June 27, 2016—This morning, the United States Supreme Court issued a 5-3 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, ruling that the restrictions in Texas’ HB2 law place an undue burden on abortion access and violate the U.S. Constitution.
Commenting on the decision, Religious Institute president Marie Alford-Harkey said, “Our faith traditions teach us that wrestling with moral decisions is the responsibility of every individual and that every individual has dignity and sacred worth. All people deserve the right and the ability to apply the principles of their own faith and conscience to their moral decisions, without legal restrictions. By striking down needless barriers to access, this decision affirms that all people deserve compassion, respect, and dignity in making their own health decisions—no matter where they live.
June 12, 2016—Our hearts break for the victims of the shooting at “Latin Night” at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida on the morning of June 12, 2016, and for their families and friends. We stand in solidarity with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community in Orlando and with all who are affected by this horrific act of violence. Sadly, this act is part of a larger culture of hostility toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people whose lives are under attack every day in this country and throughout the world.
Our religious traditions teach us to love one another. It is a testament to the best of humanity that there is already an outpouring of support for the wounded and the dead. It is a testament to the brokenness of humanity that these deaths happened at all. Let us not contribute to that brokenness by scapegoating the religious tradition of Islam.
Religious Institute Releases National Faith Leader Statement in Support of United Methodist LGBTQI Clergy
May 16, 2016—Responding to the coming out letter released by 111 LGBTQI United Methodist clergy, a broad coalition of national faith leaders outside of the United Methodist Church released a statement in support of these clergy and candidates. The statement celebrates the 111 United Methodist clergy who “risked their own security in order to share the fullness of their gifts with their faith communities and the United Methodist Church.”
Signed by more than 60 national faith leaders across multiple religious traditions, the statement calls the decision of these UMC clergy to come out “an example for all people of faith of what it means to embody one’s faith and sexuality with wholeness and integrity.” The statement affirms the call of LGBTQI people to ministry and embraces the gifts that LGBTQI people bring to faith communities. The statement also notes “the long history of LGBTQI people answering the call to serve in faith communities, including as religious leaders,” recognizing that “this service has furthered justice, transformation, and flourishing in both faith communities and society.” The statement of support concludes in a prayer that “the United Methodist Church will stop harming LGBTQI persons” and for a “world where sexual and gender diversity are understood as a blessing.
Religious Institute Releases Faith Statement on Mississippi and North Carolina Anti-LGBTQ Legislation
April 6, 2016—Responding to the passage of the North Carolina and Mississippi laws and to anti-LGBTQ legislation being considered throughout the country, a broad faith coalition released a statement urging public officials to “reject anti-LGBTQ and, specifically, anti-transgender legislation and to commit to creating loving, just communities that embody justice for people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.”
Signed by nearly 1,000 faith leaders and more than 2,500 people of faith, the statement acknowledges that of the record 175+ anti-LGBTQ bills filed in 2016, 45 of those bills directly target transgender people. The statement notes that many of these anti-LGBTQ efforts are perpetrated in the name of religion and calls people of faith to action: “The voices of people of faith and religious leaders are needed to respond to any attempt to target transgender people and to restrict justice, dignity, and equality for all LGBTQ people.”
March 1, 2016—Because people of faith care about access to abortion, and recognize that women of color, immigrant women, young people, and individuals struggling to make ends meet are most harmed by barriers like those challenged in the US Supreme Court case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, several faith organizations participated in a National Weekend of Prayer for Reproductive Justice, and will rally this week to protect abortion access. In January, 17 faith-based organizations and nearly 1300 religious leaders joined an amicus brief urging the US Supreme Court to protect abortion access in Whole Women’s Health. This case, to be heard by the court on March 2, challenges provisions of a Texas law that place unnecessary and burdensome requirements on abortion providers.
For many religiously affiliated organizations, clergy, and lay people of faith, protecting a woman’s constitutional right to make her own moral decision about abortion, as affirmed by the Supreme Court more than four decades ago in Roe v. Wade, is critical to ensuring women’s health and safety. Faith leaders are also united in respect for diverse beliefs about abortion — and for that reason believe each person must have the ability to make such a deeply personal decision for themselves, without political interference.
February 25, 2016—Just days before the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the most significant abortion case in decades, more than 80 religious congregations, representing more than 10,000 people of faith, will participate in a National Weekend of Prayer. This weekend, congregations across the country will take time during services to pray that the Supreme Court reaffirms a woman’s right to access safe, legal abortion care. Congregations participating in the National Weekend of Prayer represent 19 faith traditions, including Catholic, Episcopal, Muslim, Jewish, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Unitarian Universalist communities.
