The New Task Force on Religious Liberty—What’s Going On?

Dear Friends,

Behind many of the headlines, there is a forceful debate on what the 1st Amendment means in 2018, and how to practice religious freedom in a country that is increasingly diverse—religiously and non-religiously.

On Monday, Attorney General Sessions announced the creation of the Religious Liberty Task Force. His speech touches on our history and some of our historic values, reflects what moves him, and talks to the actions the administration is taking (and has taken) with respect to religious liberty.

His speech is informative. But for us, it also raises questions. (See the full speech delivered by Attorney General Sessions here). As you’ll see, his words raise foundational questions for all of us…

  • How do you put religious freedom into practice in a country where there are a variety of different beliefs?
  • What is the proper role of government—when the Constitution says it cannot establish religion?

Check out our reflections on the Attorney General’s remarks and some more questions to consider, by clicking here.

And please, tell us what you think. Make no mistake. Religious liberty—and what it looks like—is one of the key issues facing us today.

With respect and concern,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum


AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

The Muslim Ban – Who’s Next??

Dear Friends:

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Travel Ban, which we believe to be a Muslim Ban, is a disheartening moment for people dedicated to religious pluralism. At it’s essence, the travel ban targets people of a particular religion. In this case, it’s Muslims… but it leaves open the question – Who’s next?

We have steadfastly opposed the Muslim ban (see A Hidden Impact of the Muslim Ban), and we’ve partnered with others who have joined together in amicus briefs opposing the ban. Today, we joined our friends at the Islamic Networks Group (ING) and it’s Know Your Neighbor Campaign, in issuing Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters Statement on Travel Ban Supreme Court Ruling.

The statement’s call to dialogue with your neighbor is a call to action. And one place where you can start is our Guidelines for Conducting Open Conversations, a “how-to” guide to help you share and discuss all of our Combating Extremism resources.

This is a time for everyone who believes in religious pluralism to take a stand. By downloading and sharing our resources, by speaking out – and listening – we can undermine and untangle the misinformation that feeds injustice.

In solidarity,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

Masterpiece Cakeshop – The Five Key Takeaways

Friends,

I don’t know if you’ve been following the Masterpiece Cakeshop lawsuit or the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in that matter yesterday—but we have. It’s the case of a religious man, a baker, who refused to bake a custom wedding cake for a gay couple.

At Tanenbaum, we see this case as raising core questions of our national identity. We actually filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court because this case challenges us to answer:

  • How can we live respectfully and honor our differences as a religiously diverse country?
  • What do we do, when core principles that guide us—like the right to freely practice our faith and the right to live and go into stores without suffering discrimination—clash?
  • Where do we draw the line between a religious baker who objects to baking a cake based on his deeply held beliefs, and a gay couple protected by their state’s anti-discrimination laws when they want to purchase goods for their wedding?

In the decision, a majority of the Court agreed that the case presented difficult questions. Rather than answer those difficult questions, however, the Court focused on the conduct of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which it described as “inconsistent with the State’s obligation of religious neutrality.” In fact, the Supreme Court held that their deliberations reflected “religious hostility” and were neither “tolerant nor respectful of” the baker’s religious beliefs.

By ruling that the underlying procedures were unfair and declining to reach the difficult questions, the Court put these foundational questions off for another day. But that is only one of The Five Key Takeaways from Masterpiece Cakeshop.

1. “IT’s not over”… The court’s ruling was narrow… the question of how to implement religious freedom when it results in not complying with anti-discrimination laws is yet to be determined.

2. YES! Those who implement the law must be neutral and practice respect (including respect for religion and diverse religious beliefs)! The principle behind the court’s narrow decision is spot on. Those who implement our laws must do so in an even-handed, neutral way and that means…they cannot demean / evidence bias against / or ridicule religious beliefs (or non-religious beliefs) with which they disagree during a legal proceeding. And that principle applies both to regulatory commissioners and judges in our courts, whether they are secular or deeply religious.

