In Support of Religion, but Not of Religious Coercion


It's unfortunate that critics of my Nov. 3 speech set up a number of straw men in condemnation of my speech warning about certain efforts to Christianize America.

For example, by pointing out the various Muslim anti-Jewish activities during the week I made my remarks, David Klinghoffer suggests I'm focusing on the wrong threat.

In fact, the Anti-Defamation League has been at the forefront of efforts to expose Islamic extremism, if only Klinghoffer were interested. The very week that I spoke, ADL ran advertisements in The New York Times and The Hill calling on the world to stand up against Iran and take concrete steps against its Islamic government in light of the call by Iran's president to "wipe Israel off the map."

On the subject of the film based on "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" being shown on Arab TV, for two years we have been working with the U.S. State Department and the American Embassy in Cairo to pressure Egypt and other Arab countries to stop airing anti-Semitic TV series. ADL regularly reports on anti-Semitism in the Arab media, keeping our Web site updated daily.

Regarding evangelical support for Israel, the ADL always has encouraged it. When many in our community were raising questions about such support, we asserted that it was important – in a world where Israel has many enemies – to bolster support from evangelical Christians.

We also said all along, however, that in order to achieve that support we would not abandon our principles of keeping America the kind of society in which there is tolerance and in which Jews don't feel excluded in any way.

My speech had nothing to do with Christians' right to express their values and religious beliefs, or to "influence the culture in what Christians regard as a spiritually healthful direction." Of course, they have such a right. We believe religion is a critical institution and value that makes America great, and should be encouraged.

I have no doubt that others, following Klinghoffer's lead, will accuse me of all kinds of things – being anti-religious, anti-Christian, claiming that evangelicals are anti-Semitic or undermining support for Israel.

None of these accusations is true.

I have worked all my life to improve relations between Christians and Jews. What my speech did deal with – and what I believe is a new development in American life – is a desire by some groups to coerce Americans to subscribe to a narrow religious perspective that will result in exclusion, both practically and psychologically, for Jews, other religious minorities, nonbelievers and even many Christians.

When the Alliance Defense Fund says "court victories are vital steps to … reclaim the legal system for Jesus Christ," that points to its intention to threaten the pluralistic society that is at the heart of Jewish security in America.

When the Texas GOP platform says the United States is a Christian nation, and that the separation of church and state is a myth, that's not merely a matter of expressing one's religious views.

When hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds are appropriated for religious institutions without prohibitions against proselytizing, or when the U.S. Air Force Academy – a federally funded institution – is a place where Jews and other non-evangelicals feel religious coercion, then something is amiss.

As the head of an organization that fights for free expression of religion, that believes religion is an important part of a healthy American democracy and that has encouraged evangelical support for Israel, I'm very aware of how important these issues are.

In the long run, however, what has made American Jewish life the uniquely positive experience in Diaspora history – and what has enabled us to be such important allies for the State of Israel – is the health of a pluralistic, tolerant and inclusive American society. If those who seek a coercive America would have their way, American Jewish life would fundamentally change.

We believe the American people as a whole value such a society. We also believe that to alert the public to gathering threats to that kind of society serves America, the Jewish community and ultimately, American Jews' ability to support Israel in its quest for peace and security.

Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League.



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