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Religious leaders 'deplore' and 'condemn'
political smear as religiously divisive

New York, January 23, 2007 Religious leaders from many faith traditions are expressing outrage at recent political tactics in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign.

Recent emails, blogs and one cable news program about Sen. Barack Obama's religious upbringing prompted several religious leaders to speak out against such divisive politics.  The stories suggested Obama had attended a radical Muslim madrasa school as a child.

"We are writing to deplore this despicable tactic," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and eight other leaders.  "We have had enough of the slash and burn politics calculated to divide us as children of God," said the leaders today in an open letter to the religious community (complete text below).

"The bitter, destructive politics that have so riven our country in recent years cannot stand," states the open letter.  "As American leaders of different faiths - Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Jew - who have worked cooperatively and greatly respect all of the 2008 candidates in both parties, we do not offer this statement as an endorsement of any individual candidate.  However, certain moral standards should infuse our national dialogue, and the recent attacks on Sen. Obama violate values at the heart of this dialogue.  The false and malicious attacks levied at him are anathema to all of our faith traditions, and we condemn them outright."

Several websites carried the reports that Obama's early education was linked to radical Islamic schooling.  CNN reported extensively last night there is no truth to the allegations and the senator has strongly denied the story.  One cable news program, "Fox and Friends," aired a discussion assuming the story to be factual. 

"I've been saying for awhile now that we must not let fear, fundamentalism and Fox News set our nation's agenda," said NCC's Edgar separately.  "Now it appears Fox News is using a political candidate to further foment a fear of fundamentalism in hopes of dividing Americans and pitting people of faith against one another.  Faithful Americans must stand up and say no to such sinful behavior," Edgar said.

"It is important that we take a stand today against this willful, malicious attempt to mislead and inflame - and against any further attempts to use political attacks to divide the religious community," concluded the letter. 

In addition to the NCC's Edgar the open letter was signed by Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner; Imam Mahdi Bray, executive director, Muslim American Society, Freedom Foundation; Rev. Stephen J. Thurston, president, National Baptist Convention of America; the Rt. Rev. Preston W. Williams, president, Global Council of Bishops, African Methodist Episcopal Church; Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, executive director, NETWORK; Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president, United Church of Christ; Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president, Interfaith Alliance; Rabbi Jill Jacobs, director of education, Jewish Funds for Justice.
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NCC News contact:  Dan Webster, 212.870.2252, NCCnews@ncccusa.org .
Latest NCC News at www.councilofchurches.org .
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January 23, 2007

An Open Letter to the Religious Community:

Many of you have seen hateful emails, blog postings and reports circulating on the Internet and in the media about Senator Barack Obama and his religious upbringing.  These outrageous charges began as reports of his potential candidacy for President emerged and, as has become a shameful custom of modern politics, it has swirled through cyberspace with a vengeance and now has been picked up as fact by Fox News and some partisan commentators.

We are writing to deplore this despicable tactic and set the record straight.  We have had enough of the slash and burn politics calculated to divide us as children of God.

We must come together as one nation, and see our stake in each other as Americans.  The bitter, destructive politics that have so riven our country in recent years cannot stand.  As American leaders of different faiths - Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Jew - who have worked cooperatively and greatly respect all of the 2008 candidates in both parties, we do not offer this statement as an endorsement of any individual candidate.  However, certain moral standards should infuse our national dialogue, and the recent attacks on Sen. Obama violate values at the heart of this dialogue.  The false and malicious attacks levied at him are anathema to all of our faith traditions, and we condemn them outright.

The facts below are no mystery. Senator Obama wrote openly about his life in his autobiography, Dreams from my Father.  We take Senator Obama's long-cited and uncontested description of his educational and faith journey at face value. 

*Senator Obama never attended a radical Madrasa nor was he ever educated in a wahabi school.  In the years he lived in Indonesia as a child, from ages 6 to 10, he attended a neighboring Catholic school for two years and then a public school.
*Senator Obama was not raised in a religious household.
*Senator Obama became a Christian long before he entered politics.
While working as a young community organizer in the mid-1980s, working with a consortium of churches in a depressed neighborhood of Chicago, he became a Christian and became active in Trinity United Church of Christ.
He, his wife and family are still active members of Trinity today.

It is important that we take a stand today against this willful, malicious attempt to mislead and inflame - and against any further attempts to use political attacks to divide the religious community.  We ask that you share this letter widely, and help us beat back these hideous tactics, whatever their source.  As people of faith, we cannot allow divisive attacks like these to stand.
    
Sincerely,

Dr. Robert W. Edgar
General Secretary
National Council of Churches USA

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner

Salam Al-Marayati
Executive Director
Muslim Public Affairs Council

Rev. Stephen J. Thurston
President
National Baptist Convention of America

The Rt. Rev. Preston W. Williams
President, Global Council of Bishops
African Methodist Episcopal Church

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS
Executive Director
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

The Rev. John H. Thomas
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
President
Interfaith Alliance

Rabbi Jill Jacobs
Director of Education
Jewish Funds for Justice

Alexia Kelly
Executive Director
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

Imam Mahdi Gray
Executive Director
Muslim American Society
Freedom Foundation

Dr. T. DeWitt Smith, Jr.
President
Progressive National Baptist Convention


Joshua DuBois, Office of U.S. Senator Barack Obama,  202-228-6144
NCC News: Dan Webster, 212-870-2258,
dwebster@councilofchurches.org
 

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