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.