Rabbi Jack Moline to head the Interfaith Alliance

Interfaith Alliance, a staunch voice for the separation of church and state, appoints its first non-Christian leader: Rabbi Jack Moline.

Rabbi Jack Moline speaks at the 2010 Walter Cronkite Faith & Freedom Award Gala in New York City. Photo courtesy of Interfaith Alliance (Photographer: Julian Russell)

Rabbi Jack Moline speaks at the 2010 Walter Cronkite Faith & Freedom Award Gala in New York City. Photo courtesy of Interfaith Alliance (Photographer: Julian Russell)

WASHINGTON (RNS) Rabbi Jack Moline, a congregational rabbi who briefly led the nation’s top Jewish Democratic group, is the new head of the Interfaith Alliance, a staunch voice in Washington for the separation of church and state and other progressive causes.

Moline is the fourth leader and the first non-Christian to head the 20-year-old alliance, which represents more than 75 faith traditions and secularists, too.

Announcing Moline’s appointment Tuesday (Jan. 20), the Interfaith Alliance cited his decades of work on civil rights and religious freedom issues and his 27 years leading Agudas Achim, the Northern Virginia synagogue where he is now rabbi emeritus.

“He has been a powerful voice in defense of religious freedom for everyone, regardless of his or her faith or belief,” said Helio Fred Garcia, chairman of the Interfaith Alliance board. “He understands the value of bringing together diverse voices and perspectives to challenge extremism and build common ground.”

Though Moline is now “interim” executive director, because the appointment was made quickly after his predecessor left the Interfaith Alliance, the rabbi said the “interim” part of his title could well be dropped.

Moline, 62, who in December resigned as director of the National Jewish Democratic Council after less than a year on the job, said it became clear that he wasn’t the right person to lead the council. But he said the Interfaith Alliance is an excellent match.

“I know this organization. I love this organization,” said Moline, who chaired its board from 2006-2008 and was on the search committee that picked the alliance’s last leader, the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, who stepped down in December after 16 years. “We will not lose any momentum as we continue to protect faith and freedom, challenge extremism and build common ground.”

Said Gaddy of Moline: “When you care about an organization and its mission like I do, knowing that organization is in good hands is very satisfying, comforting and exciting.

“I couldn’t be more pleased to have a leader with his qualities guiding the direction of an organization whose mission is probably more important today than it was when it was founded,” Gaddy continued.

Defenders of church-state separation have become alarmed in recent years as more people, waving the banner of religious liberty, have waged campaigns to keep religion firmly planted in the public square.

An example is the Hobby Lobby case, in which a business owner refused to comply with all provisions of the Affordable Care Act, citing his faith. The Supreme Court sided with the business; the Interfaith Alliance supported the Obama administration.

Other issues the Interfaith Alliance lobbies on include women’s rights, LGBT rights and anti-bigotry education. The nonprofit operates on about $1 million a year.

Moline was ordained in the Conservative stream of Judaism, which sits between the liberal Reform and the traditional Orthodox movements in its interpretation of Jewish law. He has advised many in higher office, including former President Clinton, on questions of policy as well as personal matters.

Moline ruffled some feathers while at the NJDC, criticizing two major Jewish groups — the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — which, he said, applied too much pressure to congressional Democrats to oppose President Obama’s strategy on Iran. He also said the Democratic Party had not done enough to mobilize Jewish voters in key states, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.