Press Releases

Interfaith Alliance Urges Textbook Publishers to Reject Texas Standards

Interfaith Alliance Urges Textbook Publishers to Reject Texas Standards

Organization Taking Action To Ensure Board Vote Doesn’t Impact All School Children

 

WASHINGTON, DC – In a move to counter recent changes in school textbooks approved by the Texas State Board of Education (Texas SBOE), Interfaith Alliance today sent a letter to top publishing companies urging them to reject the Texas standards and maintain the factual integrity of their textbooks that are utilized by the majority of school districts across the country.  Since Texas is such a major client of textbook publishers, Interfaith Alliance is concerned that the Texas SOBE-approved edits would be included in textbooks used by other states as well, as publishers look to maintain their cost efficiency. 

 

“We do not take lightly the changes approved by the Texas SBOE, and at this point we are working to ensure that other children across the country are not taught an inaccurate history of our country,” said Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance and author of the letter sent to the publishing companies.  “We understand that textbooks will not be uniform, but it simply is incorrect to state we are a Christian nation founded upon and governed by Christian beliefs.  Unfortunately, this is just one of multiple inaccuracies that will now be included in Texas textbooks.”

 

Gaddy is referring to the many amendments voted on at a Texas SBOE meeting March 11, 2010.  Along with the “Christian nation” language, a Christian conservative bloc of the Board also voted to incorporate the study of the right to bear arms (the Second Amendment) in the curriculum on First Amendment rights and free expression, and to remove Thomas Jefferson from the curriculum that covers the Enlightenment period.  Equally as important as these votes, the Texas SBOE also struck down an amendment that articulated “the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others.”  The Texas SBOE felt that the Founders did not intend for the nation to have separation of church and state.

 

 “The Texas SBOE members certainly are entitled to believe whatever they want about our country and its history,” Gaddy continued.  “The problem arises when their religious beliefs begin to essentially rewrite history for our children.  Separation of church and state was a core tenet of our nation’s founding.  Whether you like him or not, Thomas Jefferson was a leading thinker during the Enlightenment.  It’s almost unfathomable to think that Texas schoolchildren won’t learn these basic facts now. We urge the publishers to ensure that other children still will.”

 

In the letter sent to the publishing companies, Rev. Gaddy offers, “Should you need our support in resisting this pressure from the Texas SBOE to replace American history with conservative ideology, we would be honored to stand by you and support your commitment to the most accurate educational materials possible.”  The edits to the Texas textbooks will be finalized by a vote of the Texas School Board of Education in May.
 

Below is the letter that was sent to executives of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.  Identical letters were sent to executives of the McGraw-Hill and Pearson companies.


Download the full letter here

 

Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance has 185,000 members across the country from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition. For more information visit www.interfaithalliance.org.

###

 



 

Interfaith Alliance Mourns the Passing of Board Member Norma Cohen

 

 

Interfaith Alliance Mourns the Passing of
Board Member Norma Cohen
 
Washington, D.C. – Interfaith Alliance President, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, expressed his condolences on the passing of Norma Cohen on behalf of the staff and Board of Directors of the organization.  Norma was a longtime member of Interfaith Alliance’s board, and was honored this past November with the President’s Award at the Walter Cronkite Faith & Freedom Award Gala for her commitment to religious freedom.
 
We have lost a vigorous supporter and an activist for freedom and justice everywhere. I know of no one who has devoted more passion, incited more enthusiasm or expended more energy to advance the work of Interfaith Alliance than this dear woman. I remember the effervescent pleasure that covered her face last November when she received the President’s Award. And I will always be grateful for her wise counsel, meticulous attentiveness and sustained encouragement as a cherished friend.
 
Norma stood up against injustice, marched for peace, argued for what she believed was right and never waivered in her support of America’s first freedom: religious freedom.  Never has so much energy been packed into such a small package.  
 
If you knew Norma, you knew that she was a force of nature.  Interfaith Alliance is grateful and honored that she was a part of our family and that her family shared her with us.
 
We will miss her humor, her energy and her tenacity.  She inspired us.
 
Norma Curtis Cohen was a retired clinical social worker.  She was married to Harvey and is survived by three adult children and six grandchildren.  Norma was a longtime member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, and a founder of the Long Island Affiliate of Interfaith Alliance.

 

Coalition Against Religious Discrimination Letter to President Obama

Coalition Against Religious Discrimination
 

February 4, 2010
The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Mr. President:

On the one year anniversary of your Executive Order establishing the new White House Office of Faith- Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the undersigned religious, education, civil rights, labor, and health organizations write to urge that you take additional actions to prevent government-funded religious discrimination and protect social service beneficiaries from unwelcome proselytizing.