February 9, 2016—The Board of Directors of the Religious Institute is pleased to announce that, after a national search, it has selected Marie Alford-Harkey as its next president and CEO, effective May 1, 2016. Marie will succeed the Rev. Dr. Debra W. Haffner, who has led the Religious Institute since its founding in 2001.
Nearly 1,300 Religious Leaders Sign Historic Brief Urging Supreme Court to Preserve a Woman’s Right to Abortion
January 5, 2016—Yesterday, 17 religious organizations and almost 1300 religious leaders submitted a faith-based amicus brief in the Supreme Court case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole. This case challenges parts of Texas’s clinic shutdown law, known as H.B. 2, which imposes medically unnecessary, burdensome requirements on abortion providers and clinics. The Religious Institute and Just Texas coordinated faith leaders to join an amicus brief in support of abortion access.
The faith-based amicus brief demonstrates that religious leaders and people of faith in almost every religious denomination in the U.S. support access to legal abortion. These religious leaders understand that in order for women to exercise their moral agency, access to abortion services cannot be denied. The brief was signed by leaders of several religious denominations and seminary presidents as well as clergy from congregations across the U.S.
October 20, 2015—Renewing the engagement of religious leaders and people of faith is essential to the progress and long-term success of the sexual and reproductive health and justice movement. That’s the key finding of a new white paper to be published by the Religious Institute titled “A Time to Embrace: Why the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Movement Needs Religion.” Following a year of research, surveys and the deliberations of a national colloquium, the paper reveals a renewed potential among secular and faith organizations to address the morality of sexual and reproductive health decisions.
September 28, 2015—Today, 44 nationally recognized religious leaders released a joint statement supporting Planned Parenthood and urging Congress to resist efforts to deny federal funding to Planned Parenthood’s health centers – which serve 2.7 million people each year. Together, these Christian, Jewish, Catholic, Unitarian Universalist, and Muslim leaders agreed:
“As religious leaders, we urge Congress to resist efforts to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood’s non-profit health centers that provide crucial reproductive health care. We ask for an end to politically motivated attacks on women’s sexual and reproductive health. We know that Planned Parenthood provides essential lifesaving services to almost three million people each year, including the most vulnerable families in the U.S. As religious leaders, we support family planning as a means of saving lives, improving reproductive and public health, enhancing sexuality, and encouraging intentional parenthood. We stand with people of faith who have supported Planned Parenthood for nearly one hundred years.”
After 15 years, Rev. Haffner will step down April 30, 2016
Westport, CT, September 1, 2015 – Rev. Debra W. Haffner announced today that she will step down as president of Religious Institute at the end of April 2016. Rev. Haffner co-founded the Religious Institute in 2001, and has been its chief executive officer during its first fifteen years. In addition to her work at Religious Institute, Rev. Haffner is the endorsed community minister at The Unitarian Church in Westport, CT and a certified sexuality educator.
Her leadership of the Religious Institute is the culmination of a career in sexuality and ministry that began forty years ago. The Religious Institute’s Board of Directors will launch the search for Rev. Haffner’s successor in mid-September. Rev. Haffner plans to seek a full time parish ministry position for the next phase of her career.
The Religious Institute calls on Faith Leaders to Break Silence About Bisexuality and Fully Welcome Bisexuals into their Congregations
New guidebook helps congregations minister to bisexual people and their families. Order here.
June 25, 2014 – Acceptance of gay and lesbian clergy and same-sex married couples is growing in faith communities across the United States, but faith leaders have long been on their own to understand and welcome bisexual people—until now. The Religious Institute is urging faith leaders to break the silence on bisexuality and fully welcome bisexual people into their congregations. Today, the Religious Institute released a groundbreaking guidebook, Bisexuality: Making Visible the Invisible in Faith Communities.
National Religious Leaders Affirm Access to Birth Control in Advance of SCOTUS Hearing
March 18, 2014 – Today, 45 nationally recognized religious leaders released a joint statement supporting universal access to contraception, and affirming that equal access to contraceptives through insurance coverage is a moral good. The statement comes one week before the U.S. Supreme Court hears two cases by private companies to deny women birth control coverage in their employee health insurance, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
Every United Church of Christ – Affiliated Seminary is Sexually Healthy and Responsible, Lauds Religious Institute
November 5, 2013 – The Religious Institute announced today that all seminaries affiliated with the United Church of Christ (UCC) have now met a majority of the criteria of a sexually healthy and responsible seminary, making the UCC the first Protestant denomination to achieve this distinction.
