Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Petition: A Call for Interfaith Reconciliation

“[N]o religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. ” Article VI, U.S. Constitution.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” religion clauses of The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S.A. is not the only nation by far with religious liberty, nor the guaranteed protections of such by separating the institutions of religion from the institutions of government–which we usually refer to by the shorthand phrase “church-state separation.” But we were one of the first nations, if not THE first nation, to formerly disestablish all faiths–insisting that government (not society) be secular in the sense of neither promoting nor inhibiting religious faith. We believe that it has spared us some religious wars and that it has led to the flourishing of religious faith (especially Christianity, but never ONLY Christianity) here. Unlike almost every other industrial democracy, the U.S. has not experienced much secularization.

All this seems elementary, but it needs to be reviewed, apparently, by Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA), of Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. He has objected (beforehand) to freshman Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), an African-American adult convert to Islam, using a copy of the Qu’ran in his private “swearing in” ceremony yesterday. Goode has called this a threat to “Judeo-Christian values,” and to democracy itself, and made other alarmist and bigoted remarks. Meanwhile, Ellison has responded with tact, grace, and diplomacy. And the copy of the Qu’ran that Ellison chose to use for his ceremony once belonged to Thomas Jefferson himself. (For some international readers not up on U.S. history, Jefferson drafted the U.S. Declaration of Independence from the U.K. and was later the 3rd President of the United States. He is considered one of the architects of the U.S. form of government.)

To clarify: No religious text is used in the annual oath of office itself. Members of Congress elect stand, raise their right hands, and either swear or affirm (since some of us object to swearing oaths) to uphold the Constitution. The phrase “so help me God” is not part of the affirmation itself, but was added by George Washington and most members repeat it, but none are required by law to do so. The use of Bibles or other religious texts, such as the Qu’ran, are done in private, re-enactments of the mass oath/affirmation and are strictly voluntary. Those of us Anabaptist or Quaker types (assuming any are in Congress) who find it hypocritical to swear on a book that forbids swearing oaths would NOT be required to do so–Goode to the contrary.
But Goode’s remarks have created a storm of controversy as he has tried to stoke U.S. Christian fears of other religions and also used this fear-mongering to stir up fears of immigrants (even though Ellison is a “home-grown” Muslim).

For this reason, I have joined others in signing a petition calling on Rep. Goode to apologize to Rep. Ellison and for interfaith reconciliation. I urge you to join me. The text of the petition is below:

As religious people from diverse traditions, we call upon Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode to re-examine his opposition to newly-elected Representative Keith Ellison, a Muslim, taking his unofficial oath of office using the Qur’an, and to apologize for his statement that, without punitive immigration reform, “there will be many more Muslims elected to office demanding the use of the Quran.”

Mr. Goode insinuates that having more Muslims in the United States would be a danger to our country. As people of faith, we reject such ill-considered words.

An attack against one religion is an attack against them all. Next week, it could be Jews. Next month, it could be Christian fundamentalists or evangelicals. Right now, it is Muslims. It is they who feel targeted by repression and abuse, and they who live among us in a growing climate of fear.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once implored us: “No religion is an island! We are all involved with one another. Spiritual betrayal on the part of one of us affects the faith of all of us.”

We hold it to be self-evident that all Americans have the right to practice their faith, whatever it may be, and that any Americans – regardless of race, color or creed – may be elected and sworn into office holding whatever book they consider sacred.

We would point out that there are some five million Muslims in the US. Many have been here for generations. They are every bit as American as Rep. Goode. Some Americans have also converted to Islam, including Rep. Ellison. We call for a renewed unity among people of conscience and of faith.

We would further point out that just as it was appropriate for the late President Ford to be honored by a profoundly Christian memorial service, so it is equally appropriate for Rep. Ellison to be sworn into office, in a private ceremony, holding the book representing his deepest religious convictions.

Above all, we urge all Americans to stand up for religious freedom and to deplore the hurtful words of any public figure who would disparage a particular religion. In a spirit of reconciliation and peace, we invite Rep. Goode to join with us in an inter-religious delegation to visit a mosque in his district, in order that the healing may begin.

Signed (Organizations listed for identification purposes only):

Rev. Dr. George Hunsinger Princeton Theological Seminary

David A. Robinson, Executive Director Pax Christi USA: National Catholic Peace Movement

Rev. Robert Edgar National Council of Churches

Stephen Rockwell, Director Institute for Progressive Christianity

Jeffrey Boldt Wisconsin Christian Alliance for Progress

Katie Barge, Director of Communications Faith in Public Life

Rev. Debra Hafner Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

Rev. Peter Laarman, Executive Director Progressive Christians Uniting

Rev. Dr. Rick Schlosser, Executive Director California Council of Churches

Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs The Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs Progressive Faith Foundation

Elizabeth Sholes, Director of Public Policy California Council of Churches

Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock, Ph.D. Co-Director, Faith Voices for the Common Good

Jesse Lava, Co-founder and Executive Director FaithfulDemocrats.com

Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director Faith in Public Life

Rev. Dr. Larry L. Greenfield, Executive Minister American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago

Rev. Cedric A. Harmon Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Rev. Chuck Currie Parkrose Community United Church of Christ, Portland, OR

Joseph C. Hough, Jr., President Union Theological Seminary, New York

Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D., Co-director Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual

Rev. Harry Knox, Director of Religion and Faith Program Human Rights Campaign Foundation

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, Chair Department of Religion, Temple University

Vincent Isner, Executive Director Faithful America

Frances Kissling, President Catholics for a Free Choice

Rev. Timothy F. Simpson Christian Alliance for Progress

January 5, 2007 - Posted by | church-state separation, interfaith, peace

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for this. Your post inspired me (or enraged me?) – enough to write a harangue on the same subject. I appreciate your work and your witness.
    Grace and Peace,


    Comment by Kevin Baker | January 9, 2007

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