Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked members of the Republican congressional leadership to remove controversial religious leaders who have used bigoted language from a panel assembled to craft "faith-based" legislation.
The U.S. House Republican Conference, chaired by Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), announced earlier this month that 32 religious leaders have been appointed to serve on an advisory committee for the House-Senate Republican Faith-Based Leadership Summit planned for April 25.
Americans United research shows that several of the committee's members have made insulting and intolerant comments about religious, ethnic and other minority groups.
"It is absolutely shocking to see some of the people who have been chosen to help create federal policy on church-state partnerships," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, who wrote to members of Congress about the matter today. "Some of these selections reflect remarkably poor judgment on the part of the House GOP Conference.
"While many of the committee members are respected religious leaders, too many are terribly divisive," Lynn added. "Giving them a role in this initiative is deplorable. I hope these are not the kinds of religious leaders the Bush administration plans to give public funds to."
Among the most controversial of the committee's members:
Bishop J. Delano Ellis -- Ellis was fired from serving as Cleveland's police chaplain in March 1995 after delivering a sermon in which he said Jews were "carnal, selfish...dirty and lowdown and wicked," according to a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. His sermon, which was broadcast over the radio, also said Jews had mistreated others through the years and "God allowed Hitler to rise up and make you all suffer." Although he added "Hitler was wrong," Ellis went on to criticize Jews and Muslims for not recognizing Jesus Christ as the son of God.
Ellis, pastor of the Pentecostal Church of Christ in Cleveland, also criticized African Americans who convert to Islam, concluding that Islam is "as bad as Israel" and "a chance which you just don't want to take." Ellis had similar difficulties with Islam later that year when, in a letter to his congregation, he called Islam "false" and said that at its worst, the religion was "bloody and dangerous."
The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon -- Sheldon, as head of the Traditional Values Coalition, frequently offers extreme anti-gay rhetoric. In recent years, he has written monthly fundraising letters on imagined threats from gay people. In August 1997, for example, Sheldon notified his supporters of a "homosexual conspiracy." His January 2001 fundraising letter predicted a "homosexual invasion," which could result in the "stealing of our children." In 1985, Sheldon even supported quarantining persons with AIDS in so-called "cities of refuge."
Sheldon's inclusion on a panel to help implement Bush's faith-based initiative is particularly ironic in light of Sheldon's call for the resignation of John DiIulio, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
The Rev. Reggie White -- White offended virtually every ethnic group in America during a speech to the Wisconsin State Legislature in 1998. White sparked outrage by calling attention to crass stereotypes, saying that blacks "like to sing and dance," while whites "know how to tap into money." He went on to say that Hispanic people are "gifted" because they "can put 20 or 30 people in one home," while Asians know how to "turn a television into a watch." American Indians, he added, were spared slavery in the U.S. because they "knew how to sneak up on people." White also said the nation has strayed from God by allowing homosexuality to "run rampant."
According to a press release from the GOP Conferences, these religious leaders will join others in playing "a critical role" in helping Congress develop faith-based legislation.
"An influential honor, such as working with Congress to develop legislation, should not be bestowed on those who use language that divides and denigrates Americans," Lynn said in his letter. "It was wrong for these men to make bigoted remarks; their offense is only exacerbated when the United States Congress rewards their intolerance."
Lynn also noted the disregard for diversity within the panel. Of the 32 committee members, only two are women, only one represents a Jewish congregation and there are no representatives from other minority faith traditions, including a total absence of Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.
"The only appropriate solution to this controversy is to promptly remove the three aforementioned individuals from the summit's advisory board," concluded Lynn's correspondence. "As George Washington said in 1790, 'To Bigotry, No Sanction.' It would serve us all well to use those wise words as a guide today."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.