Feb 27 2013
Written Testimony of Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of Interfaith Alliance
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations
for the Hearing Record on “Anti-Semitism: A Growing Threat to All Faiths”
February 27, 2013
As a Baptist minister, a patriotic American and the President of Interfaith Alliance, I submit this testimony to The House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations for the Hearing Record on “Anti-Semitism: A Growing Threat to All Faiths.” A national, non-partisan organization, Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom and is dedicated to protecting faith and freedom with members nationwide who belong to 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition.
Interfaith Alliance focuses not only on religious freedom but also on uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism, toward an end to bigotry and ignorance. One of Interfaith Alliance’s top priorities is combating religion-based discrimination, whatever form it takes, and hatred against religious groups. In the last few years domestically, much of our focus has been on combating anti-Muslim bigotry, as well as bigotry against Sikhs and Hindus. Unfortunately, hate crimes, violent attacks on mosques and temples and Muslim, Sikh and Hindu individuals have too often shown the need for this work, for dialogue, for better education about our neighbors of different faiths. This is not to say that anti-Semitism has ceased to exist in our nation—sadly it has not—but if I have learned one thing, it is the cyclical nature of bigotry against minority faith groups; at one time it was Catholics, at too many times it has been Jews and now it is Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. Each wave of antagonism against one faith or another leaves indelible blemishes on our country.
Though the scope of this hearing is anti-Semitism abroad and the scope of our work is on domestic issues, we know that bigotry does not stop at national borders. Throughout history, we have too often seen the impact of hatred abroad here at home, and vice versa. I applaud the sentiment of the title of this hearing and would add that bigotry against one group—be it a group that is religious, racial, ethnic or otherwise—should be seen as a threat to any group of individuals who can far too easily fall victim to stereotyping and generalizations of a virulent nature.
Yet, the issues we face here in the United States are not unique to our nation. Bigotry against religious communities can take many shapes depending on the country, the city even, in which we focus our discussion. Nazi and Holocaust rhetoric and the occasional overlap of anti-Israel sentiments with broader anti-Semitism are just a few of the signs that, sadly, anti-Semitism is not yet a thing of a past and indeed continues to morph into new (and sometimes subtler) forms. Similarly, solutions take different forms in different parts of the world based on the facts on the ground.
Though the primary focus of my work—both at Interfaith Alliance and beyond—is here in the United States, it is not my only focus. In the 15 years I have led Interfaith Alliance, I have participated in many international conferences that have informed my work at home—much of it related to anti-Semitism. Participating in two international dialogues hosted by the King of Spain and the King of Saudi Arabia, I witnessed a gaping absence of Jewish participation and a quiet unwillingness to talk about the need for a Jewish presence.
Personally, I have had great opportunities to exchange best practices, share the American experience of interfaith cooperation abroad, and learn from the on-the-ground experiences of colleagues worldwide. Most recently, a trip to Israel with several other civil rights leaders to learn about the conflict between Jews and Arabs taking place in the Middle East was eye-opening and inspiring. Though no simplistic answers suffice when combatting anti-Semitism, I must observe that anti-Semitism could be reduced considerably by the public paying attention to more accurate information about what is occurring in the Middle East. Interactions with Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and leaders in other traditions have taught me that the problem with anti-Semitism is not inherent in any religion. The problem results from propaganda, poor media coverage, and uninformed political leaders who stir up prejudice.
Across the past 15 years I have not met anybody that wanted to foster anti-Semitism. During the same time I have encountered scores of people who revealed an anti-Jewish bias as a result of misinformation or incomplete information about the truth on the ground in the Middle East and the political and financial support for both Jews and Muslims abroad. With the help of Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders along with supporters from other religious traditions, Interfaith Alliance has sought to serve as an agency of mutual understanding and mutual cooperation. Make no mistake about it though, that work among us, even as among any person or institution doing that work, requires patience and a will to listen to criticism in order to get to a better place.
Whatever the result of this hearing, be assured that I personally and Interfaith Alliance institutionally are willing to do all we can to eliminate the presence of anti-Semitism in the United States. We are delighted you share that goal.
Feb 22 2013
The Honorable Louie Gohmert
2243 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Representative Gohmert:
I write to you with great concern over your recent comments on the radio program The Voice of Freedom regarding measures to prevent gun violence. Your implication that the Second Amendment must be strongly upheld so that Americans can arm themselves against sharia, Muslim religious law, is troubling. It is all the more troubling when I recall that just last summer the organization which I serve as president, Interfaith Alliance, alongside 41 religious and civil rights groups wrote to you in protest of your demonization of prominent American Muslim government officials and community organizations. I am disappointed to see that neither your rhetoric nor your misinformed view of Islam has changed.
I hope that you will review a resource Interfaith Alliance produced in collaboration with the Religious Freedom Education Project of the First Amendment Center entitled What is the Truth About American Muslims: Questions and Answers. I have attached a copy to this letter and in particular would call your attention to questions 19-27 which focus on the nature of sharia. These questions include, "How do American Muslims follow sharia?" and "Do American Muslims want to replace the U.S. Constitution with sharia?" This resource has also been endorsed by nearly two dozen religious, civic and civil rights groups, all united to combat ignorance and bigotry against American Muslims and protect religious freedom.
