Sep 17 2015
WASHINGTON -- In advance of Pope Francis' speech to a joint session of Congress, the first such speech from a religious leader, Interfaith Alliance Executive Director Rabbi Jack Moline sent the following letter to members of Congress. In this letter, Rabbi Moline raises several concerns about how religious freedom wil be respected during this historic event, and calls on members of Congress to remember that their first duty is to their constituents and to the Constitution, not to their private religious beliefs.
This month, you will witness a rare and historic occasion when Pope Francis addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Pope Francis will be not just the first Pope, but the first religious leader to address a joint session of Congress. Pope Francis is a compelling and compassionate religious leader who has already had a major impact on world events during his short tenure.
On behalf of Interfaith Alliance, which represents individuals committed to faith and freedom representing seventy-five faith traditions and those of no particular faith tradition, I would like to take this opportunity to offer a recommendation on the context in which you listen to the Pope’s remarks. I ask you to be acutely aware that you are an elected representative of a secular democracy, one that guarantees the religious freedom of all, but shows no favor to any particular faith.
Congress is entitled to invite whomever it likes. Pope Francis, like other world leaders, can give you a greater understanding of the world we live in. I expect Pope Francis will speak freely on political issues of the day, and to speak from a place of religious motivation and doctrine.
While this occasion may not violate the legal strictures of the First Amendment, it is incumbent upon you and your colleagues to ensure that it respects the spirit of America’s mandate of religious freedom. While he is a religious leader, this is not a religious event. While his positions may be driven by his faith, what you do with the information he provides must be motivated by secular purpose. Faith can inform our values, but it cannot be the goal of our public policy. Regardless of your personal religious commitment – whether your theological inclination is to agree with Pope Francis or to oppose him – your primary commitment must remain to your constituents and to the Constitution.
When Pope Francis speaks about specific policies in his address, place his recommendations against the backdrop of areligious interests and the necessary boundaries between religion and government. When Pope Francis makes a moral call to action and leadership, hear his voice as one among many. Take inspiration but not instruction from the Holy Father’s words. The government cannot act on the orders of religious leaders; we cannot make laws based on religious motivations alone.
It is a great honor to have Pope Francis directly address you in a joint session of Congress. But it is an even greater honor to serve your constituents, the Constitution and the country. If the Pope’s speech puts your duty to your faith and your duty to the nation in tension with one another, I hope we can count on you to navigate that conflict with an understanding of the religious diversity of your constituents, a devotion to the First Amendment, and your oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the Untied States… not Scripture.
Rabbi Jack Moline
Sep 11 2015
WASHINGTON - Today Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of Interfaith Alliance, sent the following letter to each of the candidates in the Republican presidential primary. In this letter Rabbi Moline urged the candidates to exercise caution around the increased role that religion and religious freedom have played lately in the Republican campaign. Below is a copy of the letter sent to Donald Trump, similar letters were sent to each of the candidates.
September 11, 2015
Dear Mr. Trump,
As the second debate of the Republican Primary nears, questions of faith and religious freedom have taken a new prominence in the campaign. The past few weeks have seen candidates exchange accusations about each other’s personal religious practice and a sharp division arise between them around Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ refusal to perform marriages. How a candidate treats religion on the campaign trail not only has an impact on the lives of American voters, but also previews the policies they might pursue while in office. On behalf of Interfaith Alliance, whose membership comprises individuals from across the faith spectrum who are dedicated to religious freedom, I urge you to take caution when discussing religion on the debate stage next week.
Too often political candidates are asked to answer inappropriate questions about their personal religious beliefs, and too often candidates make a show of piety instead of presenting a real position on policy and political issues. When asked recently about his favorite passages of the Bible, I was pleased when Mr. Trump refused to answer the question, saying that his faith was a personal matter and not a part of the political campaign. However, I was disturbed to see the recent exchange between Mr. Trump and Dr. Carson denigrating each other’s religious beliefs and turning discussions of personal faith into petty bickering. There is a way to judiciously discuss your religious beliefs on the campaign trail – this is not it.
