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Jews On First!

... because if Jews don't speak out, they'll think we don't mind

Texas clergy organize to protect religious space

Response to "patriot pastors'" political use of houses of worship

by, July 5, 2006

Over one hundred Texas clergy launched a campaign last week to push back against the partisan use of houses of worship by religious right groups.

They call their campaign Respect Our Faith. It follows the establishment of the Texas Restoration Project, which recruits conservative evangelical "patriot pastors" to mobilize their congregations for right-wing causes.

The Respect Our Faith campaign, which includes representatives of many different religions, is also recruiting fellow clergy -- to sign pledges to protect worship space from partisan political use.

Protection does not mean shunning political involvement, though.

"It's appropriate to use faith communities and places of worship for issue advocacy," Rabbi Neal Katz of Congregation Beth El in Tyler, told JewsOnFirst. Katz was one of four clergy who announced the Respect Our Faith campaign in Austin on June 29th. Candidate forums are also appropriate, he said, if all the candidates are represented.

The campaign's website states that

In Texas pressure groups such as the Texas Restoration Project have recruited pastors in an effort to make churches into partisan political machines backing favored candidates, issues and viewpoints to the exclusion of all others.

Respect Our Faith says that the Texas Restoration Project "is using hundreds of thousands of dollars from secret sources to organize pastors to support selected Republican candidates."

The campaign also notes that the Internal Revenue Service has announced a sharp increase in religious organizations' engaging in political activity that violates the conditions of their tax-exempt status.

Respect Our Faith is sponsored by the Texas Faith Network, a project of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. The latter organization produces prodigious research on the religious right in Texas. (Links at the end of this report.)

Layperson's pledge
Respect Our Faith's pledge commits signers to help their congregants become informed on candidates and issues, encourage them to vote, "and inspiring the members of [their congregations] to let their faith convictions inform and infuse all of their actions in the public sphere."

In addition to the clergy pledge, Respect Our Faith is circulating a layperson's pledge that calls on politicians to neither solicit nor accept "the endorsement or direct political support of houses of worship" and to refuse "to associate with organizations that exploit faith for political gain."

Rabbi Katz said he will distribute those pledges to members of his congregation. (An online version of the layperson's pledge is available on the Respect Our Faith website.)

"Our campaign is a line in the sand," the Rev. Timothy Tutt, pastor of United Christian Church in Austin, said at the campaign's June 29th launch. "We are putting politicians on notice that 'enough is enough' – keep partisan politics out of our houses of worship and respect the faith of all Texans."

Clergy to Politicians: 'Respect Our Faith'
Interfaith Group Launches Campaign to Protect Houses of Worship from Partisan Politics

News Release, Texas Faith Network, June 29, 2006

AUSTIN – As election season heats up, an interfaith group of clergy is launching a campaign to protect Texas churches and other houses of worship from partisan political battles. Continue

The State of the Religious Right: 2006
The Anatomy of Power: Texas and the Religious Right in 2006

The Texas Freedom Network, 2006

For more than a decade the Texas Freedom Network has promoted religious freedom and individual liberties by countering the agenda of the religious right in Texas. Educating the public about the tactics and goals of religious extremists is vital to countering the far right's divisive agenda. The publication of The Anatomy of Power by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund is an important part of that public education process. It is the first in a planned series of annual reports about far-right religious extremists in the state. Click here for the report.

Statement of Rabbi Neal Katz
Congregation Beth El - Tyler, TX (

Respect Our Faith news conference, June 29, 2006

Good morning. My name is Rabbi Neal Katz and I come here today from Congregation Beth El in the great city of Tyler, Texas. I come here today to share with you my deep concern for the flagrant disregard of the historically sensitive balance between faith and politics in our country. The politicization of faith is not only a shameless political ploy, it is also spiritually corrosive.

And yet, my concern is not only rooted in the emotions of the present-day political culture. My concern is also rooted in the history of our American ideals with which we have lost touch. I recall with fondness the famous words of President George Washington who wrote a letter to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island in which he proclaimed that , “... the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.” From our inception as a nation, we were bred to be respectful of all religions, progressive-minded, open-hearted, and good stewards of our citizenship.

When our country is headed on the wrong direction - heading dangerously into the blurred lines between church functions and political agenda - we must act. We must engage the culture. We must ensure that every voter recognizes that partisan politics is never welcomed in our houses of worship. And I take comfort in the fact that my concerns are not unique. There are millions of people crying out for respect of faith. There are millions of people who want partisan politics out of our faith communities. And so I signed the “Respect Our Faith Pledge” because I wanted to be counted among the forward-looking people whoa re seeking to make our churches and synagogues and mosques a place that celebrates faith, not specific political agenda. This campaign is not intended to make houses of worship ‘politics-free’ zones, rather, the goal is to stop politicians from using our sacred spaces to divide people of faith for partisan political gain.

I am also guided by the wisdom of my own faith community, the Reform Jewish Movement, who declared that “the principle of separation of church and state is best for both church and state and is indispensable for the preservation of that spirit of religious liberty which is a unique blessing of American democracy.”

With our help, with this campaign, with courageous leadership, may this blessing of a safe democracy for all religions be preserved. This is my prayer.