Interfaith Alliance Congratulates Baptist Joint Committee Leader, Brent Walker, on Prolific Career, Well-Earned Retirement
Oct 05 2015
WASHINGTON – Today, Baptist Joint Committee Executive Director J. Brent Walker announced his intentions to retire after 27 years with the organization. Rev. Walker and BJC have been longtime allies of Interfaith Alliance in our work to protect religious freedom. Following this announcement Interfaith Alliance Executive Director Rabbi Jack Moline and Interfaith Alliance President Emeritus Rev. Welton Gaddy offered their congratulations on behalf of the organization.
Rabbi Jack Moline said, “For years Brent has been a rock among those working to protect religious freedom in Washington. I am deeply grateful for his steady and principled leadership at the Baptist Joint Committee and for the inspiration he provided for all of us in the interfaith community. His retirement is well-deserved and comes at the end of a long list of accomplishments – all of us here at Interfaith Alliance wish him the very best.”
Rev. Welton Gaddy said, “Brent Walker has been a strong and tireless voice among Baptist leaders for religious freedom, a right historically cherished in our community but that has deteriorated in recent years. Brent has brought a compassionate and cooperative spirit to this sacred work. A true friend and a trusted colleague, his leadership will be missed among those striving to safeguard religious freedom.”
Interfaith Alliance Submits Comments on Contracting with Religious Organizations to Nine Federal Agencies
Oct 05 2015
WASHINGTON – Today Interfaith Alliance submitted comments to nine federal agencies regarding proposed changes to the way these agencies contract with religious organizations. In these comments to the Department of Education, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Agriculture, USAID, and the VA, Interfaith Alliance laid out its continuing concerns about protecting religious freedom when the government contracts with religious entities:
On behalf of Interfaith Alliance, whose membership represents individuals across the religious spectrum dedicated to protecting religious freedom, thank you for the opportunity to provide comments to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) “Nondiscrimination in Matters Pertaining to Faith-Based Organizations.”
Since the creation of the Faith Based Initiative, Interfaith Alliance has expressed concerns about the Constitutional implications of the program. Our former president, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, was honored to serve on the task force that examined the Faith Based Initiative and offered several key proposals for reform. We continue to believe that when the government chooses to contract with religious organizations, it must take particular caution not to discriminate among religions or to fund overtly sectarian efforts. The rules proposed here are an important step in establishing those necessary assurances.
Interfaith Alliance is a proud, longtime member of the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination (CARD). We have joined comments from the coalition which outline in detail our perspective on the proposed changes, the great strides we believe they make and the work that is left to do to protect religious freedom. In these comments, I would like to emphasize in particular the following three areas that need to be addressed further to best protect religious freedom when religious organizations contract with the federal government.
Iconography: When religious organizations contract to provide government services, we understand that services may often be offered in spaces that also provide religious services. In such cases the contracting agency must take certain steps to ensure that people of all faiths, and those of no particular faith, can comfortably access the services promised them. This requires, wherever possible, the temporary removal or covering of religious iconography in spaces providing government services. To truly respect the power of religious iconography, we must recognize the sacred symbols may resonate with the unique message of a faith community in a way that creates a particular religious overlay even to secular activities. The Constitution cannot allow requiring or encouraging individuals to confront a religious experience in order to receive government services. We’d urge you to add in the final rule clear guidelines for the handling of religious iconography in spaces providing government-contracted services.
Contracting with Religious Organizations: I was encouraged to see that the proposed rule includes language precluding the government from discriminating against or among religious organizations when awarding contracts. If the government is going to contract with religious organizations, our nation’s staunch prohibition of religious discrimination requires that the government open their consideration to organizations representing all faiths, and secular organizations. However, this language should not be interpreted as precluding the government from prioritizing organizations that are better able or more willing to fulfill the mandate of a particular contract. Recently, we have seen several religious organizations apply for contracts that include requirements for the provision of reproductive health counselling. These organizations are seeking these contracts while simultaneously stating that they have no intention of meeting those specific requirements. It should not be considered religious discrimination for the government to prioritize contracting with agencies that are more willing and able to complete the full scope of a contract. The final rule should be revised to make that clear.
Employment Discrimination: President Obama made a powerful statement last summer when he signed an Executive Order barring employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by the federal government and federal contractors. When someone chooses to contract with the federal government they must accept the government’s mandate to separate religious ideology and government operations – public money should never fund religiously-motivated discrimination. However, an Office of Legal Counsel memo – adopted by the previous administration but maintained today – still allows religious contractors to opt out of these nondiscrimination requirements. We would urge you to take this opportunity, while you are rethinking your agency’s relationship to religious organizations, to do everything in your power to require all of your contractors to abandon discrimination and adopt equal employment practices.
Your agency has graciously met with Interfaith Alliance and other representatives of the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination throughout the process of reforming the Faith Based Initiative. We are happy to meet again to discuss the great work your agency has done and our remaining concerns. Thank you once more for all of your efforts to ensure that the religious freedom of all those receiving government services is protected.
