WASHINGTON – In advance of the first presidential primary debate this year, Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of Interfaith Alliance, sent the following letter to Fox News Channel. Similar letters were sent to each of the networks hosting debates this year. In this letter Rabbi Moline urges the networks to take care while asking candidates about religion at the debates – encouraging them to focus on questions of policy and substance, rather than asking candidates to demonstrate their religious piety.
Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace,
Carl Cameron and Bryan Boughton
Fox News Channel
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036-8701
August 3, 2015
Dear Mr. Baier, Ms. Kelly, Mr. Wallace, Mr. Cameron and Mr. Boughton,
Congratulations to your network for hosting the upcoming presidential primary debate. This honor comes with great power and opportunity. As you know, debates can help candidates clarify their positions, educate the public about their backgrounds and beliefs, and highlight important differences in approaches to politics and policy. Of course, debates can also be moments of grandstanding, pandering, and senseless bickering. A deft and judicious moderator can often make the difference between a productive debate and a wasted opportunity.
Perhaps nowhere is the distinction between useful discussion and self-promotion starker than when debates turn to issues of religion. There are, today, real issues confronting religious freedom in America that we can all benefit from hearing these candidates debate. I am writing to ask you to facilitate that constructive conversation. The appropriate framework would be to ask candidates about how their faith informs their approach to politics and policy. Ask how they plan to navigate conflicts between their personal religious beliefs, the Constitution, and the best interests of all Americans. Ask what role faith plays in their response to crises or challenges they might face in office.
Obviously, you will not be speaking only to the candidates on stage about their particular faith backgrounds. You will be speaking to the Muslim, the Hindu, the atheist at home who might one day consider running for public office but is afraid how their faith will be viewed.
Among the specific questions you might address are:
How do the candidates understand the contours of religious freedom as America moves toward greater LGBT equality and access to reproductive health services?
What restrictions would they place on houses of worship, religious schools and organizations that receive taxpayer money?
What is their plan for protecting America’s national security without undermining the freedom and respect deserved by all religious communities?
With the range of issues facing our country and the number of candidates participating, there will be limited opportunity to ask about religion and politics. I implore you not to squander that question by asking candidates about their favorite bible verse or their relationship with God. Article VI of the Constitution declares that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Please protect this guarantee by not making profession of faith an issue.
The public trust is with your network in these debates. Please guard it carefully.
Rabbi Jack Moline,
Interfaith Alliance is a network of people of diverse faiths and beliefs from across the country working together to build a resilient democracy and fulfill America’s promise of religious freedom and civil rights not just for some, but for all. We mobilize powerful coalitions to challenge Christian nationalism and religious extremism, while fostering a better understanding of the healthy boundaries between religion and government. We advocate at all levels of government for an equitable and just America where the freedoms of belief and religious practice are protected, and where all persons are treated with dignity and have the opportunity to thrive. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.