More than 100 prominent Boston-area interfaith leaders have signed a letter calling upon a Stoughton synagogue to revoke a speaking invitation to three well-known critics of Islam, whom the interfaith objectors called “known purveyors of vitriol and acrimony.”
Ahavath Torah Congregation, a Conservative synagogue founded in 1919, is hosting a dinner and discussion Wednesday evening titled “National Security Chaos: Are We Passing the Tipping Point?” The program features Frank Gaffney Jr., founder and president of the Center for Security Policy, who argues “creeping Sharia” law is a serious threat to the American government; Tom Trento, founder of the Florida-based group The United West; and William G. “Jerry” Boykin, a retired US lieutenant general and former deputy undersecretary of defense, who has called Islam unworthy of First Amendment protection.
Billed in the Stoughton Journal as “a sober discussion, analysis, and advice from prominent experts,” the talk was scheduled to be preceded by a $200-a-plate VIP dinner featuring an off-the-record conversation with the men, as well as a “high-profile surprise guest.”
“Anticipate increased security presence,” the paper said.
The interfaith group objected to the synagogue giving the men a platform, particularly at the end of a presidential campaign that has stoked anti-Muslim sentiment.
“As Boston-area religious and cultural leaders, we are committed to building a community that embraces people of different beliefs and practices, including our Muslim neighbors and friends,” the interfaith letter said. “This work is particularly important in the present political climate, in which some public figures are voicing messages of intolerance and xenophobia, pitting segments of the American populace against one another.”
They said the speakers “cast Islam as an inherently immoral faith, and spread conspiracy theories that Muslims are secretly infiltrating US and European governments as a ‘fifth column.’ ”
Gaffney, in a brief phone interview, said he had not seen the statement but could respond to it generally.
He said he considers the interfaith “exercise . . . to be standard operating procedure for those who have decided for whatever reason that they will assist what amounts to Muslim Brotherhood front organizations in suppressing the freedom of speech from Americans like me.”
“It certainly will not alter my belief that we need to exercise that freedom of speech,” he said, “and I’m delighted to do it tomorrow night in Stoughton.”
Trento and Boykin could not be immediately reached for comment.
The synagogue’s rabbi did not immediately respond to an e-mail requesting comment.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, calls the Center for Security Policy and The United West anti-Muslim extremist groups; Boykin is also a leader of the Family Research Council, which the center has designated an antigay hate group.
“It’s a great event to go to if you want to hear Muslims defamed and Islam sullied,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “If you want to learn something about the actual truth, though, I wouldn’t bother.”
The Boston clergy group, which includes many of Greater Boston’s most vocal religious leaders, said the synagogue’s guests’ “inflammatory rhetoric has no factual basis and directly fuels anti-Muslim discrimination.
“Our houses of worship,” the clergy said, “should be spaces for prayer, reflection, study, and community building. While free political debate is a vital element in our democracy, voices that demonize ethnic, racial, or faith groups have no place in our sanctuaries.”
Signers of the letter include Vito Nicastro, associate director of ecumenical and interreligious affairs for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston; Rabbi David Lerner of Temple Emunah in Lexington, the president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis; the Rev. Burns Stanfield, president of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization; the Rev. Liz Walker, pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church; the Rev. Jeffrey Brown of Twelfth Baptist Church; the clergy of Temple Israel, Boston’s largest Reform congregation; the Rev. Nancy Taylor, senior minister of Old South Church, and the Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd IIIof Trinity Church in Copley Square.
“In the face of such bare animosity toward our community from these speakers, it’s uplifting to see such outspoken support from our interfaith allies across the spectrum,” Yusufi Vali, executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, said in a statement.
Lerner, in an interview, said the “deeper values” at stake demanded that the interfaith community not ignore the event.
“We are quietly trying to build bridges between communities, certainly between the Jewish and Muslims communities, and as these kinds of things impact our Muslim neighbors, you realize that it was time to speak out to support them,” Lerner said.