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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

Letter to Congress: RESIST Budget Cuts to Foreign Assistance

Dear Member of Congress,

    Click to view and download            Tanenbaum’s Letter to Congress

As a constituent from New York and as the CEO of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, I write with deep concern about the proposed budget cuts to foreign assistance, especially as it relates to global conflict. At Tanenbaum, we identify and work with men and women driven by their religious beliefs and ready to risk their lives to end conflict around the world. These include deadly conflict, escalating violence and extremism that, over the past 15 years, has reduced world GDP by 13.3%.

U.S. foreign assistance is a vital tool for reducing violent conflict and the threat it poses to Americans. The Institute of Economics and Peace estimates that for every dollar we invest in peacebuilding now, the cost of violent conflict would be reduced by $16 over time. However, despite its proven success, there is shockingly little investment in peacebuilding. Just 2% of U.S. spending goes to peacebuilding and peacekeeping activities (around one percent of the $739 billion cost of conflict in 2015).

Despite minimal resources, peacebuilding practitioners offer a wide range of successful programs that reduce violence by addressing the root causes of conflict. One example is Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network, which reduces violence in many countries, including Afghanistan, Nigeria and Colombia. Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers and so many other peacebuilders offer creative and impactful approaches to: land disputes, religious and ethnic conflicts, gang violence, gender-based violence, and extremism.

We need to invest in the preventive power of peacebuilding. The reductions for peacebuilding in the proposed budget will make us less safe while increasing the corollary military costs. I therefore urge you to resist draconian cuts to foreign assistance that will destroy our ability to prevent and reduce violence globally.

I look forward to hearing from you on how you are working to save lives and money through peacebuilding in the FY 2017 and FY 2018 budget processes.

Thank you,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

President Obama’s Condemnation of Islamophobia is Admirable – and Overdue

Yesterday President Obama addressed thousands of American-Muslims at the Islamic Society of Baltimore during his first visit to a mosque in the United to condemn anti-Muslim rhetoric.

“We applaud President Obama for his important demonstration of solidarity with the Muslim community – yet we also believe his speech is long overdue,” said Tanenbaum | Center for Interreligious Understanding CEO Joyce Dubensky. “In this climate of increasing religious bias and discrimination, he has taken an important step forward in demonstrating how respect can be put into practice, as modeled by our First Amendment.”

Tanenbaum said that as citizens, we should encourage our political leaders to unify divisions within Americans, including religious differences. Regarding the upcoming political election, Dubensky stated, “Regardless of political affiliation, it’s the responsibility of our next president to take an early stance against the stereotypes, hate and alienation that result when people think that terrorism and Islam are synonymous.”

Tanenbaum offers a range of educational curricula and other materials including its Combating Extremism resources, which help teachers and individuals address extremism constructively in classrooms and communities.

The Unintended Consequences of Pamela Geller’s NYC Bus Ad

Pam Geller’s recent New York City bus ad depicts a man with a scarf wrapped around his head beside the quote, “Killing Jews is worship that brings us closer to Allah” attributed to Hamas MTV. A federal judge ruled that the ad, slated to run on NYC buses and already running in San Francisco and Chicago, are protected by free speech. And the MTA is now banning all political advertisements.

Without question, freedom of speech is a core value and the foundation of our democracy. As such, it must be preserved. But how do we respond to hate speech that is intended to divide us and incite hate? Regardless of Geller’s motive, it is clear that her ad fuels bigotry toward Muslims, by instantaneously conflating 1.6 billion people with the visible few, who perpetrate violent extremism. So what should the MTA do? How do we responsibly balance freedom of speech with messages that may incite violence in our communities?

It sounds simple and it’s said often. The first step is to fight speech with speech. Together, it is our responsibility to condemn, confront and debunk advertisements that perpetuate false stereotypes and marginalize our neighbors. Ironically, in Geller’s fervor to protect her prejudiced view of democracy for people who think like her, an unintended consequence of her actions looms over New York City. Political discourse – one of the bedrocks of democracy – is being shut down by the MTA as they prohibit all political ads. While that may save us from having to witness Geller’s venom in our neighborhoods, our right to free speech will be taken from us and, indeed, all of us will bear the consequences.

