In an open letter to US Congressmen, 90 civil advocacy groups oppose anti-Muslim rhetoric

About 90 national religious, secularist, civil advocacy and civil rights organizations have urged  the members of Congress to "support core principles of the First Amendment and religious freedom in our country by denouncing anti-Muslim rhetoric and policy proposals."

In an open letter sent on Tuesday, January 17, the organizations said as anti-Muslim rhetoric became more prevalent during the presidential campaign, the rate of crimes against Muslims also increased. "Establishing anti-Muslim policies, such as forcing Muslims to register on a national scale, goes directly against the American principles of freedom of religious belief and of expression."

The open letter was sent to mark the Religious Freedom Day 2017.

This week the United States celebrated Religious Freedom Day 2017, which marks the 231st anniversary of the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of the landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the letter said adding: "This statute marks religious freedom for all, on the basis of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Our Founding Fathers believed — as did others involved in drafting and adopting the statute and the First Amendment itself — that religious freedom is a fundamental and expansive right. This means religious freedom for all, not some."

The organizations said talk of a national registry based on religion evokes memories of “the deeply shameful policy of interning Japanese Americans on the basis of political fear-mongering after the U.S. entered World War II.” They said Trump supporters “have shamefully cited that horrific moment in our nation’s history as precedent for singling out our Muslim family, friends and neighbors.”

The groups said anti-Muslim rhetoric is closely related to religiously based violence committed against Muslims or those perceived to be Muslims. “As anti-Muslim rhetoric became more prevalent during the presidential campaign, the rate of crimes against Muslims also increased,” they said.

Establishing anti-Muslim policies, they said, “goes directly against the American principles of freedom of religious belief and of expression.”

“True religious freedom means that the same right that protects the liberty of Christians, Jews or Hindus, for example, to pray, attend services and promote their views in public, protects the right of Muslims to do the same,” they said.

The Alliance of Baptists, which is one of the signee of the letter, in a statement said that the Alliance upholds principles including “a free church in a free state and the opposition to any effort either by church or state to use the other for its own purposes.”

The open letter said "as policy makers, soldiers, business owners, doctors, teachers, among many other professions, and as cherished neighbors, friends, and loved ones, Muslims are a fundamental part of this country and have been since before it was founded."

Last week the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, asked Trump to withdraw his invitation to evangelist Franklin Graham to pray at his inauguration because of Graham’s history of anti-Muslim rhetoric.

“If President-elect Trump truly seeks to unite our nation as he promised in his acceptance speech, he will limit the list of those offering prayers at the inauguration to religious leaders who work to bring us together, not to create divisions between faiths,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.

“Rev. Graham’s ill-informed and extremist views are incompatible with the Constitution and with American values of religious liberty and inclusion.”

Graham, head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse, has called Islam a “very evil and wicked religion” and suggested that certain American mosques should be closed by the government.

Christopher Mathias of The Huffington Post wrote Wednesday that Graham, president of the Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, "is also one of America’s more prolific anti-Muslim bigots, and his inclusion in Friday’s ceremony has saddened, but not necessarily surprised, American Muslim groups."

Christopher Mathias recalled that in 2015 Graham proposed a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. ― months before Trump made the same shocking proposal. In a Facebook post Graham said:

“We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled. Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized―and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad. During World War II, we didn’t allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans. Why are we allowing Muslims now?”

The civil advocacy groups in their open letter said "we write to urgently express our increasing concerns about policies the President-elect proposed during his campaign, and cabinet appointments he has more recently announced, which we believe run counter to this founding tenet of our democracy."

The letter concluded: "We strongly urge you to denounce anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies — and affirmatively work to protect true religious freedom for all individuals and families nationwide."

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America ( email: asghazali2011 (@)

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