We believe religion is good. In fact, we believe religion is very good. Religion holds the potential to develop within adherents a moral fiber of life-enhancing values. Religious systems should point the way toward the greater justice and welfare of all people. In spite of historical aberration and grievous sins, all major religions on this planet embody the ideological visions of peace, equity, respect, hope and the sanctity of life. With this spirit, we called an interfaith assembly to prayer on the evening of Sept. 12. In spite of our theological differences, we sought to heal, comfort and console ourselves. Religion does these things admirably.
We also believe that democracy is good. In fact, we believe democracy is very good. Democracy bestows upon our citizens the freedom to assemble for the purpose of practicing religion. Concurrently, democracy deters the imposition of one or more specific religions upon any individual or group. Democracy promises that no one can or should be coerced into any religious system. Democracy promises freedom to the individual conscience.
We, the undersigned religious leaders in the community, believe that displaying the plaques "In God We Trust" in Weber Middle and Schreiber High Schools, would be inappropriate. The motto itself creates a personal interpretive dilemma for every student, faculty, support staff member, administrator and visitor. We do not believe that a public school is the proper forum for theological struggle and faith development. The home and sanctuary are. For many of our young people, faith comes easily. But adolescence is a time of theological foment and growth. To inextricably link a firm belief in God with patriotism is to risk branding spiritual strugglers as un-American. Nothing could be further from the truth.
How shall anyone understand the word "God?" Of whose diety does this national motto speak? And what of those who do not believe in any deity? "God" in our national motto is so ambiguous and therefore generic, that while it seems to speak to everyone, in reality it speaks meaningfully to no one. When we come together to sing patriotic hymns and songs each one of us brings our own theological interpretation to that hopeful moment. Each of us understands "God" in direct relationship to our particular traditions.
We do not worship at the altar of non-belief. We are neither atheists dressed in religious garb, nor disposers of religious meaning and purpose. Each of our traditions holds sacred a revealed, specific name for "God." God is never just "God." God is ADONAI. God is the Holy Trinity. God is Allah. God is Brahman. As interpreters and proclaimers of these diverse sacred histories, we know our traditions lack a common name for God.
Would not "E Pluribus Unum - One Out of Many" - be a better motto for display? It is a far older national motto, the one envisioned by our founders and it is therefore historically more authentic. We are peoples of diverse faiths living together in these United States of America. We are glad to be citizens together, and we seek a deeper understanding of each other's unique contributions to the human family. In the furtherance of both religion and democracy, we call upon you, our board of education, to refrain from displaying these plaques.
We are aware that some members of our congregations may be pained by our reluctance to endorse a public affirmation of our faith in this way. However, we celebrate the many affirmations of faith we see all around us expressed in tangible ways by the continuous outpourings of generosity, heroism and love that have stirred the soul of our nation.
Rabbi Beth D. Davidson
Rabbi Lee Friedlander
Rabbi Carol R. Goldblatt
Reverend Edward C. Horne
Rabbi Elisa Koppel
Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin
Rabbi Toni Shy
Rabbi Jodi Siff
Reverend Charles R. Vogeley
Reverend W. Kurt von Roeschlaub
Reverend Lillian Frier Webb