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Religious And Civic Leaders Have A Message For Fear-Mongering Candidates

Travelers pull their luggage as they walk to a bus stop, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, in New York. Presidential Candidate Donald Trump has called for a ban on Muslims traveling to the United States. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK LENNIHAN
Travelers pull their luggage as they walk to a bus stop, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, in New York. Presidential Candidate Donald Trump has called for a ban on Muslims traveling to the United States. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK LENNIHAN

“Muslims are our equals,” declared an open letter signed by nearly 50 religious and civic leaders. Printed on a full page of the Washington Post on Monday, the letter decried what it described as “highly offensive remarks” made by “politicians, candidates, and commentators” in recent weeks.

“Our religious principles teach us to love and respect each other, and our civic responsibility demands that we take a public stand against this gross injustice happening before our eyes today,” the letter read, before specifically addressing such injustices. “Simply, suggestions that a Muslim cannot serve as President, or that Muslims should be registered and their mosques closed, are un-American and un-Constitutional.”

Suggestions that a Muslim cannot serve as President, or that Muslims should be registered and their mosques closed, are un-American and un-Constitutional.

Signatories of the letter ranged from rabbis to reverends and from rights’ groups leaders to diplomats.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick,who was the first to sign, worried that fear-mongering has led to leaps of logic.

“I’m scared of the crazy fringe. I’m troubled by it,” he told the Washington Post. “It’s not the world I want to live in.”

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“I’m 85 years old, I’m no chicken,” the former archbishop of Washington said. “Freedom of speech is very important, but hatred is also very important and very dangerous.”

RELATED: Congressman Decries Violent Persecution Of Muslims Across The U.S.: ‘It’s A Disturbing Picture’

The letter called on “good citizens” to speak out on what it described as a matter of “grave concern.”

Indeed, there appears to have been a major spike in hate-related attacks targeting Muslims and those who appear to be Muslim since suggestions were made by Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump and others that Muslims should be restricted from public office and denied entry into the U.S.

On Monday, police arrested Trump supporter William Celli who was allegedly constructing explosives to use against Muslims in his community. The Richmond, Calif. resident posted several rants against Islam and immigration on Facebook, and declared that he would follow Trump “to the end of the world.”

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In a seeming reference to Trump, the open letter declared “that we live by our nation’s own unswerving standards…and no one else’s.”

Suhail A. Khan, one of the letter’s signatories, noted that both religious freedom and Muslims have a long history in the U.S. The Muslim, who served in the George W. Bush administration, noted in a recent op-ed that a strong stance on religious freedom predates the writing of the Constitution.

These ideas about religious freedom that were nurtured in the American colonies were written into the Constitution after the United States won its independence. The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was a notable precursor of the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

But the real debate surrounded the language banning religious tests as a qualification for public office, put forth in Article 6, Clause 3, of the U.S. Constitution.This clause, revolutionary at its time, provided that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” By including this clause, the founders proclaimed that men of all faiths, or none at all, would be equally eligible to play a role in public life in the new democratic nation.

Monday’s letter struck the same note. “[Muslims] are no different than anyone else pursuing the American dream,” the leaders wrote. “Together, we are proud Americans. Together, we choose freedom, not fear.”