Press Releases

Rabbi Moline Submits Testimony To House Committee on Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Written Statement for the Record of Rabbi Jack Moline, Executive Director of Interfaith Alliance

House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice

Hearing on “Oversight of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act”

March 2, 2015

Chairman Franks, Ranking Member Cohen and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to submit this statement for the record on behalf of Interfaith Alliance for the hearing on oversight of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person’s Act (RLUIPA). Interfaith Alliance, which seeks to mobilize people of all faiths and those of no particular faith tradition in defense of religious freedom, has a long history working on the implementation of both of these of the laws.

It is no coincidence that my organization celebrated its 20th anniversary last year - just one year after RFRA marked that same milestone. RFRA was born out of the anxiety and legal uncertainty created in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Employment Division v. Smith. Religious advocates and legal scholars alike recognized that ruling had dramatically changed the nature of religious freedom in America. If the plaintiffs in Smith had no claim because the law they violated did not specifically target their religious practice, then the protections we assumed for any number of religious practices and practitioners were called into question. Particularly as American religious life grew more diverse and less familiar, requiring that lawmakers had the knowledge and intent to target a religious practice appeared to be an untenable standard.

The founders of Interfaith Alliance saw that protecting the civil rights of all Americans and rectifying the damage done to religious freedom by Smith were profoundly linked. That is why, since our inception, Interfaith Alliance has partnered with people of a wide-range of faith traditions to ensure that no federal law or policy stands in the way of a person practicing the tenets of their own faith. Over the years both RFRA and RLUIPA have served as important legal and rhetorical tools toward achieving that goal.

However, even in the immediate aftermath of RFRA’s passage, it was clear that many advocates sought a drastically different definition of religious freedom than we – or, we believe, the framers of the Constitution – had in mind. The years after RFRA saw the ascendancy of a political movement that distorted religious freedom and sought to transform RFRA into a weapon to impose their own religious ideology onto others. Activists have tried to turn RFRA into a private right to discriminate, seeking exemptions for private companies from non-discrimination policies. Others have sought the ability to foist their religious beliefs onto their employees by controlling their access to benefits and rights at work. This perspective seeks to present religious freedom and civil rights in opposition with one another, rather than forces that grow in tandem.

Since our inception, Interfaith Alliance has fought to counteract this dangerous view of religious freedom. Our work continues to be guided by these twin goals – to defend the personal rights of conscience for people of every faith, while pursuing a definition of religious freedom that expands the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom and equality for all. While we believe that RFRA, RLUIPA, and most importantly the First Amendment, support that approach, dissenting activists and their political and legal allies have not relented.

The proponents of a religious freedom that respects the civil rights of all were dealt a significant blow by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. This case found that the owners of Hobby Lobby were entitled, under RFRA, to an exemption to the mandate that they provide comprehensive reproductive healthcare coverage to their employees. Emboldened by this decision, RFRA cases have been filed across the country seeking to wildly expand religious exemptions and grant certain people of faith the right to force their beliefs on those around them. In turn, the anger and resentment this decision has sparked across America threatens to alienate many of religious freedom’s most important allies and defenders.

All of us who cherish religious freedom – including the distinguished members of this Committee - must determine whether RFRA, as currently interpreted by the Supreme Court, is the right vehicle to defend our first freedom. Religious freedom rights are too important for us to allow them to be jeopardized by those who would use them to pursue their own sectarian, partisan agenda. If we allow the status quo to continue of Congress remaining inactive while activists push for the broad and vigorous implementation of the Hobby Lobby ruling, the very freedoms that RFRA sought to enshrine will be made vulnerable to attack from all sides.

There is a simple fix to RFRA that Interfaith Alliance and I would propose to you today. Congress should pass legislation that clarifies what many of us have always argued was the true intention of the Constitution: All Americans are guaranteed accommodations for their religious beliefs, unless such an accommodation would result in meaningful harm to identifiable third parties. Such a solution would enable RFRA to embody the idea that civil rights and religious freedom grow together.

Justice Ginsburg envisioned such an approach in her concurring opinion in the case Holt v. Hobbs that defended a Muslim prisoner’s right to grow a beard. She wrote, “Unlike the exemption this Court approved in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, accommodating petitioner’s religious belief in this case would not detrimentally affect others who do not share petitioner’s belief.”

The real lesson of RFRA is in how, after a dangerously misguided Supreme Court decision, religious advocates and civil libertarians came together with politicians from both parties and crafted a solution. The time has come for Congress to do so once again. I urge you to look past the political and religious divisions of today and come together to pass legislation that will protect the religious freedom of all and endanger the civil rights of none. Justice Ginsburg has given you a framework in her concurrence in Holt – let those words be your guide.  

First Same-Sex Couple Married in Texas: Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend on State of Belief Radio This Week

WASHINGTON – This week on State of Belief, the weekly radio show of Interfaith Alliance, host Reverend Welton Gaddy welcomes Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend. On February 19th, they became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Texas; their marriage license was granted as a special case because Goodfriend has been battling cancer. But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is seeking to void the couple’s marriage license. Ahead of the broadcast of the complete program, listeners can hear the segment featuring Goodfriend and Bryant online here: http://stateofbelief.com/extended-interviews/the-first-newlyweds-texas-brides-sarah-goodfriend-and-suzanne-bryant/ 

On the show, Welton congratulates the newlyweds on their marriage after spending 30 years as a couple. As the country waits for the Supreme Court to rule on same-sex marriage, and as other couples in Texas are still denied equal rights before the law, Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend offer a powerful personal testimony about the importance of the right to marry.

