Religious Abuse: A Disgrace

Michael Peppard, recently graduated from Yale Divinity School and assuming his post as a professor of theology at Fordham, has a must-read article in the current issue of Commonweal magazine. Back in December, Peppard wrote an article about reports of religious abuse at Guantanamo Bay. Now, with the release of a heavily redacted Senate report on Guantanamo, Peppard has written about the findings. And those findings are frightening.

Peppard notes that some readers questioned the veracity of the charges, noting that terrorists are trained to lie as well as to kill. He admits that, "If you asked me when I wrote the article which of the abuse claims I thought was most likely to have been fabricated by the detainees, I would have said it was the stories of forced prostration before a makeshift shrine to a false god. It seemed too outrageous. What could contradict America’s commitment to religious freedom more than coerced apostasy?"

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Of course, the Senate report confirms this outrageous practice did occur. Detainees were also prevented from praying, had their heads and beards shaved forcibly in contradiction of Islamic norms, made to wear a burqa, and exposed to "grotesque forms of sexual harassment."

This abuse of another’s religion is frightening and religious leaders must be at the forefront of both denouncing these practices and ensuring that they are never, ever perpetrated again. They offend the most distinctive human quality, the capacity to worship our Creator.

The government, too, must ensure that such abominations never again occur. On January 5, 1941, in his State of the Union Address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt listed the four essential freedoms upon which the security of the world must be built. The first was freedom of speech and expression. "The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world," Roosevelt said.

Roosevelt linked these values to world security, and so does Peppard in his article which concludes: "Nothing threatens America’s national security more than the perception that we are at war with Islam. We are not. But to change the false perception we must first change a disgraceful policy." Amen.

 

 

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