New Study Finds High Clergy Internet Use; Guidelines Lacking
April 2, 2013—A new survey by the Religious Institute found that while a majority of clergy and congregations have an active social media presence, there are virtually no written policies or national standards on how congregations or clergy are to use these technologies.
More Than 1000 Diverse Religious Leaders Support Birth Control
February 6, 2013—More than 1000 religious leaders from across the theological spectrum have joined together to support safe, affordable, accessible, and comprehensive family planning services.
They demonstrated their support by endorsing the new Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Family Planning, which recognizes that all women must have equal access to contraception, and states that “the denial of [coverage for] family planning services effectively translates into coercive childbearing and is an insult to human dignity.”
Multifaith Coalition Supports Family Planning For All As A Moral Imperative
September 13, 2012—Today, thirty-eight national religious leaders from across the theological spectrum have joined together in urging universal access to safe, affordable, accessible, and comprehensive family planning services, including increased U.S. support for domestic and global programs.
Participating faith leaders include 7 current and former presidents of national denominations including the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black (United Church of Christ), the Rev. Wes Granberg-Michaelson (Reformed Church in America), and Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins (Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)); 6 seminary presidents including Dr. Philip A. Amerson (Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary), the Rev. Dr. Serene Jones (Union Theological Seminary), and The Very Rev. Katherine Ragsdale (Episcopal Divinity School); 13 heads of national religious organizations, including the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good (Dr. Richard Cizik), Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (Rev. Harry Knox), and Catholics for Choice (Jon O’Brien); and prominent theologians from diverse perspectives including the Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo, the Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield, and Dr. Mary Hunt.
Religious Institute Applauds Supreme Court Ruling on Affordable Health Care Act
June 28, 2012—The Religious Institute applauds today’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, including contraceptive coverage and the inability to deny insurance benefits to people with pre-‐‑existing conditions, including HIV/AIDS.
“We applaud today’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and the courage of this administration in affirming the importance of reproductive health services as essential preventive care for women, regardless of the religious affiliation of their employer,” said Rev. Debra W. Haffner, President of the Religious Institute. “Our leaders have the responsibility to safeguard individual religious liberty and to help improve the health of women, their children, and families. Women and men can make decisions about their sexuality and reproductive health without governmental interference or legal restrictions. Access to basic health care services is a matter of justice as well as good public policy, and we are pleased that these services will be available to the millions of women and men that need them. As faith leaders, we will continue to speak out for a faith based commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.”
Religious Institute Statement on The United Methodist Church Decision: “Sexual and gender oppression can no longer be portrayed as virtuous and morally defensible”
May 8, 2012—The Religious Institute, a multi-faith organization dedicated to sexual health, education and justice, has issued a statement regarding The United Methodist Church’s decision General Conference not to remove the doctrinal language that states, “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Twenty-six major mainstream religious leaders have endorsed the statement, which reads: “As religious leaders, we are speaking out against the decision of The United Methodist Church’s General Conference not to remove the doctrinal language that states, “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Using the Bible to exclude or attack people violates the very spirit of our traditions and is morally unconscionable. We affirm sexual and gender diversity as gifts people offer to their congregations and communities. We stand in solidarity with those United Methodists working to transform their denomination into one that celebrates sexual and gender diversity as a blessing that enriches all.
Religious Institute Statement on Bishops’ Rejection of White House Accommodation: “Stop Playing Politics with Women’s Reproductive Health”
February 13, 2012—The Religious Institute, a multi-faith organization dedicated to sexual health, education and justice, has issued a statement regarding the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rejection of the White House accommodation on birth control access in health insurance, seeing it as further evidence that their concern is not religious liberty, but playing politics with women’s lives.
Major Mainstream Religious Leaders Support White House on Contraceptive Coverage In Health Care Reform
February 8, 2012—Thirty-one major mainstream religious leaders released a statement supporting the January 20, 2012 announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that contraceptive services must be covered by most insurance policies without deductibles or co-pays, and that only purely sectarian organizations are exempt from this requirement.
Religious Institute Doubles the Number of Seminaries Preparing Clergy to Address Sexuality Issues
February 1, 2012—The Religious Institute, a multi-faith organization dedicated to sexual health, education and justice, has doubled the number of United States seminaries, divinity and rabbinical schools that are preparing the next generation of clergy with the training they need to address sexuality issues in ministry. Twenty seminaries now meet a majority of the criteria for a sexually healthy and responsible seminary, compared to just ten in 2009.