not have encoded messages that, when used appropriately, need no disguise.  The company should be ashamed of its actions, which do no favor either to the United States military or to Christianity; just the opposite.  Messages of life and peace should not be prostituted by placing their imprint on instruments designed for death and war.

As a Christian, I am offended by Trijicon’s dismissal of the criticism saying that the organization raising the issue is “not Christian.”  This is not a time for attacking critics, it is a time for Trijicon to clean up its behavior.  As a patriot of this nation, I am outraged at this corporation’s lack of appreciation for our first freedom—religious freedom—and its corollary of separation between institutions of religion and institutions of government.  As an advocate for inter-religious cooperation, I am saddened by this insensitive effort to minimize people who do not embrace Christianity.

I call on the Department of Defense to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation of this incident, and take appropriate action if any laws were broken. Once again I repeat my call from last year for Commander-in-Chief Obama to direct the Secretary of Defense to institute policies that amid efforts to assure national security he also ensures protection for our nation’s Constitution and its promise of  protecting freedom and not promoting religion.

For more information on Interfaith Alliance’s call last year for the Secretary of Defense to institute new polices visit: http://www.interfaithalliance.org/news/293-interfaith-alliance-statement-on-bible-verses-in-bush-era-intelligence-reports