On the bright side, however, Geller’s actions have yielded another unintended consequence. Because of her actions, Muslims, Jews and Christians are working together in a united front against her hate-inciting initiative. And that is what our democracy is really all about.

Top News Stories 7/18 – 7/24

 

Palestinian boys play at St. Porphyrios, a Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza City where up to one thousand Palestinians have found refuge. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Approximately 1,000 Palestinians have found shelter in a Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza that was built in the 12th century.
According to a Reuters article published on July 22, 2014:

“We have opened the church in order to help people. This is the duty of the church and we are doing all we can to help them,” Archbishop Alexios said to a Reuters reporter while the sounds of children playing echoed down the hall.

“At the beginning there were 600 people and today they became a thousand – mostly children and women. Some of those children are a week old,” explained the head of Gaza’s Greek Orthodox minority.

Gaza and Israel: Which side is Tanenbaum on?
To read more about Tanenbaum’s perspective on the conflict in Israel and Gaza, view our blog post by Tanenbaum CEO, Joyce S. Dubensky

Germany, France and Italy condemn anti-Semitic protesters after violent clashes
Many news agencies have reported on the sharp increase of anti-Semitism, although anti-Semitism has been on a slow rise over the past 25 years. Newsweek reported on July 24th that the foreign ministers of Italy, Germany and France have issued a joint statement condemning anti-Semitic statements and acts that have been witnessed throughout anti-Israel protests.

President Obama issued an executive order that bans federal contractors from discriminating against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) employees. Obama first promised to issue the order during his 2008 presidential campaign.
The order does not include any language that exempts religious organizations from following the discrimination protections. However, there is a possible loophole – Obama’s order adds LGBT protections to a previous order signed by President Lyndon Johnson. Johnson’s order does have an exception that allows religious groups to hire only employees “of a particular religion”.

India Mental Health Care
PBS reports on how medical doctors and spiritual practitioners are working together to address mental health in India. There is a dire need for help; in India, only five thousand psychiatrists serve the needs of 120 million people. It is estimated that one hundred million people in India have “common” mental health disorders while 20 million have severe illnesses, e.g. schizophrenia. Watch the video or read the transcript for more.

Gaza and Israel: Which Side is Tanenbaum on?

As the Israel-Gaza violence escalates, I get more and more inquires about the organization I lead, asking where Tanenbaum stands and calling on us to speak out. In a number of ways, albeit not always directly, we have tried to say that we are torn apart by the violence on both sides. But that is not enough. It is time to try to clarify, though I know that many will not be satisfied because they want Tanenbaum and me to take a side.

We do take a side – it is the side of life. And the pursuit of a more peaceful world where differences – including religious differences – can thrive.

That means that Tanenbaum unequivocally condemns the use and abuse of religion in the furtherance of violence and geo-political aims.

It means that we denounce the extremists on both sides, who fuel war, horrific violence and hate.

It means that we oppose the verbal violence and rhetoric, the stereotypes and the “othering” that makes the human beings on both sides seem less human.

It means that Tanenbaum abhors war and violence, and that our hearts ache for the victims on both sides.

We are watching a human catastrophe for which words fail. Real people live in Israel and Gaza– people like you and me, who simply want to live their lives. Instead, they are being brutalized.

We see the Palestinian mother who watched her child die from a bomb. And the Palestinian father who is unable to keep his family safe. They are real, and I cannot imagine their agony. So too, is the Israeli mother who buries her son. And the Jewish child in Israel, who knows that she is alive today, only because Hitler did not finish what he started. And who also knows that the constant rockets mean that some of her neighbors are dedicated to making sure Hitler’s plan for her is finally realized.

These men, women and children – the real victims on both sides – are why Tanenbaum works to combat the abuse of religion and the violence. They are why we recommit ourselves to the pursuit of peace for all.