3. The Court says the LGBTQI community deserves dignity…but members of that community still have to ask, “What happens when I get married?” Though the Masterpiece Court spoke of the critical need to respect LGBTQI people in the public square, there is now an aura of uncertainty for the gay community. Yes, they can legally marry. But they still have to ask: “Will I be able to purchase the wedding cake, flowers, or hire the best photographer in town?” AND, “Will I be able to adopt a child?”

4. The U.S. Supreme Court mandates tolerance in the application of the law, religious freedom, and in our treatment of the gay community—but what do we really mean by tolerance? The Court tells us what it doesn’t look like. But what does it look like? And how do we put it into practice?

5. The Supreme Court has a critical role to play in how our country moves forward. Objections to providing services based on religious beliefs can have long-term implications for religious freedom—and whether it survives for all of us. Freedom of religion is preserved in the First Amendment. To put it into practice, however, we rely on anti-discrimination laws that require people to provide goods and services no matter someone’s religion. Those same anti-discrimination laws also protect people against racial bias, age discrimination, bias based on ability status, and in some states, bigotry based on sexual orientation. If the religious beliefs of someone choosing to serve the public are legally able to undo these laws when it comes to a person’s sexual orientation, why can’t those same religious beliefs allow for discrimination based on a customer’s religious or non-religious beliefs? Why couldn’t a baker refuse to bake a cake for an interfaith couple, because one of them was Jewish and her Christian partner might be led astray? Or because the couple were atheists? Muslims? Sikhs?

So where does the ruling leave us, as a country? That, my friends, is up to us.

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

 


Photo credit: AP

5 Reflections on London and Virginia

Flowers left in memory for the victims of the attack at Finsbury Park Mosque. June 2017 | Getty Images

Dear friends,

Once again, on a Monday morning, we awoke to news that made us stop in our tracks— terrorism and the slaughter of a 17-year-old girl on Father’s Day because she was Muslim. Again, we mourn and extend our condolences to the families, friends and communities who are suffering these losses most directly.

Below are my 5 Reflections on London and Virginia:

  1. I am heartsick. But I also realize that the volume of the horrors has a numbing effect on too many of us.
  2. As numbness to the deaths sets in, fear is escalating at the randomness with which terrorism and hate crimes are becoming a daily norm.
  3. Terrorism is not limited to any one group or ethnicity. Just look at the perpetrators of these two crimes and you’ll see what I mean.
  4. Terrorism targets all of us— including Muslims.
  5. And the question… How is it that London and Virginia grab at our heartstrings— but we barely notice atrocities in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Somalia, India, etc.?

With great sorrow,

Joyce S. Dubensky
Tanenbaum CEO

Behavior vs. Belief: A Heated Debate

Bernie Sanders | Credit Win McNamee/Getty

Senator Bernie Sanders recently faced criticism for his questioning of Russell Vought during Vought’s confirmation hearing for Deputy Director for the Office of Budget Management. Sanders brought up a blog post in which Vought wrote that Muslims who “have rejected Jesus Christ” stand “condemned”. Sanders called this language “hateful” and said he would vote against Vought’s confirmation. Many leaders from a variety of Christian denominations have responded that Vought’s belief is a core tenant of Christianity, and one shared by many Americans.

Those who thought Sanders’ comments toward Vought were inappropriate, or even unconstitutional, argue that he was imposing a religious test on Vought. Some Muslim advocates have defended Sanders, saying that in the current political climate it’s important to ensure that nominees will treat all Americans fairly. This difference of opinion perhaps stems, not only from the different political or religious ideologies of those who are responding to the encounter, but also in whether they viewed Vought’s beliefs or his behavior as under attack.

One of Tanenbaum’s core principles is that when religious issues emerge in the workplace, employers should  focus on behavior and not belief. Employees are free to believe what they want to believe, and it is not appropriate (or, in many cases, legal) to argue with someone about their deeply held convictions. That said, it is appropriate to have standards for behavior in the workplace, and to require employees to meet those standards. For example, an employee may believe that homosexuality is an abomination, and is entitled to that belief. If, however, the employee starts harassing LGBT colleagues or posting defamatory statements on the company’s intranet page, such behavior would threaten to create a hostile work environment and the company would then be within its rights to discipline that employee.

