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.
Sep 21 2015
WASHINGTON -- Following an interview in which Dr. Ben Carson, candidate for the Republican nomination for President, said that he believed Islam is inconsisent with the Constitution and that he could not support a Muslim candidate for president, Rabbi Jack Moline, exeutive director of Interfaith Alliance, released this statement:
"Dr. Ben Carson’s belief that a Muslim should not be President of the United States is another example of a candidate who claims to cherish the First Amendment trying to rewrite the Constitution and what it means for people of all faiths in America. His willingness to denigrate and disenfranchise millions of American citizens not only jeopardizes full equality under the law, but delivers a message that his brand of religious freedom is not meant to truly protect the rights of all. Our country’s motto “E Pluribus Unum” means we have to become one nation "out of the many", not out of the few who worship and believe like we do."
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