“Suzanne and Sarah shared their story with courage and conviction,” said Rev. Welton Gaddy, State of Belief host. “I was honored to interview them for this week’s show and look forward to the day when other couples in Texas can follow in their footsteps and live with the freedom to marry.”

State of Belief is a project of Interfaith Alliance. The organization’s executive director Rabbi Jack Moline added, “Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend are champions for the freedom to marry. I am thrilled to share their story with State of Belief listeners. Their personal struggle for equality and the love that they share as wives and mothers is an inspiration to us all. The challenge to extend marriage equality to couples, in Texas and across the country, whose love is still rejected by discriminatory laws motivates our work at Interfaith Alliance.”

Excerpts from the interview:

Suzanne Bryant: “We are married, our license is valid, and that can’t be taken away.”

Sarah Goodfriend: “It has affected our family more profoundly than I imagined.”

Goodfriend: “What we have experienced is an incredible outpouring of support and love.”

Bryant: “I don’t think that we will love each other any differently, but I do think that we look at our relationship, now, with some kind of specialness.” 

Goodfriend, on what motivates Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is seeking to nullify their marriage: “I think it is politics. I think it is fear.”

Bryant: “We have gotten congratulatory cards and calls and emails from some pretty darn conservative people who know us and know our family.”

Goodfriend: “If people don’t know that they know an LGBT person, then fear and stereotypes and misinformation flood in. But, I think once it’s your cousin or nephew or great uncle, then people are able to really manifest the love.”

The audio of the interview can be found here: http://stateofbelief.com/extended-interviews/the-first-newlyweds-texas-brides-sarah-goodfriend-and-suzanne-bryant/

Interfaith Alliance Responds to the Killings of Three Muslim College Students in North Carolina

WASHINGTON – Interfaith Alliance executive director, Rabbi Jack Moline, issued the following statement in response to the tragic murder of three Muslim college students in North Carolina this week.

"I am deeply saddened by the tragic loss of three young lives at the hands of a gunman in Chapel Hill, North Carolina this week. The loss of life to gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and I fear we are in some ways becoming desensitized to it. The motivation of the gunman in this case remains unclear. What we know about him suggests someone with a disturbing attitude towards people of faith – including Muslims. I urge law enforcement officials charged with investigating this case to pursue every avenue in their search for the truth, and if the evidence points to a hate crime, he should be charged as such."

Eighteen Religious and Civil Rights Groups Call On White House to Confront Extremist Violence of All Types, and Avoid Singling Out a Specific Faith

WASHINGTON – Interfaith Alliance today released an open letter to President Barack Obama, signed by 18 organizations, to express concern about the announcement of the upcoming White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. All of the organizations that joined together to write the letter condemn extremist violence, yet share a concern that the White House is focusing exclusively on Islamic extremists, which risks contributing to the marginalization of American Muslims.

The letter writers note that: “the Press Secretary’s statement mentions only acts of violence perpetrated by individuals who self-identify as Muslims, and it holds up as examples of prevention only CVE pilot programs directed at American Muslims. As you know, studies by the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center have shown that the overwhelming majority of terrorist incidents in the United States were committed by non-Muslims.”

The letter concludes with a call to action for the White House: “Extremist Violence is a concern we all face. We ask you to assure us that the focus of the upcoming Summit on Countering Violent Extremism will be comprehensive, and to express that assurance in a very public way.”

Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of Interfaith Alliance, said, “Unfortunately, no single religion has a monopoly on extremist violence. Diversity and religious pluralism are sources of pride for our country. The White House must make sure not to unfairly single out American Muslims as it seeks to confront violent extremism perpetrated in the name of any faith or ideology.” 
 
February 12, 2015
 
Barack H. Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20500
 
Dear Mr. President,


The members of our organizations are saddened by every act of violence inspired by extremism. We unequivocally condemn those who resort to violence in pursuit of an extremist agenda.  At the same time, we must express our concern about the announcement of the upcoming White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism; the language points to only one type of these offenses, and in doing so seems to single out American Muslim communities.  In the end, that focus alone will shed light on only a portion of extremist violence in our nation and around the world, and will not be as effective in the important work of keeping our nation secure.

The Press Secretary’s statement mentions only acts of violence perpetrated by individuals who self-identify as Muslims, and it holds up as examples of prevention only CVE pilot programs directed at American Muslims.  As you know, studies by the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center have shown that the overwhelming majority of terrorist incidents in the United States were committed by non-Muslims, most with right-wing or eco-terrorist agendas.  In the past years, some of the most startling attacks have targeted a Sikh gurdwara, and a Jewish community – neither of these were perpetrated by Muslims. The bombing last month outside an NAACP office in Colorado Springs, while still under investigation, may well turn out to be another act of terrorism.

We understand the need to speak to the concerns and fears of Americans by referencing crimes against communities that are fresh in people’s minds.  In the process of reassuring the public, the White House must be especially careful not to contribute to the marginalization of American Muslims.  By reinforcing the suspicion some individuals have of an entire faith community, the Administration might inadvertently undermine the principles of religious freedom and pluralism that are central to our national values and history.

Extremist violence is a concern we all face. We ask you to assure us that the focus of the upcoming Summit on Countering Violent Extremism will be comprehensive, and to express that assurance in a very public way.
 
Sincerely,


Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus
American Humanist Association
Asian American Legal Defense Fund
Auburn Theological Seminary
Bend The Arc: a Jewish Partnership for Justice
Brennan Center for Justice
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Church of the Brethren
Interfaith Alliance
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights
National Council of Jewish Women
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Sikh Coalition
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call to Justice
United Church of Christ
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society