WASHINGTON – Today, ahead of the first Democratic debate, Interfaith Alliance Executive Director Rabbi Jack Moline sent the following letter to each of the Democratic candidates for President. In this letter Rabbi Moline urges each candidate to not only respect religion and the spirit of religious freedom in their campaign, but to lay out a vision for how they will protect the religious freedom of all when in the White House. A similar letter was sent to each of the Republican candidates ahead of the most recent Republican debate.
October 12, 2015
Dear Secretary Clinton,
Questions of religion and religious freedom have gained a prominent place in our political campaigns and in conversations across the country. Too many Americans feel today that their religious identities are under attack, too many Americans see politicians using religion to further and further divide us. On behalf of Interfaith Alliance, whose membership is comprised of individuals from across the faith spectrum who are dedicated to religious freedom, I urge you to take caution when discussing religion.
While the Constitution mandates a separation between religion and government, it makes no such strictures on mixing faith and politics. However, Americans know what happens when our politics are overcome by religion and when our religion becomes mired in politics. We know that too often politicians use religion for their own gain, cheapening our sacred beliefs in the process. And we know that religious leaders too often manipulate politicians into taking blatantly unconstitutional political positions. How a candidate treats religion on the campaign trail not only has an impact on the lives of American voters, but also previews the policies they might pursue while in office.
Voters have a right to know what values? inform your thinking on important issues. They have a right to know how you approach controversy and complexity. To the extent that faith, belief and prayer play a role, you can and should express that. However, because you are running to represent Americans of all faiths and those of no particular faith, these cannot be a way of proving your superiority. There is a delicate balance between the particularity of your own faith and the pluralism mandated by the Constitution that will be demanded of you once you are in office, and I urge you to strive for it at the debates and on the campaign trail.
While you have the right to abstain from discussion of your personal faith on the debate stage, the issues confronting religious communities in America are too important to ignore. Last week, bigoted protests targeted mosques and Muslim community centers across America. Members of Congress have infused our response to the Syrian refugee crisis with religious animus. And Kim Davis, a woman who sought to use a government office to pursue a sectarian religious agenda, has become a folk-hero for the Religious Right.
As a candidate for the highest office of the land it is critical that you have something to offer people of faith looking to you for answers on these issues. You must offer a vision of religious freedom, a promise of how to protect the rights of all Americans, to your would-be constituents. On behalf of Interfaith Alliance, I urge you to pursue an inclusive and pluralistic version of religious freedom that recognizes that no one’s rights should be sacrificed for another.
When the debate begins, I hope you will speak powerfully and clearly to all Americans about the importance of religious freedom. Speak honestly, speak with your best understanding of faith and the Constitution, but please do not mislead us for political gain.
Rabbi Jack Moline
Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance brings together members from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition to protect faith and freedom. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.