With religious advocacy groups popping up like mushrooms, it's difficult to keep track of which organization is doing what. But The Interfaith Alliance of Idaho (TIA) has set itself apart by the broad range of issues in which it has involved itself during its relatively brief life span--affording Boise's homeless a duress-free setting for food and shelter, opposition to the constitutional amendment that would prohibit gay marriages, promoting the public financing of elections, defending public education, and generally, "Helping voices that aren't being heard get heard," as Executive Director Pam Baldwin explains.
"We try to pick our issues through a human-rights filter with an eye on the First Amendment and separation of church and state. We are totally against the 'faith-based' initiatives. We realize that churches can't do all the social services in the United States."
During the 2000 election, the issue was civility. "Some horrible voter guides came out that were so one-sided they were breaking all the rules. They were telling people how to vote," says Baldwin. "So we developed a program of letting houses of worship know what was and was not legal as to voter guides."
Reacting to the Religious Right goes back to the very establishment of TIA. Nationally, TIA started in 1994 as a progressive response to Ralph Reed's Christian Coalition. In Idaho, it initially organized in 1998 under the banner of United Vision For Idaho later separating from UV to stand on its own. (TIA still shares office space with United Vision.)
From within TIA came the Interfaith Sanctuary effort in 2005, partly as a result of what many saw as a heavy-handed approach by other charity organizations in Boise to proselytize the homeless into a narrow, dogmatic niche of Christianity. Interfaith Sanctuary (which now operates independent of the TIA) ensures there is winter shelter and a meal for anyone who will accept it, and it's done without the attitude that a needy soul's different faith (or lack of faith, altogether) is the cause for their condition.
Statewide, the Interfaith Alliance of Idaho has a membership of about 1,000, made up of both clergy and lay people. It's an organization strictly of individuals, since getting entire congregations or churches to move in one direction is improbable. Baldwin: "We have Hindus and Buddhists and Christian Scientists, people from the synagogue, Muslims." Last year, local Hari Krishna devotees cooked meals for Interfaith Sanctuary five nights a week.
"The role of the Interfaith Alliance is to use religion as a healing force, not a divisive one," continues Baldwin. "If mainstream religious people who are grounded in the common good are not weighing in on public policy, we get what's happening now."