Similarly, Vought has both a moral and constitutional right to his religious beliefs, including his belief that non-Christians will go to hell. If Sanders was criticizing Vought simply for holding that or any other religious belief, it would be inappropriate. However, Sanders’ office has since stated that he was concerned, not with Vought’s beliefs themselves, but whether the expression of those beliefs would prevent Vought from “carry[ing] out the duties of his office in a way that treats all Americans equally.” That criticism is far more valid because it focuses on what Vought’s behavior would be like if confirmed.

In the future, politicians who are concerned about nominees’ statements on religion should be careful to frame their concerns around the nominee’s behavior, not their beliefs.

By: Eliza Blanchard
Assistant Director, Workplace & Health Care Programs

A Hidden Impact of the Muslim Ban

This article was published on the Huffington Post Blog March 16, 2017


 

Photo Credit: CBC

President Trump’s re-issued travel ban was supposed to go into effect today. But courts in Hawaii and Maryland have issued temporary injunctions, blocking its implementation nationwide. President Trump has vowed to appeal, and the ban’s ultimate future remains uncertain.

Like so many others, we don’t see the executive order as simply affecting travel or ensuring safety. That’s why we join with those who call it a Muslim ban—because no matter how you frame it, the ban disproportionately harms Muslims and institutionalizes religious discrimination. As lawsuits emerge, civil and immigrant rights organizations take action, the press debates, and public protests proliferate, we are deeply troubled by the serious harm that many will experience because of the ban.

That said, we also recognize that there are less visible negative consequences. Like the ban’s impact on organizations like Tanenbaum that are battling against religious prejudice—prejudice that the ban actually fuels. In this way, the ban is doubly dangerous: it fans the flames of division while jamming the water hose.

Perhaps the ban’s most obvious impact on Tanenbaum is in our peacebuilding program. There, we work with religiously motivated Peacemakers, who daily risk their lives to counter some of the world’s worst armed conflicts. Currently, we work with 26 such individuals—including in Yemen and Syria, two of the six countries where travel to the U.S. is to be restricted. As a practical matter, this affects us, especially with our Peacemaker from Yemen.

Sheikh Al-Marwani has spent his life trying to prevent tribal warfare in Yemen, kidnapping of tourists, and the radicalization of youth. Today, he is caught in a brutal civil war and working to stop the terrorism that is destroying his country. Tanenbaum had hoped to bring him to New York so that we could document his work, learn from his lifetime of pursuing peace in the face of unbelievable odds, and provide lessons learned to the growing field of peacebuilding, as we do with all of our Peacemakers. Instead, he is precluded from coming —because of where he lives.

Tanenbaum also works to counter overt and subtle manifestations of religious discrimination and hate in workplaces and health care. Those were large tasks before the Muslim ban. Now they are even more complicated.

The ban’s effect on business has already made headlines, with many companies and industries responding to the original version and its revised form. Tech companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft were on the front lines condemning the first order, and many signed an amicus brief challenging the first version in the Ninth Circuit. Their argument highlighted the ban’s real-world impact. It hurts business. It negatively affects their companies’ operations by infringing on their ability to recruit talented employees from around the world. Top executives at companies like EY, PwC, and Kaiser Permanente also issued statements reinforcing their commitment to diversity and inclusion within their workplaces, and reassuring frightened employees that they would support them in the aftermath of this ban.

The ban—and the associated hostile rhetoric surrounding Muslims and other religious minorities—not only affects talent acquisition and retention, it also creates an environment where religious disrespect and discrimination are flourishing, including at work. Complaints about workplace religious discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rose sharply in 2016, after five years of steady decreases. Likewise, 52% of employers in an October 2016 survey reported that their workplaces were more volatile than previously.

