Washington, D.C. –Today the Interfaith Alliance sent an open letter to all 18 presidential candidates urging them to respect the proper relationship between political campaigns and houses of worship. Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of the Interfaith Alliance, wrote the letter in response to two candidates, Senators Obama and Clinton, launching sections of their campaign websites designed to recruit people of faith.
While there is an important and appropriate role for faith to play in public life, outreach to faith communities presents a unique set of challenges for both candidates and religious leaders. For example, many religious leaders have endorsed Senators Clinton and Obama on their websites. However, IRS tax law prevents them from making endorsements from the pulpit. Candidates are allowed to speak at religious services, but candidates should not distribute partisan literature at a house of worship.
The Interfaith Alliance believes that playing a proactive role in educating the candidates will keep both candidates and houses of worship from encountering problems as the 2008 race for the White House develops. The open letter reads as follows:
TO: Campaign Managers
RE: Partisan Politics and Preserving the Sanctity of Religion and the Autonomy of Houses of Worship
The recent rush of candidates and their often aggressive tactics to reach out to “people of faith” lures religious organizations and religious leaders into dangerous legal territory.
I write you today out of concern for religion and what the manipulation of religion for political gain is doing to Americans of all faith traditions.
The Interfaith Alliance believes it is important that religious leaders encourage their worshippers to cast informed votes in every election, including the 2008 presidential primaries which are well underway at this early date. Houses of worship are permitted by the IRS – and encouraged by The Interfaith Alliance –to provide nonpartisan information to worshippers on a broad range of issues and to encourage civic participation and hold non-partisan voter registrations.
But when candidates and their supporters use the language of faith to advance partisan political interests, or when they seek to emphasize their beliefs as the only truth, Americans and our houses of worship become deeply divided.
For the sake of religion’s prophetic voice, The Interfaith Alliance urges you to carefully consider the following recommendations about candidates’ interaction with houses of worship and faith groups:
1. A candidate should refrain from speaking from the pulpit, bema or lectern;
2. A candidate should refrain from using sanctuaries or houses of worship as backdrops for campaign ads;
3. A candidate should refrain from collecting and/or using congregational membership directories;
4. A candidate should refrain from organizing congregants or distributing partisan material inside a house of worship.
People of faith are more than just a special-interest group. Campaign efforts that treat them as just another constituency to be organized and managed, to be checked off a staffer’s list, ignore the important and powerful role that religion plays in American life. Show respect for religion – and for its leaders and practitioners – by keeping politics out of the pulpit and the pulpit out of politics.
I am happy to make myself or any member of The Interfaith Alliance available to you for further discussion on these important matters.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
President, The Interfaith Alliance
Pastor for Preaching and Worship, Northminster (Baptist) Church (Monroe, LA)
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.