New York, NY, January 12, 2010 … The role of religion in American life continues to be a subject of national discussion and debate. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has always been at the forefront of issues surrounding religious expression in America, has joined with a diverse group of organizations in a statement about the current state of the law regarding religious expression in the United States.
The document, Religious Expression in American Public Life: A Joint Statement of Current Law, attempts to clearly set an accurate understanding of the current state of the law. It does not focus on what the law should be, but rather what the law is today.
"This effort brought together diverse groups from across religious and political spectrums – many of whom are more comfortable competing in the courtroom than cooperating on a project," said Deborah M. Lauter, ADL Civil Rights Director.
"The law of religion in American public life is an unusually complex subject, shrouded in misinformation and misunderstanding, and which is often discussed while emotions are running at their highest," she said. "By explaining the law as clearly and simply as possible, this important work will help reduce tension when questions concerning a wide range of topics arise, including religious holiday displays, religion in the military and religion in the classroom."
While the drafters of the document often disagree about how the law should address issues regarding the intersection of religion and government, the project aimed to build a common consensus on what is legally permissible, not necessarily what is desirable.
ADL was actively engaged as a member of the drafting committee led by Melissa Rogers, Director, Wake Forest University Divinity School's Center for Religion and Public Affairs.
The document is organized around a series of questions on the role of religion in public life. Among the issues explored:
- May religious groups and people participate in the debate of public issues?
- May religious groups inform public policy?
- May the government require individuals to pass a religious test in order to hold government office?
- Are persons elected or nominated to serve as government officials required to place their hands on the Bible when making oaths or affirmations?
- Does the First Amendment place restrictions on the political activities of religious organizations?
- Are individuals and groups permitted to use government property for religious activities and events?
The document was drafted by a committee made up of legal experts, academics and representatives of national civil rights organizations, including American Center for Law and Justice, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, the Islamic Networks Group, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.