As an organization that promotes respectful communication among employees and inclusion for people of all religious (and non-religious) beliefs, we are alarmed by these reports. And we are hearing from corporations that they are too. It’s hard to operate a successful business when your employees are afraid to come to work.

The ban also has negative implications for the health care institutions we serve. Not only do they often rely on foreign-born workers, but one quarter of all physicians practicing in the U.S. are international medical graduates; of them, more than 7,000 U.S. doctors attended medical school in one of the six countries currently named in the ban. It’s therefore predictable that the ban will exacerbate current physician shortages, particularly in the Rust Belt, rural areas and in specialties like primary care. This will prevent high-quality care from being delivered to patients – whether native born or immigrant. And if that weren’t serious enough, hate mongering in healthcare institutions—like the “White Power” graffiti in the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital—causes concern among diverse patients, making them question whether it is safe to get the care they need and, if they do, whether they will respected by their providers.

It is sobering to contemplate the large scale, destructive human toll of the Muslim ban. It prevents refugees from finding safety. It targets people from one of the world’s largest religious groups because of their faith. It curtails freedom. It falsely leads people to believe their unfounded fears are legitimate. And it affects the daily work of organizations like Tanenbaum, seeking to create a world where differences are respected—for all of us. Because respect isn’t just a nicety. It’s a matter of life and death (just ask Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers and the medical practitioners we work with).

America doesn’t need a Muslim ban. It needs a fire extinguisher.

MUSLIM BAN: History Repeating Itself?

Dear Friends,

The current news cycle is reporting that President Trump will soon issue an executive order temporarily banning all travel to the U.S. by men, women and children from seven predominantly Muslim countries and precluding most refugees from entering our country. While it appears that these bans will be time-limited for most, they may be indefinite when it comes to Syrian refugees.

In the name of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and basic human decency, Tanenbaum calls on President Trump to refuse to issue an executive order that would bar a single religious group from entering the United States.

This potential policy bears the harrowing hallmark of U.S. treatment toward refugees during the Holocaust. Then and now, such policies—even if short-lived—can amount to a death sentence. During World War II, the U.S. turned away thousands of Jewish men, women and children fleeing imminent extinction in Europe, fearing they might be “Nazi spies.” Upon return home, actual Nazis sent these innocent individuals to Auschwitz to die. Their only crime: being Jewish.

Today, the refugees are people fleeing terror, whether from terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Shabaab, or from governments that slaughter their citizens as collateral damage. Even if there is an executive order that makes an exception for persecuted religious minorities, such as the many Christians suffering in the Middle East, every indication is that this would not include the Muslims who are also living in imminent danger—in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa. Their only crime: being Muslim.

Terror does not discriminate, but a ban like this would make the U.S. a nation that does.

Equally alarming, a ban on Muslims with visas or those seeking them would have consequences that most Americans would not support. Students currently in the U.S. would not be able to visit their families abroad, because they might not be allowed to return. Muslim U.S. citizens awaiting the arrival of a spouse or other loved one might not be able to reunite. Fears of deportation and internment would heighten for Muslims living in the U.S. And all Americans, not just those from the Muslim community, would be further disconnected, as unfounded stereotypes about our Muslim neighbors become the law of our land.

And the refugees. While strong safeguards must be in place to identify those that are a threat, we must remember that, whether Jews from Europe during the 1940s or Muslims from the Middle East and Africa today, we are talking about innocent men and women just like us, who seek only to save their lives, and the lives of their children, by finding a safe-haven in a nation founded in the name of religious freedom.

Our government’s decision to deny refuge for Jews, who left their homes out of desperation, will forever remain a stain on America’s claim to being a moral compass. Let us not make the same mistake again.

With commitment to our nation’s values,

Joyce S. Dubensky
Tanenbaum CEO

From hate to harm: the alt-Right’s anti-Semitism in Montana

Jude StarOn Monday, three deadly terror attacks in Germany, Yemen and Jordan captured the world’s attention. It’s not that these acts are unusual. The number of articles about violent terrorism are too numerous to count. It’s that they all occurred on one horrific day.

