Interfaith Alliance Urges Democratic Candidates to Respect Religion, Outline Vision for Religious Freedom in First Debate
Oct 12 2015
WASHINGTON – Today, ahead of the first Democratic debate, Interfaith Alliance Executive Director Rabbi Jack Moline sent the following letter to each of the Democratic candidates for President. In this letter Rabbi Moline urges each candidate to not only respect religion and the spirit of religious freedom in their campaign, but to lay out a vision for how they will protect the religious freedom of all when in the White House. A similar letter was sent to each of the Republican candidates ahead of the most recent Republican debate.
October 12, 2015
Dear Secretary Clinton,
Questions of religion and religious freedom have gained a prominent place in our political campaigns and in conversations across the country. Too many Americans feel today that their religious identities are under attack, too many Americans see politicians using religion to further and further divide us. On behalf of Interfaith Alliance, whose membership is comprised of individuals from across the faith spectrum who are dedicated to religious freedom, I urge you to take caution when discussing religion.
While the Constitution mandates a separation between religion and government, it makes no such strictures on mixing faith and politics. However, Americans know what happens when our politics are overcome by religion and when our religion becomes mired in politics. We know that too often politicians use religion for their own gain, cheapening our sacred beliefs in the process. And we know that religious leaders too often manipulate politicians into taking blatantly unconstitutional political positions. 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.
Voters have a right to know what values? inform 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 strive for it at the debates and on the campaign trail.
While you have the right to abstain from discussion of your personal faith on the debate stage, the issues confronting religious communities in America are too important to ignore. Last week, bigoted protests targeted mosques and Muslim community centers across America. Members of Congress have infused our response to the Syrian refugee crisis with religious animus. And Kim Davis, a woman who sought to use a government office to pursue a sectarian religious agenda, has become a folk-hero for the Religious Right.
As a candidate for the highest office of the land it is critical that you have something to offer people of faith looking to you for answers on these issues. You must offer a vision of religious freedom, a promise of how to protect the rights of all Americans, to your would-be constituents. On behalf of Interfaith Alliance, I urge you to pursue an inclusive and pluralistic version of religious freedom that recognizes that no one’s rights should be sacrificed for another.
When the debate begins, I hope you will speak powerfully and clearly to all Americans about the importance of religious freedom. Speak honestly, speak with your best understanding of faith and the Constitution, but please do not mislead us for political gain.
Rabbi Jack Moline
Oct 09 2015
WASHINGTON – Anti-Muslim protestors have announced plans to stage hateful and intimidating protests at mosques across the country, including at Masjid Muhammad in Washington, D.C. Today, Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of Interfaith Alliance, will attend Jumah prayers at Masjid Muhammad to stand in solidarity with the Muslim community targeted by protesters. Before attending these services Rabbi Moline said:
“I am appalled by the threat of protests designed to intimidate and bully Muslims on their way to prayer. Today I am proud to be stand with the community at Masjid Muhammad in Washington, D.C. as they offer weekly Jumah prayers. To target one one faith community is to attack the conscience of all people of faith; to endanger the ability of Muslims to worship is to jeopardize the religious freedom of us all. As I anticipate the transition from the Jumah prayer this afternoon to Kabbalat Shabbat, I am powerfully reminded of the diversity and freedom promised all religious communities at the very founding of our nation. That is what these protestors are seeking to undo, and that is why we are called to stand strong with people of all faiths in the face of bigotry and hatred.”
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