Freedom Writer |
August 1996 |
Tips from Morton Metersky
By Morton Metersky
Join with religious leaders to form a broad based coalition of
synagogues and churches. The synagogue at which I am the vice
president for community affairs started a committee to address the
threat of political religious extremists whose major players in our
area are the Christian Coalition and Citizens for Excellence in
Education. We then took the initiative to form a local coalition of
synagogues and churches.
Our coalition established a three-pronged approach. These, as well as
other steps, should be instituted at the grassroots level across the
county in churches, synagogues, temples, and fellowships.
The following are the "Ten Commandments of Action" taken from a
memorandum by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, Director, Commission on Social
Action, with some amendments.
- Educate the public on how the Radical Religious Right uses issues
to cause divisiveness and to cloak its true theocratic goals. This
includes encouraging rabbis and ministers to make their congregants
aware of the political religious extremists' threat to basic
As part of the educational process, write letters to the editor and
call talk shows with facts concerning the Radical Right's agenda. Hold
forums using panelists who are well-informed public figures and invite
your local radio and television stations to attend.
- Expose political religious extremists' "stealth candidates," a
strategy that has gained them political power at all levels of
government. By questioning candidates regarding church-state
separation, censorship, and religious freedom, these candidates
are usually easy to uncover.
After questioning all the candidates, help develop voter guides.
Encourage local groups, like the League of Women Voters, Planned
Parenthood and other organizations that do voter guides, to include
questions related to separation of church and state.
- Get out the vote to counter the Radical Right's heavy turnout at
the polls — voter apathy has been the key to their political success.
Conduct a voter registration drive by setting up phone banks and
encouraging sympathetic clergy to teach their congregations the
importance of voting.
I'm sure you can come up with other ideas. Don't be afraid to try
something. You never know when it might work. If fundamentalists get
on the school board, another weapon you can use is a recall vote. In
Vista, California, stealth candidates took over the school board. They
initiated the teaching of creationism, eliminated sex education and
banned books, among other things. The community arose in protest and
recalled all the fundamentalist and elected new people to the school
- Recognize the danger signals. Assign a subcommittee of your Social
Action Committee to follow developments in the local school district.
Watch for signs of political religious extremists' influence.
- Write letters to state legislators and congress people. Establish
a subcommittee to draft letters that congregants can send about issues
related to the political religious extremists. Inform your state and
federal legislators about your concerns regarding the true goals of
the political religious extremists and ask whether they are endorsed
by any of their organizations.
- Write letters to the editor when a political religious extremist
related letter or article appears. Do this by holding a forum for all
candidates, and then ask them very specific questions demanding
precise answers. For example, what is the role of religion in the
school, should creationism be taught in science classes, who should
determine appropriate books for the school library, sex education in
the school important, etc.
- Enlist the assistance of the non-Jewish community. Establish a
coalition with mainstream Protestants, Episcopalians, Lutherans,
Unitarians, Muslims and other religious groups.
- Encourage involvement in voting in local and state elections.
Rabbis, ministers and active social action committees can play a vital
role in bringing local issues to the attention of the congregation to
vote — both in a nonpartisan manner.
- Educate the congregation about political religious extremists.
Hold educational programs and seminars for your congregations, and the
general and Jewish community. Discuss constitutional issues involved
in the activities of the political religious extremists. Make them
aware of their true goals. Monitoring ongoing religious political
extremist activity in your community. Monitor local talk shows for
political religious extremist activities.
- Visit local Christian bookstores for political religious extremist
literature, tapes, etc.
- Encourage your school board to improve communications with the
community. The more the citizenry feels a sense of participation and
ownership in the educational process, the less likely they are to
believe the lies and distortions the political religious extremist
affiliated school board members place before them as facts. Attend
school board meetings to uncover suspected "stealth" members.
- Stay in touch with the Commission on Social Action and the
Religious Action Center. Let them know about the actions of the
political religious extremists in your community and how you have
The Reform Movement, through the Religious Action Center, helped found
the Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty. It is a broad coalition
of religious groups working together to ensure that our religious
freedoms are not trampled by political and religious extremists. You
are not alone.
You can get information on getting organized from all the following:
People for the American Way, 800-326-PFAW; The Interfaith Alliance,
202-639-6370; the Religious Action Center, 202-387-2800; and the
Institute for First Amendment Studies, 413-528-3800.
© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.