The Interfaith Alliance (IA) was established in 1994 “to celebrate religious freedom and to challenge the bigotry and hatred arising from religious and political extremism infiltrating American politics.” Today this organization has members “from 75 faith traditions as well as those of no faith tradition,” and has local affiliates in fourteen U.S. states. On the premise …
The Interfaith Alliance (IA) was established in 1994 “to celebrate religious freedom and to challenge the bigotry and hatred arising from religious and political extremism infiltrating American politics.” Today this organization has members “from 75 faith traditions as well as those of no faith tradition,” and has local affiliates in fourteen U.S. states.
On the premise that “religious freedom is a foundation for American democracy,” IA maintains that “celebrating religious and cultural difference” through such measures as “interfaith dialogue” is “the way to achieve a vibrant community” and “to enhance mutual understanding and respect for religious differences.” Yet there are some “religious differences” that IA flatly rejects—namely, the beliefs and values of conservative Christians. Such “religious and political extremists,” says the Alliance, “are a threat to individual liberty and democracy.” “The Religious Right is wrong,” IA elaborates, “wrong for America and bad for religion.”
By contrast, IA is much more accepting of non-Christian “religious minorities in the United States” who “continue to be the target of discrimination based on their faith.” In particular, the Alliance laments that Muslims in the United States are frequent targets of “Islamophobia.” Among the measures that IA has taken to “change [public] perceptions and foster an environment of understanding” toward Muslims are the following:
- In April 2011, IA’s Long Island, New York chapter co-sponsored “What is Sharia Law?”—an educational program where several imams depicted Sharia as a benign legal and religious code that poses no threat whatsoever to American values or freedoms.
- When Repubican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in 2012 asked the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State to investigate whether the Muslim Brotherhood was gaining undue influence over U.S. government officials, IA denounced Bachmann for “question[ing] the loyalty of faithful Americans based on nothing more than their religious affiliations” and thereby threatening “religious freedom and the health of our democracy.”
- To combat alleged misconceptions that have “led to a rise in discrimination against American Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims,” IA helped produce a school lesson plan titled “What is the Truth About American Muslims? Questions and Answers.” This lesson was adopted as a curriculum item by Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
While claiming that “individual rights and matters of personal conscience must be held sacred,” IA promotes legislation that “protects the boundaries between religion and government, so that politics doesn’t infringe on your faith, and matters of faith don’t infringe on your freedom.” But such freedom is anathema to IA when exercised by conservative Christians. For instance, when the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—which said that “governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification”—was signed into law in 1993, the Alliance complained that many conservative advocates of the law “sought a drastically different definition of religious freedom than we … had in mind.” Moreover, IA accused conservatives of trying “to turn RFRA into a private right to discriminate,” and to “foist their religious beliefs onto their employees by controlling their access to benefits and rights at work.” By IA’s telling, the Christian Right’s “dangerous view of religious freedom” has no legitimate place in American society.
Similarly, IA objected strongly to the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision of 2014, which ruled that “closely held” corporations could be exempted from an Obamacare mandate requiring employers to provide their workers with health insurance policies that covered the costs of contraceptives and abortifacients, even if an employer opposed such things for religious reasons. IA leader Welton Gaddy lamented that the Court’s decision “gives the powerful the right to force their religious beliefs on those around them, [and] is a far cry from the best traditions of religious freedom.”
To help disseminate its political and religious views as widely as possible, IA broadcasts a weekly Internet radio program titled “State of Belief.”
Each year since 1998, the Alliance has presented its Walter Cronkite Faith & Freedom Award (the newscaster was a strong supporter of IA) to individuals who “have defended religious liberty and improved our society” by means of “courageous actions” that “embody the values of civility, tolerance, and cooperation in the advancement of public dialogue and public policy on traditionally controversial issues.” Past recipients of this award include such notables as newsman Tom Brokaw, actor George Clooney, Bishop Jane Dixon, Rabbi Steven Jacobs, Dr. Keith Jennings, newsman Peter Jennings, broadcaster Larry King, television journalist Jim Lehrer, TV host Rachel Maddow, editor/publisher Jon Meacham, journalist and political commentator Bill Moyers, author/journalist Sally Quinn, LGBT activist Donna Red Wing, and newspaper editor Forrest “Frosty” Troy.
For additional information on the Interfaith Alliance, click here.