Spring Newsletter 2010 Spring Newsletter 10

A Letter from Welton

 “Did you accomplish anything this week?”  That question is posed to me every weekend by one or more people.  Often the answer is “yes,” though my sense of accomplishment varies.  Earlier this month, on March 9th, that query raced through my head as I spent most of the day in a meeting in an office of the White House. The accomplishment made that day, a step in the right direction for the ever-controversial faith-based initiative, was a small one; however, it involved far more than that single day. It required an investment of focused attention, persistent action, research, commentary and advocacy that began in 1999 and stretches ahead of us still.

About a year ago, I was asked to serve on President Obama’s Task Force on Reform of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  The assignment of the task force was to recommend steps for bringing that office more in line with the Constitution.
Since the establishment of the “faith-based” office in 1999, when presidential candidates in both major political parties voiced support for allowing government funds to flow into religious organizations to support faith-based social ministries, I have been calling for its closure.  The establishment of an initiative with such opportunity to compromise the First Amendment within the executive branch of our government posed an unprecedented threat to our nation’s fidelity to religious freedom – our determination to keep religion and government separate and the free exercise of religion guaranteed us all.

Read more: A Letter from Welton

Something is rotten in the state of Texas

TexasOn March 11th, the Texas State Board of Education (Texas SBOE) voted on a variety of amendments to the state social studies, world history and U.S. government curricula. Prepare to be appalled at the outcomes.  As reported by the Texas Freedom Network, the Board voted to:

- Remove Thomas Jefferson from the world history curriculum on the impact of Enlightenment thinkers;
- Include exploration of the right to bear arms in the curriculum on First Amendment rights and free expression;
- Strike down an amendment that would have required students to “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.”

State of Belief remains in production!

State of BeliefYou've probably heard that Air America, State of Belief’s former network, has filed for bankruptcy and is no longer in operation, but State of Belief is still here and remains a weekly production! Please visit stateofbelief.com to see what markets continue to air the show. While you’re there, be sure to sign up for our weekly podcast to ensure that you can listen to the show whether or not there’s a radio station near you airing State of Belief. We greatly appreciate your ongoing support of the show.

And in case you missed them the first time around, check out these highlights from recent State of Belief episodes!

Religious freedom for all – except our troops?

TroopsServicemen and women are often viewed as “ultimate” Americans. Their patriotism drives them not only to perform a citizen’s basic duties, but to take on the additional responsibility of physically putting themselves between the rights and freedoms of Americans and those who would alter or restrict those freedoms. It’s logical to assume that such champions would themselves be beneficiaries of the things they defend but, when it comes to religious freedom in the military, this isn’t always the case.

Read more: Religious freedom for all – except our troops?

LEADD celebrates its fifth anniversary

LEADDIn 2005, when a small group of students, volunteer faculty and staff met in Tennessee to discuss the lack of what folks used to call “civics” in our public schools, they didn’t know that five years later they would have built a program that encompassed 156 alumni from more than 25 faith traditions, including those adhering to no faith tradition. Through this program, which became LEADD (Leadership Education Advancing Democracy & Diversity) in 2006, high school students have been immersed in the history of the First Amendment, particularly its Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses, discussing religious pluralism in America and how our common future is dependent upon an appreciation of our diversity.

Military arms no place for scripture

Trijicon ScopesCoded references to New Testament Bible passages about Jesus Christ found on military equipment? It seems like something you might read about in a Dan Brown novel. But earlier this year, an ABC News investigation discovered these references on rifle sights used by the U.S. military.

A troubling discovery to say the least, and an outrageous affront to the boundaries of religious freedom defined and protected by our First Amendment. These gun sights, manufactured by Trijicon, do no favors for the U.S. military, Christianity or any other religion.  When the Bible verses on these sights came to light, Interfaith Alliance took a leading public role in calling for their removal and other significant and immediate changes in the U.S. military to better protect the religious freedom of our service men and women, and to prevent the misrepresentation of our nation’s priorities abroad.

Read more: Military arms no place for scripture

Spotlight on…Norma Cohen: An Interfaith Life Well Lived


Norma CohenIn February, we lost one of Interfaith Alliance’s great organizers. Norma Cohen, a retired clinical social worker, founder of Interfaith Alliance of Long Island, national Interfaith Alliance board member, a leader at the Shelter Rock Unitarian Universalist Congregation and a voice for pluralism and religious freedom, passed away.  A 2009 recipient of the Interfaith Alliance President’s Award, Norma brought diverse groups of people together to battle against hate crimes and to support interfaith dialogue in her community and on a national level. Every month or so, I would get a call from Norma, asking for an update on hate crimes prevention legislation (the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act passed Congress with the help of a decade of Norma’s hard work and was signed into law in October), or to send out an update to our membership, or to let me know about an issue on Long Island that threatened our work.  At the service celebrating her life our president, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, was quoted, “Let us on our own pick up the work to which Norma would have summoned us in the days ahead and devote our lives and our work to advancing the political agendas and social values essential to experiencing the beloved community.” She will be greatly missed, but dearly remembered.