Americans United for Separation of Church and State criticized today's Republican congressional "faith-based" summit for meeting behind closed doors and excluding diverse opinion.
"What are they trying to hide?" asked the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Rep. J.C. Watts and his friends are discussing critically important federal policy on public funding of religion, yet they're only hearing from one side and they're doing it behind closed doors.
"As much as $8 billion in federal resources is at stake in the discussion," continued Lynn. "Yet no critics of the Bush 'faith-based' initiative were invited to the table. This isn't a legitimate summit; it's a carefully controlled pep rally for a rapidly sinking proposal."
Lynn also charged that some of the summit's religious advisory council, appointed by Watts and GOP leaders, are controversial figures who have attacked other faiths and minorities.
For example, Bishop J. Delano Ellis was fired 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."
After Americans United revealed this episode, Ellis resigned from the advisory committee. However, two other figures who have been guilty of extreme rhetoric remain on the advisory panel.
The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, 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."
Another advisory committee member is the Rev. Reggie White, who 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 House-Senate Republican 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. "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 advisory panel. Of the 31 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.
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.