I feel compelled to again remind you that the continued demonization of Islam and disenfranchisement of the American Muslim community is not only uncalled for, it is a dangerous affront to the religious freedom upon which this nation was founded and it must end. American Muslims, the overwhelming majority of whom live peaceful, law-abiding lives — just like Americans from other religious groups — should not have to live in a country where their elected officials imply that they need to be kept at bay with firearms.
Furthermore, at a time when gun violence has wracked our nation with one unimaginable tragedy after another, I would hope that elected officials such as you would stay focused on real measures to prevent future needless deaths. I would hope that you would focus your attention on measures to truly balance the Second Amendment rights you so strongly defend, rather than derailing what should be a substantive policy discussion with misguided bigotry. No matter our disagreements, we as a nation need to be done forever with the thought that guns are a solution to our problems.
In my experience, the only people in the U.S. government who are concerned that there are those who think "sharia law ought to be the law of the land" are those who, like you, are misguidedly attempting to infringe upon the religious freedom of American Muslims to practice their faith. I hope that you will give a close look to the attached questions and answers guide and cease your demonization of a group of Americans who have the same right as you to be here and practice their faith.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
Feb 13 2013
Washington, D.C. – Today’s vote in the U.S. House of Representatives allowing the federal government to provide funds to rebuild houses of worship damaged by Hurricane Sandy (H.R. 592) raises serious concerns about the boundaries between religion and government. Interfaith Alliance president Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, a longtime critic of this practice, voiced his concern and asked the Senate to put a stop to this effort.
"Today’s vote in the House of Representatives to allow federal funds to be used to rebuild houses of worship damaged by Hurricane Sandy is a serious setback for religious freedom that ultimately could hurt houses of worship more than it helps them. It is now up to the Senate and President Obama to stand against this ill-advised action."
"Steering tax dollars to religious institutions in this manner violates the boundaries between religion and government, and opens the door to government intrusion into the affairs of houses of worship. Making an exception in this case, while well-meaning, will only result in damaging a principle that has ensured the ability of diverse faith and belief to flourish in this country for centuries."
"Furthermore, to imply as this bill now does, that a house of worship ‘provides essential services of a governmental nature,’ does a disservice to religious institutions. There is no doubt in my mind that houses of worship are essential. They are not however ‘of a government nature,’ and to imply otherwise is to challenge the independence and integrity of these institutions. Houses of worship often provide critical services to their communities and, even while sometimes done in partnership with government, this work is rooted in their faith, and in their religious teachings, not in being an extension of government."
Feb 11 2013
Re: Oppose H.R 592 The Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013
On behalf of Interfaith Alliance, I write to express our opposition to H.R. 592, the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013. This legislation would “amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to clarify that houses of worship are eligible for certain disaster relief and emergency assistance on terms equal to other eligible private nonprofit facilities.” Interfaith Alliance strongly opposes this bill and any attempts to grant federal funds to rebuild houses of worship—even those damaged by natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy—because doing so sets in motion a violation of religious liberty that ultimately hurts a house of worship more than helps it.
Hurricane Sandy’s tragic impact reminds us of the aftermath of far too many other natural disasters. As a Baptist minister to a congregation in Monroe, Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina in particular is on the forefront of my mind. In times such as these, there is an understandable, compassion-based temptation to steer federal funds to houses of worship that have been damaged, but it is a temptation we must resist. An act of compassion must not be allowed to erode our historic Constitution.
The independence of houses of worship from the government regulations which accompany government funds is more important than federal dollars with which to do reconstruction. Becoming dependent on or indebted to our government’s financial benevolence is far from being in a house of worship’s best interest. The autonomy of religious institutions—and religious leaders—from the government coffers and the government’s regulation is what enables religion to flourish and enables clergy to speak truth to power as a prophetic voice to our government.
Interfaith Alliance has long been critical of efforts to funnel tax dollars to religious institutions whether through the faith-based initiative, or in emergency situations like this—even in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—because of reverence and respect for these important institutions in our society. To steer such money to religious institutions clearly violates the boundaries between religion and government, and opens the door to government intrusion into the affairs of houses of worship. Making an exception in this case will only result in damaging a principle that has ensured the ability of diverse faith and belief to flourish in this country for centuries.
Furthermore, to imply as this bill does, that a house of worship “provides essential services of a governmental nature,” does a disservice to religious institutions. There is no doubt in my mind that houses of worship are essential. They are not however “of a government nature,” and to imply otherwise is to challenge the independence and integrity of these institutions. Houses of worship often provide critical services to their communities and, even while sometimes done in partnership with government, this work is rooted in their faith, in their religious teachings, not in being an extension of government.
Government can do so much to help communities recover from these tragedies and so much has been learned from the mistakes made in the wake of Katrina. But to violate a principle inherent in the foundation of our religious freedom would be a disservice to all Americans, including those whose places of worship have been impacted by natural disasters.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy