Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gaza Attacks

A few days ago, the Israeli Air Force, using American made F-16s and Apache helicopter gunships began the bombing of civilians in the Gaza killing at least 195 people and injuring countless others. As of this morning the death toll is over 350 with more than 1400 wounded even as Israel is talking about an all-out war with the Hamas-led government of Gaza. This in retaliation for rocket attacks launched from the inside Gaza. Attacks which, while inexcusable and heinous, have yet to take a life.

There are few things more painful and difficult than to call an old friend and staunch ally to account. Israel has been a beacon of hope to the victims of not only the Shoah, but to people who have known persecution all over the world. Surrounded by enemies, she has courageously defended herself and kept democracy alive in the Middle East. But as people of faith and good conscience committed to peace and also to justice, as well as friends and supporters of the state of Israel, we must take a stand and demand that Israel cease its disproportionate attacks on the Gaza; attacks which are taking innocent lives and causing terrible suffering to a people already groaning under the deprivation of an embargo which has deprived them of food, medical attention and most of the things that any people today need to live what John Ging, head of opertaions for UNWRA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, calls, "a dignified existence."

We cannot stand by and allow this to continue. Even in its own defense, proportionality is key to how an ethical nation behaves even in war. Israel maintains one of the most powerful militaries in the world, a military which is now engaged in an attack on a civilian population. The result of this is more bloodshed, more suffering and the seeds of discord for generations to come. As we have stood shoulder to shoulder with those who have condemned our own nation's abuses of human rights, its pre-emptive invasion and conduct of the unjust war in Iraq, so I appeal to people of every faith and no faith, along with organizations like Jewish Voices for Peace, Americans for Peace Now, and every other major peace and human rights organization in America and across the globe to join me in condemning the bombing of Gaza and in demanding that our friend and ally, the state of Israel, live up to its own commitment to work toward a just peace with its neighbors. It is time for Israel to withdraw its forces, stop the massacre and end the embargo against the people of Gaza. The only way to peace, is to stop the violence and work for justice- for everybody.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Equality Denied

In the euphoria of the election this year, it was easy for many of us to overlook the fact that in addition to the election of our nation's first Afro-American president, we also saw a major defeat for human and civil rights in several states, most particularly in California with the passage of proposition 8 banning same sex marriage. Apart from the disturbing fact that this defeat occurred in a so-called "blue" state, is the fact that this campaign was carried out by religious organizations.

Don't misunderstand me, people of faith, just as much as any other Americans have the right, indeed the obligation as citizens of a democracy (as well as by the imperatives of their faith's moral code) to work toward their particular vision of the good for the nation even if, as in this case, many of us who share that same faith may strongly disagree. Rather, what is particularly disturbing about the prop. 8 campaign are the misapprehensions, deceptions and outright untruths surrounding this issue, and the fact that many of those untruths and half-truths were perpetrated by and in the name of faith.

In my humble opinion, the most destructive of these is that marriage equality would violate the rights of churches to determine who they will or will not marry. That in other words, marriage equality is an assult on the separation of church and state by the state. But marriage equality concerns only civil marriage,an institution which in this nation confers rights and privileges on individuals that unmarried people do not have. From consents to tax regulations, married people enjoy a special legal status in this country, one that is denied to gay and lesbian people because they are not permitted to marry. Our constitution denies the government the right to intrude on the sacred rights of the church, but civil rights are the province of the state and to deny the legal rights of marriage to some but not others violates one of the most basic of our constitutional guarantees, the right to equality before the law. Prop.8 violates that right for millions of Americans. It is not only unjust, it is unconstitutional.

While it is the right of churches and church people to promote whatever vision of society that they see fit, the prop. 8 campaign was a blatant misinformation campaign aimed at encoding injustice and inequality into the California state constitution. That injustice is a call to people of faith and good conscience, even those who do not or can not theologically support same-sex marriage to stand up for the civil rights of their fellow Americans to civil marriage and the rights and privileges it confers.

On Sunday, May 3rd at noon in Independence Mall, Philadelphia, Pa, the Equality Forum is sponsoring a rally to support marriage equality. The Interfaith Alliance- Long Island is one of many co-sponors. Come and join us as we stand up for the rights of our fellow Americans. Remember the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "no one is free when others are oppressed." See you in Philly!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The struggle goes on

With the election of a new President, there is much optimism among many of us that the rather too cozy relationship between certain religious and religio-political groups and the White House may give way to a more even handed and constitutionally viable approach to both the relationship between the state and the church and to the vast diversity of religions and religious expression that is so much a part of the American landscape. There is much to be optimistic about, as President-elect Obama's own experience as a Christian son of a Muslim father and as a leader who has reached out to religious minorities in his campaign has indicated.In fact, with the election of Barack Obama, many folks see a repudiation of the religious right, particularly in the person of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and maybe even an end to their power in US politics.

That would be a mistake. History has shown that fundamentalism and political extremism, the seed beds for the religious right in this country, are extremely tenacious movements that give voice to deep-seated fears and frustrations that, if anything, grow stronger in the kinds of uncertain economic times that we are experiencing. President-elect Obama, no matter how committed to change, is not the biblical Messiah, he is the leader of a democracy in which all voices, including those that advocate positions contrary to those on which that democracy are based, have the right to be aired and respected. Indeed, that is what the Interfaith Alliance is all about- protecting religious and civil liberties for those whose views we disagree with, even abhor as well as for those who views we applaud.

What all that seems to mean for us, is our work is far from over. There is much yet to be done. And while we congratulate President-elect for his hard won and historic victory and look forward with hope to an administration with a more open ear to our concerns than the one it replaces, we reocgnize that our work is not over, it has just begun. We need all Americans, people of faith and people of no-faith, with us, if we are to help to build a nation in which religious and civil liberty is not just an aspiration, but a reality for all. Please join us.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Dunkin Donuts and the kefiyah

The recent yanking by Dunkin Donuts of an ad featuring Rachel Ray wearing a fringed scarf similar to a kefiyah should give pause to fair-minded people across our country. There is something terribly wrong when the hysteria of a few small minded pundits and their ilk is taken so seriously by a major corporation that the simple act of wearing what appears to be a common middle eastern garment is associated with some kind of endorsement of terrorism. Why is this important? Because it illustrates the truth, so long denied by the perpetrators of the so-called "War on Terror" that the true threat to our cherished freedoms, indeed our democracy itself is not some shadowy group of foreign fanatics as real as they are, it is our own fear made manifest in policies that sacrifice not only our founding principles of fairness and equality before the law, but our own national moral compass in favor of an "us against them" total war mentality. Over the last seven years just such a mentality has made our beloved country known not for the freedom and opportunity for all that have always made us a beacon of hope for struggling people everywhere, but for pre-emptive war, secret dungeons, torture, wire-tapping of our own citizens and a fear and even hatred of all things Muslim, apparently even a simple article of clothing.
These past seven years have proven beyond any doubt that our greatest enemy does not come from the elsewhere. As Pogo said almost half a century ago: "We have met the enemy and they is us." This nation has stood tall against some of the most powerful enemies in the history of the world and kept its national integrity and its people's freedom intact.It is not some motley crew of extremists we need to fear, it is fear itself- the kind of fear that makes the mere wearing of a kefiyah reason enough to pull an ad on national TV.

Monday, March 24, 2008

What's Wrong with Prayer in School?

The short answer to the question, "what's wrong with prayer in schools?", public private or otherwise, is "not a thing." To quote an overused phrase, "as long as their are tests, there will always be prayer in schools." The first ammendment to the Constitution guarrantees the free exercise of religion and there is no law that can be permitted to infringe upon that right and contrary to much of the rhetoric out there, the Supreme Court's 1962 decision on school prayer did nothing to change that law. Your children and mine are free to pray as their consciences and their religious traditions require them too.

What the decision did do, along with the accompanying decision on reading the Bible in the public schools, was to render public school SPONSORED prayer illegal as a violation of the first ammendment. Rather than eliminate your child's right to pray in school, the court protected that right by making it illegal for any public school or other government agency to dictate to your child how, when and to whom they should pray. Up until that decision became law, schools all across this nation were allowed, (and many did)require students to read the Protestant Bible and to recite Protestant Christian prayers at designated times during the school day effectively staking out the public schools of America as Protestant schools. This was a large part of the reason that Roman Catholics set up a parallel set of schools all over the country- so that their children could go to school without having to pray prayers and read bibles that were not sanctioned by their faith. If you were Catholic, or Jewish, or any other religion or no religion, the message was clear: this is a Protestant Christian nation, our institutions, our culture, they are Protestant Christian. Cultural domination is as much what this issue is about as any concerns for piety.

I think the same can be said about posting the Ten Commandments in court houses and schools. Arguments are made that the Ten Commandments are a good ethical code that is beneficial to all as well as a part of the heritage of Christians and Jews (Muslims too by the way). And yet, one wonders what the advocates for displays of the Ten Commandments would say to posting the Muslim version instead of the one used by most Protestants- or even the Roman Catholic version. In this case, as in the case of most of these issues from the War on Christmas to school-sponsored prayer the issue seems ultimately to come down to who owns the culture- about whether this nation belongs to all of us, or just some of us.

As a religious person, I appeal to other religious persons to think carefully as to whether we really want to trust the public schools for our children's prayer lives or religious educations. I know that for me, I reserve the right to teach my children about prayer, about the Ten Commandments, about the tenets of my faith at my home and in my church. I don't want a public school telling my kids who to pray to or how to pray. I don't need the Ten Commandments to stare at me or mine from the courthouse either, they are written on my heart and posted in my church, where they belong. Posting them is not the issue- living them is.

As an American, I recognize the right of every American to follow the dictates of his or her own conscience as I follow the dictates of mine. I recognize their right to to be full stakeholders in this democracy just as I am, equal before the law, whether they worship as I do or not at all. How about you? If you do, I urge you to join us at the Interfaith Alliance. Because you only have the rights you are willing to defend.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Michael Savage: Hate Speech isn't Free

There is a reason why freedom of speech is "number 1" on the Bill of Rights hit parade. The freedom to express oneself and the free exchange of ideas are vital ingredients of any democracy. But freedom depends on an embrace of the idea of trust, the same kind of trust that other liberal systems, like government by the people, require. If we cannot trust our the people to choose their own leaders, then freedom is not possible. The same is true of freedom of speech. It requires an ability to trust in the will of the people to sift through the cacaphony of voices out there and choose among them wisely. That kind of freedom isn't free, it requires vigilance because words do more than simply express ideas, they also goad people into action, they frame discourse and that discourse leads to events and consequences. In Rwanda in 1994, for example, Hutu extremists used the radio to whip crowds into a genocidal frenzy against their Tutsi neighbors resulting in a holocaust of death. On a lesser scale today, self-appointed "shock jocks" like Michael Savage spew hate speech against Muslims and the Islamic faith, advocating that we "kill 100 million" Muslims and that the US ban Muslim immigration and the building of mosques.

When he does that, Savage crosses the line. It is not simply that his bigotry is an outrage to any civilized human being, Certainly it is that. But Savage's words go beyond simply being offensive. Though he hides behind the banner of free speech, what Savage is doing isn't free, it is an assault on the liberty of everyone of us and a on the very idea of freedom. Free speech becomes hate speech when it advocates violence against another group of people simply because of their race, or gender or nationality or, in this case, their religion. Savage isn't just a citizen expressing ideas that might make the less savage among us uncomfortable, he is using the airwaves to incite his listeners to violence and the denial of the religious and civil rights of our Muslim fellow Americans.

Savage's misuse of the airwaves is not an expression of our cherished freedom, it is the kind of misuse equivalent to yelling "fire!" in a crowded theater and it is time that people of faith and good conscience exercise our own freedom of expression to pull the plug on Savage. You can help by going to http://nosavage.org. By logging on at this site you will not only get a first hand taste of Savage's hate speech, you will be raising money for the work of The Interfaith Alliance and you will find out which companies are sponsoring Savage's radio rant. Help us let them know that we have rights too- the right to support companies that don't sponsor hate. The only rights we really have, are those we are willing to stand up and protect. Our fellow Americans are being singled out by this man's misuse of the airwaves, they need us to stand with them and fight this savagery. Its the right thing to do.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

January 11, 2008, marks the sixth anniversary of the first prisoners arriving at Guantanamo Bay, the infamous prison for those suspected of being "enemy combatants" in what is often called the "War on Terror." This is a date that should live in infamy for people of faith and good conscience, everywhere, but most especially here in the United States because it was the opening of "Gitmo" based on a legal fiction developed by lawyers for our government that created the first detention camps for a new class of people without either constitutional rights nor those afforded prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions was created in the name of national security. The location of the camp in this base located on the tip of Cuba was chosen to reinforce that fiction and allow for the use of torture and inhumane treatment of individuals in the custody of the United States government because, in short, the current administration had created a new class of people, those without civil or even human rights.

As people of faith we cannot fail to bear witness to this outrage against the sanctity of human life and the rights of people to be treated with dignity and compassion, even those who are our enemies for indeed our treatment of them should not be dependent on who they are or what they have done, but on who we are and what we believe is right, moral and true. As Americans, we cannot but be outraged that this place of torture, and this blatant denial of the unalienable rights of human beings to be treated according to the rule of law, as well as this abrogation of the minimum standards of treatment of prisoners in what the President himself terms a war on terror, has shamed our nation and placed the US among those pariah nations outside the rules of the civilized world.

On January 11, I urge all people of conscience to join with me and the American Civil Liberties Union in wearing orange to protest the outrage of Guantanamo and demand its immediate closing. How long will we allow this outrage against human decency to continue? How long will it be before we learn that the ends do not justify the means, rather, as Martin Luther King said, "the ends are inherent in the means." Gitmo is anti-American, it is anti-human, it is immoral and America is better than this!

Go to www.aclu.org/closeguantanmo for more information about how you can get involved