Voters have a right to know what informs your thinking on important issues. They have a right to know how you approach controversy and complexity. To the extent that faith, belief and prayer play a role, you can and should express that. However, because you are running to represent Americans of all faiths and those of no particular faith, these cannot be a way of proving your superiority. There is a delicate balance between the particularity of your own faith and the pluralism mandated by the Constitution that will be demanded of you once you are in office, and I urge you to find that balance on the debate stage.
Similarly, that balance is at the heart of the ongoing controversy surrounding Kim Davis and other government officials who have refused to uphold the Supreme Court’s ruling Obergefell v. Hodges. As someone deeply committed to religious freedom, I am happy to see the issue take such a central role in the campaign, but I worry that the rhetoric has veered off course.
The Constitution’s promise of religious freedom demands that religious beliefs, practices and choices of all Americans be respected. An individual’s right to live according to their religious beliefs cannot be infringed, except when it begins to encroach on the rights of others to do the same. To ensure that balance, government workers – from the President to a clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky – cannot pursue sectarian, religious agendas from their offices.
Kim Davis should not be the face of the struggle for religious freedom. This is not an example of the persecution of Christians. This is not the overreach of a “secularist” federal government. This is not a heroic stand against the tyranny of judges, politicians or loving couples. This is an individual, and her supporters on the Religious Right, taking advantage of uncertainty in the wake of the rapid progress toward marriage equality in order to pursue a religious agenda on government time. I urge you not to add to that uncertainty and anxiety by turning this controversy into something that it’s not.
On the debate stage this week, voters of faith will look to you for leadership. They will look to you to see what religious freedom really is and how people should approach changes they may not agree with or understand. Speak honestly, speak with your best understanding of faith and the Constitution, but please do not mislead us for political gain.
Rabbi Jack Moline
Interfaith Alliance Disappointed in Ruling Finding “Moral Exemption” for March For Life from Contraception Mandate
Sep 02 2015
WASHINGTON – On Monday, August 31, Judge Richard J. Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that March for Life, a secular nonprofit, was entitled to an exemption from the contraception requirements of the Affordable Care Act. The decision marks the first time that an entity was granted an exemption to the law based on moral, but not explicitly religious grounds. Following this decision Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of Interfaith Alliance, released this statement:
“For those of us who have tracked religious freedom cases over the years, this ruling is as disappointing as it is unsurprising. It sheds light on the fact that the relentless fight to gut the Affordable Care Act and its reproductive health provisions have never been about religious freedom or protecting the rights of religious communities. Too often the onslaught of alleged religious exemption claims have simply been attempts of individuals to opt-out of legislation that they find disagreeable. To the extent that religious exemptions have a place in our laws, they should be narrowly tailored to meet the needs of explicitly religious entities.
“As a person of faith, I take profound exception to the abuse of deeply held religious convictions for pure political gain. While Judge Leon’s decision will no doubt give fodder to those seeking to undermine the rights of women, workers, LGBT Americans and racial and religious minorities – I hope it will serve as yet another wake-up call about the need to reexamine how we protect religious freedom in America.”
Sep 02 2015
WASHINGTON – Earlier this week the Supreme Court refused to grant a stay in the case of a county clerk in Kentucky seeking the right to refuse to perform same-sex marriages. In the days following this decision the clerk, Kim Davis, has returned to work but has refused to serve perform marriages for any couple. Today, Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of Interfaith Alliance, released this statement:
“The Supreme Court promised to bring marriage equality nationwide with its landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. This week’s refusal to let a Kentucky clerk turn away same-sex couples is another important step toward that goal. There can be no marriage equality if a couple has to worry that a county clerk may refuse to serve them; there can be no religious freedom if a government employee can pursue a sectarian agenda from his or her office. Interfaith Alliance remains committed to protecting the religious freedom, at the altar and at the office, of all Americans. That freedom must not translate into the ability to use religious beliefs to discriminate.
“I hope that Ms. Davis will acknowledge her strong faith does not exempt her from her duties as an elected official. The law is religiously neutral, and her position is not a personal platform to impose her beliefs on others. If she cannot reconcile her religious ideology with her duty as an agent of the state, she should look for a different line of work.”