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 celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance brings together members from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition to protect faith and freedom. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.