Rabbi Jack Moline
Oct 02 2015
WASHINGTON – Following yesterday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College, which several reports suggest may have been motivated by an antagonism toward religion and targeted Christian students, Interfaith Alliance Executive Director Rabbi Jack Moline released the following statement:
“With yesterday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College, yet another community joins our nation’s constellation of violence and grief. Congregations will be filled with mourners this weekend, classrooms will stand empty, and people will be left to wonder how much more of this senseless loss of life we must endure before taking action. My prayers are with the families and loved ones of those lost yesterday, my thoughts are with all those struggling today to seek a nation free of violence. Sadly, these shootings that capture the national attention have become all too common, and yet even the ones that make national news represent only a small fraction of the incomprehensible number of gun related deaths in this country every year.
“I am particularly troubled by reports that the shooter explicitly targeted Christian students and may have been driven by hatred toward religion in general. It is profoundly unsettling that, in the wake of so much violence, neither our schools nor or our religious communities feel safe. We must do more to ensure that no one is the victim of violence for any reason and certainly not because of their religious beliefs. We cannot abide such violent religious animosity in our midst.
“Early reports suggest the perpetrator of this crime was a vocal critic of organized religion. We must be careful not to assign his actions to all who live a secular life or who voice their criticism of religion. There is a proud history of respectful dissent from religious belief in this country, yesterday’s actions are not part of it.
“We must dig deep with in ourselves and our communities to understand why this violence happened, and we must motivate ourselves and our political leaders to create real change in our laws and our culture to prevent these needless deaths.”
Rabbi Moline Submits Testimony About Syrian Refugees, Anti-Muslim Bigotry, and the Religious Case for Aid
Oct 01 2015
WASHINGTON - Today the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing about U.S. efforts to address the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. The following is a statement submitted for the hearing record from Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of Interfaith Alliance, outlining the religious case for addressing the crisis and urging Congress to see past the religious prejudice and bigotry that might hamper our nations aid efforts.
Written Testimony of Rabbi Jack Moline, Executive Director of Interfaith Alliance
Submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee for the Hearing Record on “Oversight of the Administration’s FY 2016 Refugee Resettlement Program: Fiscal and Security Implications
October 1, 2015
On behalf of Interfaith Alliance, whose membership represents individuals from seventy-five faith traditions committed to defending religious freedom, I would like to thank Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Leahy, and the members of the Judiciary Committee for this opportunity to submit a statement about the plight of Syrian refugees. As an organization dedicated to the religious freedom here at home in the U.S., it is rare that we comment international crises, but we are moved to do so by the immediacy of this moment and the implications for religious communities that will certainly reverberate here at home.
When we look inside our religious traditions, many of us find the inspiration – if not the moral mandate – to address this humanitarian crisis. Whether from the biblical commandment to not stand idly by the blood of a neighbor, the spiritual understanding of our own oneness with all those who suffer, or a theological commitment to the sanctity of every human life – our faith cannot abide suffering on the magnitude we see among Syrian refugees today. No one could put it more eloquently or passionately than Pope Francis when he addressed a joint session of Congress last week:
“We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation… To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome."
As Pope Francis described, theological and spiritual imperatives motivate many of us to address the current refugee crisis, it is also the history of our religious communities that drives our moral urgency. From the time the pilgrims landed in Plymouth to our work to provide safe harbor for Evangelical Christians persecuted in China, the United States has been built on a commitment to provide refuge for religious communities in need. Throughout our history they U.S. has opened its doors to Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Evangelical Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs and countless others who faced religious persecution at home. There is, in fact, no better antidote to religious tyranny, extremism and the targeting of religious minorities, then a healthy and welcoming approach to refugees.
My own community’s memory of the refugee experience is still fresh and, for many, brutally painful. We remember our grandparents, our siblings, and loved ones who were denied entry to the United States despite the atrocities they faced in the Holocaust. In that time, the suffering of too many was ignored and too many people died.
World War II drove our nation and the world to rethink the way we address refugees. The legacy of that suffering was a commitment to never close our doors to so many in need again. Since then we have made room on our shores for people escaping political repression in Latin America, fleeing the aftermath of the war in Vietnam, searching for freedom from the Soviet Union’s restrictions on religious practice, and many, many more. But that is a legacy we are failing today.
While religion may inspire us to act in the face of this crisis, while religion may be at the center of our historical experience as refugees, religion and religious prejudice should never stop us from helping those most in need. Too many people – and far too many politicians - have raised the specter terrorism, fed on fears of Islamic fundamentalism, as an excuse for inaction in helping refugees from Syria. The anti-Muslim bigotry that has fueled hate crimes across the nation, demonstrations at mosques and community centers, and unjust surveillance of religious communities, now threatens to stay our hands from reaching out to those crying for help.
Faith may be the basis of our call to action, but it must not be the barrier. We may be moved by the faith of those suffering, but we cannot let it stand in the way of our aid. Neither the Constitution nor our moral conscience can allow a person’s religion to condemn a person to be ignored and invisible to our efforts to help.
As the situation in Syria deteriorates, and the plight of refugees endures, the U.S. government is compelled to act. As your committee examines how best to address this situation, I hope you draw inspiration from your faith tradition, I hope you remember the plight of religious refugees throughout our nation’s history and, most importantly, I hope you can see past the bigotry and prejudice that too often clouds our conversations about Syria and the Muslim community.