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Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy

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An Open Letter to Herman Cain

Posted: 07/20/11 05:52 PM ET

Dear Mr. Cain:

Recently, during an interview with Fox News, you indicated that it would be permissible for a community to block the building of a mosque. The statement alarmed me, confused me and frightened me. I cannot imagine how you square your comments with any part of the United States Constitution and the religious land act that is now a law. I fear that your divisive position on this issue at best misunderstands the First Amendment and, at worst, is a blatant attempt to spread Islamophobia for political gain. Because I regularly speak and write on the subject of religion and electoral politics, and because I find great assurance regarding the protection of the integrity of religion in the First Amendment, I do not want to misjudge your words and sentiments.

As I said in my recent letter to you and other candidates for the presidency (both Democrats and Republicans) following the first Republican presidential debate, religion -- or religion bashing -- should never be a political tool. I am grateful to God that our nation was built upon freedom for all people of all faiths or no faith and committed to equal rights for all with no religion valued over another religion or religion valued over non-religion. The continued demonization of Islam and disenfranchisement of the American Muslim community is not only uncalled for, it is dangerous and must end.

I found your characterization of Islam as well as that of, what you call, the "other traditional religions," deeply troubling. Your assertion that "Islam is both a religion and a set of laws" and that this is what differentiates Islam from other religions "where it's just about religious purposes" is not only nationally and religiously divisive, factually, it is just plain wrong. Yes, it is true that Islam is a religion with a set of laws called sharia. But Judaism has a legal code called halacha, and Christianity reverences both the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount as principles greater than any law. Your comments suggest a serious lack of understanding not only of Islam but of religion writ large and of the meaning of our First Amendment.

Once again, I must emphasize the irrational fear being spread by you and others across the country that sharia is somehow taking over our courts (or that it could somehow do so) runs counter to the judgments of reputable constitutional lawyers across the ideological spectrum in our nation. Are you deliberately choosing to ignore the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which most legal experts consider more than sufficient to keep sharia or any other religious law from influencing our courts inappropriately? If so, what is your motivation? I sincerely hope it is not due to your strategy to win an election. However, I would like to hear an explanation from you.

Please, for the sake of our democracy and for the integrity of religion, I urge you to temper your rhetoric and to cease your attacks on Islam. Though it surely is not your intention, such sweeping attacks and gross as well as erroneous generalizations threaten all American Muslims, including those you recognize as "a peaceful group," and demean the historically documentable fairness of the American people. I wholeheartedly agree that we must be concerned about terrorism. But you and I both know that we will not make ourselves any safer by demonizing innocent Americans and by giving neighbors reasons to fear each other because of their differing religions. Winning an election is not worth compromising our nation's historic commitment to religious freedom.

Respectfully,

Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
President
Interfaith Alliance

P.S. Should you have any interest in a conversation about these issues, and I hope you do, I would welcome an opportunity to visit with you. I am eager to see an election cycle free of the manipulation of religion, respectful of people of all religions and no religion, and helpful in advancing the constitutional vision of separation between the institutions of religion and the institutions of government, appreciation for our democracy and a recovery of political advocacy characterized by civility. I pray that this election cycle will leave the American people better informed and more active as concerned citizens. You will play a significant role in whether or not that is the case.