This is where we stand. On the side of life. The death and devastation must stop.

Who’s watching the spiral of hate?

Who’s watching the spiral of hate?

For those of us who care about acknowledging the humanity in each person- these are dark days.

The Middle East is in flames. Religious practices across Asia and Southeast Asia are being snuffed out – from Christians and Falun Gong practitioners in China to Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist majority Myanmar. Christians are desperately fleeing their homes in northern Iraq. We object to this senseless hatred wherever it is found. And now, we see virulent anti-Semitism in Europe that horrifies us.

If you’re watching, you can see the anti-Semitic anger cutting across Europe as protestors respond to the conflict in Israel and Gaza. While we would always support the right to peacefully protest and express one’s views on the tragedy that is the Middle East, we still have to ask – Why are so many of the current protests devolving into hate, violence and, specifically, targeting hatred toward Jewish people?

At Tanenbaum, we condemn the violence that we see all around us – in the Middle East, in Africa and Asia. And that includes the violence that is threatening European communities, leaving many Jews fearing for their future. Frighteningly, what we are seeing in France and Germany is the tip of an iceberg. Data shows that anti-Semitism is a worldwide illness that has risen over the last 25 years.

As we watch the news unfold, we must pay attention to the violence being perpetrated in the name of religion and as a form of hatred for individuals of particular traditions. In addition to headlines that make us all so sorrowful, we must also make it a point to witness the harm that is not reaching the headlines. And that includes attacks toward Jews just walking on the street to synagogues being set aflame.

As we watch the spiral of hate seemingly spin out of control, we at Tanenbaum recommit ourselves to promoting and practicing respect – for all people. It’s time to end the spiral of violence.  And we all have to be part of the solution.

In Friendship,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

What you need to know about the National Day of Prayer

Tomorrow, May 1, marks the National Day of Prayer. We’ve received questions about this annual event in the past, so we thought it might be helpful to share what we know.

The National Day of Prayer is held on the first Thursday of every May with people of all faiths invited to pray for the nation according to their own belief systems. Communities across the country choose to acknowledge the day by praying and giving thanks in houses of worship, community centers, town squares and places of business.

One of the most common questions we hear is, “Is the National Day of Prayer constitutional?” In 2011, a U.S. Court of Appeals found that the National Day of Prayer imposes responsibility solely on the U.S. President, but imposes no obligation on citizens. The Court essentially described the Presidential Proclamations of the National Day of Prayer as open invitation to members of the public who could opt to participate or not.

If you are planning an event, these guidelines may help with its success:

  • Make it voluntary. The National Day of Prayer was explicitly created as a day on which people could choose to pray according to their own beliefs and consciences. For some people, that means not praying at all.
  • Make it welcoming. If prayer does not suit your event or audience, try a moment of silence or a service event.
  • Make it inclusive. Try creating a program that appeals to people from all backgrounds, such as “Widget Corporation’s Day of Service and Reflection is a time for us to reflect on our individual beliefs while supporting the community together.”

For more information, check out our National Day of Prayer Fact Sheet.

Remembering Nelson Mandela: Top 5 news stories

Shaped by Methodists, Mandela paid tribute to the role of religion • Moscow mayor: No more mosques in my city • Ohio Amish Girl, Family Flee to Avoid Forced Chemo • Woman sues over Catholic hospitals’ abortion rule • The number one target for religious lobbyists isn’t what you think
Last week’s top news, from our perspective:
Shaped by Methodists, Mandela paid tribute to the role of religion

Nelson Mandela, the former South African president who died Thursday (Dec. 5), had a deep connection with religious institutions.

Mandela was educated, first at Clarkebury and then at Healdtown, Methodist boarding schools that provided a Christian liberal arts education.

(Photo: South Africa The Good News / www.sagoodnews.co.za, via Wikimedia Commons)
Moscow mayor: No more mosques in my city

In an interview with the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda on Wednesday, Mr. Sobyanin said that Moscow has about two million foreign residents, the vast bulk of them migrant workers from former Soviet Central Asia who are mainly Muslim. The city’s economy “could not manage without them,” he admitted.

