Evangelical leaders Leith Anderson and Russell Moore are among the country's multi-faith leaders calling on President Barack Obama and Congress to reject a recent report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which claims that religious organizations "use the pretext of religious doctrines to discriminate."
"We call upon each of you to renounce publicly the claim that 'religious freedom' and 'religious liberty' are 'code words' or a 'pretext' for various forms of discrimination," the religious leaders wrote in a letter to President Obama, Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch and House Speaker Paul Ryan. "There should be no place in our government for such a low view of our First Freedom — the first of our civil rights — least of all from a body dedicated to protecting them all."
The leaders, including Moore, president of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, pointed out that what's "even more disturbing" is that the report includes a statement by Commission Chairman Martin Castro: "The phrases 'religious liberty' and 'religious freedom' will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance."
Signatories of the letter, which was made public early Wednesday, include Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Baha'i, Mormon, African Methodist Episcopal, Southern Baptist, and Evangelical leaders as well as leaders of non-religious organizations. The report is called "Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Non-Discrimination Principles with Civil Liberties."
The authors, which also included Ron Sider, Distinguished Professor of Theology at Eastern University, wrote that "people of good faith can disagree about the relationship between religious liberty and antidiscrimination laws in our country, and how that relationship should best be structured" but "these questions have to do with issues critical to the common good such as marriage, the family, contraception, abortion, and the source of human dignity."
They demanded that no American citizen or institution be labeled by their government as "bigoted" because of their religious views, and "dismissed from the political life of our nation for holding those views."
"Each of us opposes hateful rhetoric and actions. We believe in the equality of all Americans before the law, regardless of creed or community," they added. "But we are both determined and unafraid to speak the truth about beliefs we have held for millennia. A robust and respectful debate over ideas is not something harmful to be demonized. Rather, debate is good for our democracy, and should be encouraged."
They also praised and quoted Obama's 2006 speech: "Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King — indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history — were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their 'personal morality' into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition."
Archbishop William E. Lori, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, are also among the signatories of the letter.