Your Administration inherited a Faith-Based Initiative created by the Bush Administration that was deeply flawed and a dramatic departure from the way government had, for decades, provided social welfare services for our nation s most needy citizens. When Congress refused to support proposals to eliminate existing constitutional and anti-discrimination safeguards, President Bush acted unilaterally advancing his initiative through a series of Executive Orders and the adoption of new grant making and contracting rules that apply to virtually every federal agency. These independent actions allowed religious organizations including, for the first time, houses of worship to participate directly in federal grant programs without the traditional legal safeguards that protect their autonomy and the civil rights and religious liberty rights of program beneficiaries and staff.

During your presidential campaign, you stated that your vision of government partnerships with religiously-affiliated institutions would be different. On July 1, 2008, in Zanesville, Ohio, you outlined fundamental operating principles for your faith-based initiative:

First, if you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them or against the people you hire on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs.

We understand that your February 5, 2009, Executive Order created an Advisory Council in order to make recommendations "for changes in policies, programs, and practices" of the Faith-Based Initiative. Nonetheless, we are disappointed that now, one year after your Executive Order, almost every aspect of the Bush Administration Faith-Based Initiative remains in place the White House and all the federal agencies are still operating under all the inadequate rules and insufficient safeguards imposed by the previous Administration.

We applaud the extraordinary efforts that many Council members have made to identify ways to strengthen the constitutional protections against unwelcome proselytizing of program beneficiaries, to promote grantee and contractor transparency and understanding of church-state separation parameters, and to implement safeguards against excessive government entanglement with religious institutions. We do, however, deeply regret that the Council was not permitted to make recommendations on the issue of religion-based employment decisions. Despite your straightforward, clear statement in Zanesville in 2008, we have seen no progress at all toward resolving this important issue that taints the faith-based initiative.

Mr. President, when you issued your Executive Order last year, you pledged that the activities of this White House Office would be carried out "in a way that upholds the Constitution by ensuring that both existing programs and new proposals are consistent with American laws and values." You underlined your support for the separation of church and state, asserting that it "protects our democracy" and "protects the plurality of America s religious and civic life."

We urge you to act now to restore the constitutionally-required safeguards and civil rights protections governing partnerships between government and religiously-affiliated institutions standard operating procedures that had been largely in place for decades prior to the creation of the Faith-Based Initiative.

We strongly recommend that the following steps be taken:

1) The Administration should prohibit religious organizations from discriminating in hiring on the basis of religion within federally-funded social welfare projects.

a. The White House should direct the Justice Department s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to review and withdraw its June 29, 2007 Memorandum interpreting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). The OLC Memo s interpretation that RFRA provides for a broad override of statutory religious nondiscrimination provisions is erroneous and threatens core civil rights and religious freedom protections. Last September, 58 leading national religious and civil rights organizations wrote to Attorney General Eric H Holder, Jr., asserting that the guidance in the Memo "is not justified under applicable legal standards and threatens to tilt policy toward an unwarranted end that would damage civil rights and religious liberty."

b. The White House should establish new standards by which the Justice Department can judge whether an organization is entitled to an exemption to the religious nondiscrimination laws. Your Administration's "case-by-case" approach raises the problem of religious selectivity and provides scant opportunity for transparency or accountability. Following this approach indefinitely while leaving the Bush-era rules in place forestalls a critical opportunity for prophylactic guidance and presidential leadership against employment discrimination within federally-funded social welfare projects by faith-based grant recipients.

2) The Administration should adopt in full the recommendations of the Reform of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Taskforce on which a consensus was reached. Adoption of these Reform of the Office Taskforce recommendations would address the majority of concerns about transparency, accountability, beneficiary rights, and the integrity and independence of religious institutions.

3) Whether the Council ultimately adopts the most vitally-needed Reform of the Office recommendations or not, the Administration should amend existing Executive Orders, rules and regulations and make uniform guidance resources for federal agencies to ensure that:

a. Program beneficiaries are not subject to unwanted proselytizing or religious activities.

b. Program providers give proper notice to beneficiaries of their religious liberty rights and access to alternative, secular providers.

c. Houses of worship and other religious institutions, in which religion is so integrally infused that it cannot be separated out, be required to create separate corporations for the purpose of providing secular, government-funded social services. This requirement protects the integrity of the religious institutions and provides accountability for government funds.

d. Secular alternatives to social services provided by houses of worship and other religious institutions are readily available to beneficiaries. All beneficiaries should be made aware of secular alternatives, and have realistic and convenient access to them.

e. Uniform guidance and training materials be developed for all federal agencies to ensure that government-funded providers understand constitutionally-required religious liberty safeguards. The guidance should be incorporated into contracts and grant agreements. Furthermore, providers should be required to certify their adherence to the safeguards and government agencies should engage in oversight to ensure compliance.

We very much appreciate your consideration of our views.

Respectfully,

African American Ministers in Action
American Association of University Women
American Civil Liberties Union
American Humanist Association
American Jewish Committee
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Anti-Defamation League
Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
B'nai B'rith International
Human Rights Campaign
Interfaith Alliance
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
OMB Watch
People For the American Way
Secular Coalition for America
Texas Faith Network
Texas Freedom Network
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
United Sikhs
Women of Reform Judaism
 

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