“If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from A Knock at Midnight, 1963
The public is aware of high-profile issues and incidents that have put a spotlight on the role of religion in our state’s governance. Some have questioned the propriety of religious voices in our public debates.
We, the members of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, thought it would be helpful to reaffirm what our coalition of the largest faith groups in Minnesota believes is the proper role of religious communities’ participation in public life.
The Islamic Center of Minnesota, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, the Minnesota Catholic Conference and the Minnesota Council of Churches, separately, and together as the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, pledge to work in the public realm to protect human dignity and to build social justice in ways that strengthen our democracy and the responsiveness of our government.
Our identities as religious people compel us to speak out on behalf of the common good. This is not to compete with the democratic process, but to enrich it.
We see ourselves as faithful participants, and even stewards, of our democracy. We have rich teachings and the wisdom of centuries to draw upon and to offer. We remind people of faith, and everyone, that healthful policymaking is the obligation of all people — people of diverse faiths and people outside our various religious traditions.
Religious people cannot be silent, nor should we be. Democracy works when there is a free exchange of ideas, and religious communities should continue to serve their historic function in providing voices of conscience to the public debate.
We will enter the public debate with statements grounded in our religious values but articulated with reasoned arguments accessible to those who do not share our religious beliefs.
Let there be no question that the participation of religious communities in public debates is somehow unconstitutional or breaches the supposed “wall of separation” between “church” and state. As has been well documented, Jefferson’s metaphor was meant to ensure that the government stayed out of the church’s business, not that religious people should be silent about public affairs.
The religious communities that make up the JRLC will strive to speak, whenever possible, with a consensus voice. But there are policy matters where lack of consensus obligates faith communities to raise their unique voices as a matter of conscience and civic obligation. As we expect of the public in our own advocacy, we respect the right of our communities, and other people of good will, to work for the common good in accordance with their creed or their conscience.
Allow us to express our gratitude to our public servants and elected representatives. They are all remembered in literally thousands of prayers on a daily basis and we thank them for their service.
This statement was approved by the JRLC board of directors, June 17, 2011.