The American Jewish Committee is asking the Texas Republican Party to remove a plank from its platform that declares America a Christian nation and the separation of church and state a “myth.”
“Political conventions, whether they be Democratic or Republican, should represent the very best of our democratic tradition, which insists on inclusiveness and a respect for our Constitution,” the Jewish organization said in a letter to Texas GOP chairwoman Tina Benkiser.
Earlier this month, the Texas Republican Party reaffirmed language celebrating the United States as “a Christian nation.”
“The Republican Party of Texas affirms that the United States of America is a Christian nation, and the public acknowledgement of God is undeniable in our history,” the platform says, according to news reports.
It continues: “Our nation was founded on fundamental Judeo-Christian principles based on the Holy Bible. The party affirms freedom of religion, and rejects efforts of courts and secular activists who seek to remove and deny such a rich heritage from our public lives.”
The AJC letter urged the party “to retract this problematic language from its platform and strive to guarantee that Texas remains a welcome place for people of all religious backgrounds.”
Jonathan Levine, director of community services at the New York-based American Jewish Committee, said while it true that most Americans today are Christians, “it’s a great leap to go from there to the concept of a Christian nation.”
“That concept conveys the notion of an official state religion, possibly official state religious schools,” Levine said. “All of a sudden we’re tinkering with the separation of church and state.”
“When that begins to happen, Jews get nervous, and I would think many Americans, whether they’re in the majority or not, get nervous.”
Levine is a scheduled speaker at a June 25 luncheon promoting dialogue between Baptists and Jews sponsored by the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Also at the luncheon in Birmingham, Ala., Arnold Belzer, rabbi at Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah, Ga., will describe the 150-year-old relationship between Georgia’s oldest Jewish congregation and Savannah’s First Baptist Church.
Steve Jones, pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Birmingham, and Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss of Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El, will describe experiences linking their houses of worship including sharing of building space, studying sacred texts together and joint prayer services.
Levine said the separation of church and state “is a pillar of what this country has been all about.”
The Republican National Committee refused to criticize the Texas GOP, saying each state party determines what its platform will say, according to UPI.
Texas Republican Party’s chairwoman Tina Benkiser defended the plank in the Washington Times. “Our platform is an acknowledgement that most of our Founding Fathers had a deep faith in God. We believe that people of faith should be welcomed in the political process today as they were 200 years ago.”
Benkiser, a Houston attorney elected to chair the state’s Republican Party in November, is a member of Second Baptist Church in Houston, according to the Texas GOP Web site.
“America is no Christian nation and needs no theocracy,” said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “What we need is a stronger commitment to a high wall of separation between church and state, as well as fewer politicians and preachers preying on people of faith for their voters.”
Other new language in the Texas GOP platform affirms the Ten Commandments as “the basis of our basic freedoms and the cornerstone of our Western legal tradition” and opposes “any governmental action to restrict, prohibit or remove public display of the Decalogue or other religious symbols.”
It also denounces “any unconstitutional act of judicial tyranny that would demand removal of the words ‘One Nation Under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance.”‘
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.