Summer Newsletter 2011 Summer Newsletter 2011
What a quick summer, or, at least it seemed that way to me. I hope your summer-wrap-up Labor Day weekend was restful, enjoyable and thoughtful. This year, the advent of autumn is accompanied by new challenges as well as traditional opportunities – as our children and grandchildren return to school and as Congress returns to Washington. The former prompts gratitude and expectation in me; the latter evokes anxiety and even a modicum of fear.
We at Interfaith Alliance had a busier than usual summer – maybe that is why it seemed to pass so rapidly. Gross incivility and serious threats to religious freedom demanded constant attention and initiatives born of our shared mission. Though we were not always at the forefront of national news, none of the threats to faith and freedom that escalated during the summer were without our attention and involvement. The Religious Right returned to many of its old ways spouting hateful rhetoric and announcing plans to use the government to control everybody’s lives. Anti-Muslim bigotry lost none of its ugliness or loudness. And, still again, the LGBT community was hit by broadsides of intentional, legal inequality. So the days of summer allowed us no rest; our work continued. As a matter of fact, we have compiled highlights of this work to share with you in our second e-newsletter of 2011.
Interfaith Alliance, in partnership with Human Rights First, invited houses of worship from across the country – and from a variety of faith traditions – to organize interfaith events as part of our Faith Shared initiative held on Sunday, June 26th. The key component of each Faith Shared event was clergy of different faiths coming together to share readings on respect and tolerance from their sacred texts.
The goals of Faith Shared were to create opportunities for faith communities to strengthen ties with one another – and to use images and videos from the events to spread a message of respect and understanding around the world. By doing so, we hoped to counter a perception of intolerance that is often portrayed in the international media.
Jon Stewart posed the Sound of Music - inspired question that lends itself to the title of this piece in March, just before Rep. Peter King (R-NY) held his first hearing on the so-called “radicalization” of the American Muslim community. Unfortunately, this irrational fear continues to spread, with state legislatures introducing bills that would explicitly prohibit courts from considering Sharia law, religious law, foreign law and/or international law, thus aiming to combat an invisible problem – with grave implications for religious freedom and the American court system.
A lot has happened in the world of combating anti-Muslim hatred since our Spring e-newsletter, when I wrote about the first Congressional hearings regarding the American Muslim community: Rep. King held a second and then third Congressional hearing (which thankfully received just as much press coverage as they deserved – that is to say, very little) and presidential candidates have voiced skepticism as to whether they would appoint Muslims to their Administrations. But fear mongering against the so-called “creeping Sharia” seems to be making the most headlines and doing the most damage.
As the 2012 election cycle heats up, Interfaith Alliance will continue to ask candidates to stop using religion as a political tool. In 2008 we saw this kind of abuse coming from both Democrats and Republicans – including President Obama. This year, the focus for now is on the Republican candidates as they move toward primary season. Never in modern times have we seen religion misused so much so early in the process. Rev. Gaddy has already written to all of the candidates and the respective chairs of the Republican and Democratic National Committees, asking them to tone down the religious rhetoric.
As we have done for many years, Interfaith Alliance will be providing voters, candidates and houses of worship guidance on how to appropriately engage with one another during the election season through our Vote 2012 election year guides:
- Engaging Candidates on the Role of Religion in American Politics;
- Religion and Politics: A Guide for Houses of Worship; and
- Running for Office: A Guide For Political Candidates.
Each guide has been carefully developed over the years with the help of activists, experts in election and tax law and, in the case of the candidate and house of worship guides, the IRS.
At a time when our elected leaders’ approval ratings are plummeting and the focus of our nation seems to be split between the economy and the “horse race” of the 2012 election season, your representatives in Congress need to hear from you – their constituents – now more than ever. They need to hear what is important to you and that there are other issues that are also on your mind.
Right now there are several important pieces of legislation in Congress that your Representative and Senators can support:
- The Safe Schools Improvement Act addresses the bullying epidemic we’re seeing in our nation’s schools. The legislation would require schools and districts that receive federal funding to adopt policies that explicitly prohibit and define bullying and harassment and actually enumerate some of the categories for protection, including religion, race, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Currently, because the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, even same-gender marriages legally recognized in certain states are not considered valid at the federal level. Though states would continue to be allowed to define marriage as they see fit and be able to determine which out-of-state marriages to recognize, the Respect for Marriage Act would repeal DOMA, thus enabling same-gender marriages to be recognized as legal at the federal level.
- The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would protect all Americans from discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity (discrimination upon these grounds is currently legal in more than 30 states). Modeled after existing laws such as the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, ENDA contains an exemption for religious organizations, ensuring that the civil rights and religious freedom of all Americans are protected.
Taking action is easy: simply visit Interfaith Alliance’s Action Center and you can send your Senators and Representative an email on each of these bills and tell them why they are issues of importance to you. Even if you’ve already written to your member of Congress about one of these issues, you can always email them again – the more they hear from you, the more they know you care.
Interfaith Alliance affiliates are working on positive and healing events to remember the tragic events of September 11th. Many affiliates were involved in Faith Shared events in June and continue to strengthen efforts to build respect across belief traditions. Read on for a list of events planned around the country:
Yes, you can! Distributions from Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) are generally taxed as income. However, through December of 2011, individuals aged 70 ½ or older can make direct transfers of up to $100,000 from their traditional or Roth IRAs to qualified public charities, such as Interfaith Alliance, without having to count the distributions as taxable income. This is a result of Congress extending the IRA Charitable Rollover provision as part of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010. The IRA Charitable Rollover provision allows people to make immediate charitable gifts from their retirement assets when they have been discouraged from doing so previously because of the income tax penalty.