But he insisted that the vast throngs of Muslims who fill Moscow streets and wait, often for many hours, to enter the city’s few existing mosques are mostly people who come from outside the city limits and therefore have no right to be catered to.
Ohio Amish Girl, Family Flee to Avoid Forced Chemo

A 10-year-old Amish girl with leukemia and her parents have fled their home in Ohio, leaving the country at one point, so that she won’t be forced into resuming chemotherapy treatments, the family’s attorney said Wednesday.

The family has been fighting a hospital in court for months after the parents decided to halt the treatments because they were making the girl sick.
Woman sues over Catholic hospitals’ abortion rule

A Michigan woman is taking on the nation’s Catholic hospitals in federal court, alleging they are forcing pregnant women in crisis into having painful miscarriages rather than terminate the pregnancy — and not giving them any options.

The Muskegon woman, who developed an infection and miscarried 18 weeks into her pregnancy, sued the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Monday, alleging the group’s anti-abortion directive denies proper medical care to women like herself.
The number one target for religious lobbyists isn’t what you think

Which bill in Congress affects the deficit, abortion funding, gay rights, religious liberty, peace, nuclear arms, Israel, and even homeschooling?  The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

We reviewed the lobbying activity of over 300 religious interest groups.  Of the over 500 bills that these interest groups lobbied on over the past two years, the annual defense spending bills were, by far, the biggest target of their advocacy.

Girl shot by Taliban speaks out: Tanenbaum’s Top 5 News Stories

Malala Yousafzai, Girl Shot by Taliban, Makes Appeal at U.N. • Report: Americans hold different views of what “religious” means COMMENTARY: The truth about religious freedom in the military • Atheist Study Reveals That Non-Believers Are Just As Varied As People Of Faith • Zimmerman trial verdict filters into pews and pulpits

Last week's top stories, from our perspective:

Malala Yousafzai, Girl Shot by Taliban, Makes Appeal at U.N.
In a speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting education for girls in Pakistan, called on world leaders to provide “free, compulsory education” for every child.

“Let us pick up our books and our pens,” Ms. Yousafzai told young leaders from 100 countries at the United Nations Youth Assembly in New York. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution.” (Photo credit from The Guardian, T Mughal/EPA)

Report: Americans hold different views of what “religious” means
What does it mean to be a religious person? A new study shows a divide between those who believe it's about acting morally and those who equate it with faith. Nearly six out of 10 Americans (59 percent) say that being a religious person “is primarily about living a good life and doing the right thing,” as opposed to the more than one-third (36 percent) who hold that being religious “is primarily about having faith and the right beliefs.”

COMMENTARY: The truth about religious freedom in the military
Rev. Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, and Rev. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, challenge the assertion that there is a war against Christians in the U.S. military. An excerpt:

Our government and our military must protect the rights of all members of the armed forces regardless of faith or belief. And they must be blind to the virtues of any one faith over another. All service members should feel comfortable practicing their faith — or not practicing any faith — as they protect our nation.

Atheist Study Reveals That Non-Believers Are Just As Varied As People Of Faith
Researchers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga report that atheists are just as heterogenous of a group as people of faith, in a study done by doctoral student Christoper F. Silver and project manager Thomas J. Coleman III.

Many previous religious surveys placed people without religious beliefs into a catch-all category known as the "religious nones," but that oversimplifies the wide spectrum of opinions that fall into that group. The report idenfified six different groups of religious non-believers: Intellectual Atheist/Agnostics (IAA), Activist Atheist/Agnostics (AAA), Seeker Agnostics (SA), Antitheists, Non-theists and Ritual Atheist/Agnostics (RAA).

Zimmerman trial verdict filters into pews and pulpits
Clergy around the country spoke to congregants about the Zimmerman trial last weekend. This Washington Post article examines some of those clergy members in and around DC.