Interfaith Alliance to Political Parties: Respect the Sanctity of Religion

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Washington, September 19 – The Interfaith Alliance released the text of a memo sent jointly to the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee, calling on all political parties and candidates for public office to respect the sanctity of religion in America. This letter comes in response to two recent incidents where candidates have used religion for partisan, political purposes. Representative and U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr., (D-TN) recently aired a campaign commercial filmed inside a church, and Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline (R) has written a memo in which he targeted pastors to help his campaign’s fundraising efforts.

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OPEN LETTER

TO: Ken Mehlman, Chairman, The Republican National Committee
Howard Dean, Chairman, The Democratic National Committee

CC: RNC/ DNC Campaign Committees
State Parties

DATE: September 19, 2006

RE: Partisan Politics and Preserving the Sanctity of Religion and the
Autonomy of Houses of Worship

The recent rush of candidates/political parties- 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 partisan gain is doing to Americans of all faith traditions. A partnership between religion and government should preserve the autonomy of houses of worship and ensure that religious institutions are not held hostage to the priorities and interests of federal, state, or local governments. Religion’s powerful healing force will be severely compromised if America’s shared values are replaced by values that advance only one particular sectarian interest.

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. The Interfaith Alliance and its 185,000 members from over 75 faith traditions believe it is important that religious leaders encourage their worshipers to cast informed votes this November. Yet when candidates and their supporters use the language of faith to advance partisan 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 and advise your respective state parties and/or political candidates to:

Refrain from speaking from the pulpit, bema or lectern;
Refrain from using sanctuaries or houses of worship as backdrops for campaign ads;
Refrain from collecting and/or using congregational membership directories;
Refrain from organizing congregants inside a house of worship or distributing partisan material on behalf of a candidate.

The Interfaith Alliance does not mean to suggest that religious leaders should refrain from discussing the important issues of the day with their congregations.

We firmly believe religious leaders can and should encourage an open dialogue about issues important to the country, the communities, and the congregations. Many historians contend that no other form of discourse has held the place of importance in this nation’s life as that of preaching. Those of us who deliver meditations, homilies, and sermons have a responsibility to seize teachable moments in our national life -moments like those involved in a national election -as opportunities for talking with people about the basic values that emerge from our sacred scriptures and oral traditions and how those values impact and shape our civic involvement.

If we omit politics from the subjects to which we turn in those moments, people will assume either that politics is not important enough to be included in discussions of matters of faith or, worse still, that religion has nothing to say about politics. Truly great preaching -or any form of religious discourse -can no more ignore the great issues of the day than it can ignore the great texts and truths of the scriptures of the tradition within which it is done. Congregations look to their religious leaders for guidance – spiritual, moral, and otherwise – not manipulation on behalf of political organizations with a partisan agenda.

Our nation can benefit from a recovery of a real, vital, and viable partnership between religion, politics, and government in which each treats the other realms with appreciation and respect without seeking to confuse them or join forces with them.

The core values of the nation’s religions ultimately will lend strong support for the core values of our democracy. And our democracy will continue with vitality by allowing religion to remain independent as a contributor to the public’s conscience, a facilitator of healing, an advocate for the weakest and poorest among us, and as a community of prophets, priests, and care-givers.

I also point you to our election year guides for political candidates located online at interfaithalliance.org/Elections. This resource helps political candidates to draw the distinctions between: Reaching out to religion for personal strength; Respecting all religions publicly; Misusing religion for partisan political purposes; and Misusing religion as a strategy for winning. These guides have been mailed to your respective organizations but we are happy to send you additional copies.

I also make myself or any member of The Interfaith Alliance available to you for further discussion on these important matters.

Warm Regards,

Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
President, The Interfaith Alliance
Pastor for Preaching and Worship, Northminster (Baptist) Church (Monroe, LA)