And so did an effort to target Jews in the heartland of America.

On Monday, news outlets reported that alt-Right media presence Andrew Anglin (of the anti-Semitic online site “Daily Stormer”) was spewing rhetoric dangerously close to—if not directly from—the Nazi playbook.

In an article alleging that Jews had an agenda to go after the mother of the alt-right’s most visible alt-Right leader, Richard Spencer, Anglin accused the Whitefish, Montana Jewish community of plotting to destroy her business. Needless to say, Anglin’s story is a distortion. But he called for retaliation and asked his readers to make their objections known to members of the Jewish community, some of whom he showed with his article—wearing yellow stars.

Anglin actually encouraged his readers and other white nationalists to “troll,” or harass the town’s Jews and anti-discrimination activists online. Though his directions explicitly warned against violence, the reality is that it doesn’t work that way. Especially since his call to action included identifying information of neighborhood Jews and their allies. Not surprisingly, death threats have followed.

You can’t genuinely discourage violence, and at the same time call Jews, as Anglin did in his blog post, “a vicious, evil race of hate-filled psychopaths.” The road from hate to harm is all too short.

At Tanenbaum, we condemn the hatred, the anti-Semitism and the resulting threats that are now making one town in Montana unsafe for Jews. We also regret that, in so doing, we are giving Anglin public attention that can wrongfully be used as legitimizing him. Yet, we are compelled to be on the record. We condemn everything Anglin, Spencer and their audience stand for, do and say.

And so we ask…

If Anglin’s incitement isn’t a hate crime, what is?

And if it is, why aren’t we all standing in opposition to what he is doing?

If not now…when?

 

On December 27th, we will be publishing this month’s Combating Extremism materials explaining white nationalism and the alt-Right. Sign up for our weekly emails to be sure you receive them.

Swastikas, Headscarves & Beatings

Dear Friends,

Over the past week, Tanenbaum’s phones have been ringing off the hook. Friends, partners and strangers want to know what they can do to keep their families and communities safe. People are frightened by the undeniable wave of bigotry and fear tactics that have been unleashed since November 8th.

Venom is spewing all around us. There have been more than 300 reported hate incidents since Election Day. I’ve heard stories about Muslim children asking their parents if they will be deported, of waking up to swastikas spray painted on local buildings, and name-calling and intimidation we hoped was long behind us. I wish it were, but it is not.

If anything, combating religious prejudice and hatred has never been more urgent. Take a look at a few headlines—from just the past week:

All the while, Breitbart and other like-minded media are calling this trend a lie. We need the volume of our voices to match theirs. And we need our actions to speak even louder.

That is why today, I ask you to support Tanenbaum as we combat religious hate with practical solutions. Help us reach all sides and stop the venom. Our organization is small but our impact is large, and we need your help NOW to make long-lasting change.

Please make a donation today, or even sign up for monthly giving, to help combat religious prejudice, fear and hatred—so we don’t have to wake up to another day of headlines like these.

With gratitude,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

The Survivor Tree: A story of resilience from 9/11

survivortree_bloomingin2010_911memorialdotorg

The Survivor Tree, 2010 | 911Memorial.org

The tree’s branches were severed but a few green leaves remained, each leaf a sign of life against the blackened sky. On that day, we grieved as New Yorkers, and global citizens, for the innocent lives lost and the knowledge that in many ways, life would never be the same.

The Survivor Tree, November 2001 | 911Memorial.org/

The Survivor Tree, November 2001 | 911Memorial.org

The tree was carefully removed from the World Trade Center site and it began to recover, sprouting new branches and flourishing in the sun. Replanted at the 9/11 Memorial, in the spring, it’s white flowers spread across the sky, honoring the victims and reminding us of our strength when we stand together.

Together, we are a strong, resilient nation, just like The Survivor Tree.

By Nicole Margaretten


To view a slideshow of the Survivor Tree’s transformation, please visit the 911 Memorial’s gallery.