PALM BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 20)
A Jewish dialogue with Christian religious leaders is needed to protect “the principles of religious pluralism and the rights of religious minorities in this country,” according to Kenneth Bialkin, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
He called for “reaching out” to Christian leaders in order to better understand differences on the issue of church-state separation. That issue highlighted Bialkin’s report to the ADL’s national executive committee meeting here. He said Jews are concerned over three possible threats to religious freedom and diversity in America.
They are: “increasing efforts by some religious leaders to cross the line from religious guidance to political leadership;” advocacy of organized prayer in public schools; and actions that could be interpreted as advocating the “Christianizing” of American society.
Bialkin told some 200 American Jewish community leaders attending the meeting that there is “nothing wrong” when religious leaders in a free society seek to influence the community on political questions. The real issue, he said, is “whether this type of political advocacy represents a threat to religious pluralism and minority rights.”
Bialkin observed, “Some religious leaders who take political stands and seek votes on political issues advocate positions that are abhorrent and extremist. Others advance views harmonious with our concerns and attitudes.”
He said “it would be a mistake,” however, “to lump together all fundamentalists and evangelicals as advocating positions that threaten church-state separation. These groups are not monolithic and, in fact, advocate a variety of positions on a wide number of issues.”
He added that “it is imperative that we reach out to some of these groups to engage in dialogue, to debate if necessary, to see the issues clearly and be sure we understand each other’s concerns.”
Bialkin noted that there is a “major doctrinal difference” with those who advocate organized prayer in public schools. “We have to be strong, clear, and unyielding in our opposition to be sure our point of view is understood,” the ADL leader said.
He said that too many people do not realize that there is no law or doctrine which prevents students from individually saying prayers in school or exercising their right of personal devotion. “The issue is whether this nation can allow teacher-led or officially-sanctioned prayer, including moments of silence in the classroom.”