U.S. Religious Leaders Speak Against Islamophobia

Religious leaders around the country are stepping forward to denounce acts of anti-Islamic bigotry emerging in the wake of the heated debate around the Park51 Islamic center proposed for lower Manhattan. In a joint statement released at the National Press Club September 7, national religious figures from major U.S. faith traditions, including Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said: "We are profoundly distressed and deeply saddened by the incidents of violence committed against Muslims in our community and by the desecration of Islamic houses of worship. We stand by the principle that to attack any religion in the United States is to do violence to the religious freedom of all Americans."

The statement condemned the intention of an Florida evangelical group to burn copies of the Quran in a 9/11 "commemoration," a plan already deplored by the Obama administration and the U.S. military because of its potential to incite violence around the Islamic world against Christian minorities and U.S. troops.

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Further silence on the issue "is not an option," according to the statement. "We are convinced that spiritual leaders representing the various faiths in the United States have a moral responsibility to stand together and to denounce categorically derision, misinformation or outright bigotry directed against any religious group in this country. . . . Only by taking this stand can spiritual leaders fulfill the highest calling of our respective faiths and thereby help to create a safer and stronger America for all of our people."

"I fear the story of this animosity will be taken to be the story of the real America," Cardinal McCarrick told Catholic News Service. "It's not. America was not built on hatred, but on love."

The statement defended U.S. core beliefs in the freedom of religious expression: "As Jews, Christians and Muslims, we are grateful to live in this democracy whose Constitution guarantees religious liberty for all. Our freedom to worship in congregations of our own choosing, to give witness to our moral convictions in the public square and to maintain institutions that carry out our respective missions—all of these are bedrock American freedoms that must be vigorously guarded and defended lest they be placed at peril." According to the statement, the religious leaders have become "alarmed by the anti-Muslim frenzy that has been generated over the plans to build an Islamic community center and mosque at the Park 51 site near ground zero in New York City."

They said: "We recognize that the vicinity around the former World Trade Center, where 2,752 innocent lives were cruelly murdered on 9/11, remains an open wound in our country, especially for those who lost loved ones." The statement sidestepped the issue of whether or not the proposed center ought to be located elsewhere. "Persons of conscience have taken different positions on the wisdom of the location of this project, even if the legal right to build on the site appears to be unassailable," the statement read. "Our concern is not to debate the Park 51 project anew but rather to respond to the atmosphere of fear and contempt for fellow Americans of the Muslim faith that the controversy has generated."

A similar statement was also issued by local religious figures in Boston.

 

Full text follows:

As religious leaders in this great country, we have come together in our nation’s capital to denounce categorically the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry being directed against America’s Muslim community.

We bear a sacred responsibility to honor America’s varied faith traditions and to promote a culture of mutual respect and the assurance of religious freedom for all. In advance of the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we announce a new era of interfaith cooperation.

As Jews, Christians and Muslims, we are grateful to live in this democracy whose Constitution guarantees religious liberty for all. Our freedom to worship in congregations of our own choosing, to give witness to our moral convictions in the public square and to maintain institutions that carry out our respective missions — all of these are bedrock American freedoms that must be vigorously guarded and defended lest they be placed at peril.

The United States of America has been a beacon to the world in defending the rights of religious minorities, yet is also sadly true that at times in our history particular groups have been singled out for unjust discrimination and have been made the object of scorn and animosity by those who have either misconstrued or intentionally distorted the vision of our founders.

In recent weeks we have become alarmed by the anti-Muslim frenzy that has been generated over the plans to build an Islamic community center and mosque at the Park 51 site near ground zero in New York City. We recognize that the vicinity around the former World Trade Center, where 2,752 innocent lives were cruelly murdered on 9/11, remains an open wound in our country, especially for those who lost loved ones.

Persons of conscience have taken different positions on the wisdom of the location of this project, even if the legal right to build on the site appears to be unassailable. Our concern is not to debate the Park 51 project anew but rather to respond to the atmosphere of fear and contempt for fellow Americans of the Muslim faith that the controversy has generated.

We are profoundly distressed and deeply saddened by the incidents of violence committed against Muslims in our community and by the desecration of Islamic houses of worship. We stand by the principle that to attack any religion in the United States is to do violence to the religious freedom of all Americans.

The threatened burning of copies of the Holy Quran this Saturday is a particularly egregious offense that demands the strongest possible condemnation by all who value civility in public life and seek to honor the sacred memory of those who lost their lives on Sept. 11. As religious leaders, we are appalled by such disrespect for a sacred text that for centuries has shaped many of the great cultures of our world and that continues to give spiritual comfort to more than 1 billion Muslims today.

We are committed to building a future in which religious differences no longer lead to hostility or division between communities. Rather, we believe that such diversity can serve to enrich our public discourse about the great moral challenges that face our nation and our planet.

On the basis of our shared reflection, we insist that no religious should be judged on the words or actions of those who seek to pervert it through acts of violence; that politicians and members of the media are never justified in exploiting religious differences as a wedge to advance political agendas or ideologies; that bearing false witness against the neighbor — something condemned by all three of our religious traditions — is inflicting particular harm on the followers of Islam, a world religion that has lately been mischaracterized by some as a cult.

We call for a new day in America when speaking the truth about one another will embrace a renewed commitment to mutual learning among religions. Leaders of local congregations have a special responsibility to teach with accuracy, fairness and respect about other faith traditions.

The partnerships that have developed in recent years between synagogues and churches, mosques and synagogues, and churches and mosques should provide a foundation for new forms of collaboration in interfaith education, intercongregational visitations and service programs that redress social ills like homelessness and drug abuse. What we can accomplish together is in very many instances far more than we can achieve working in isolation from one another. The good results of a more extensive collaboration between religious congregations and national agencies will undoubtedly help to heal our culture, which continues to suffer for the open wound of 9/11.

We work together on the basis of deeply held and widely shared values, each supported by the sacred texts of our respective traditions. We acknowledge with gratitude the dialogues between our scholars and religious authorities that have helped us to identify a common understanding of the divine command to love one’s neighbor. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all see an intimate link between faithfulness to God and love of neighbor, a neighbor who in many instances is the stranger in our midst.

We are united in our conviction that by witnessing together in celebration of human dignity and religious freedom; by working together for interfaith understanding across communities and generations; and by cooperating with each other in works of justice and mercy for the benefit of society, all of us will demonstrate our faithfulness to our deepest spiritual commitments.

We are convinced that spiritual leaders representing the various faiths in the United States have a moral responsibility to stand together and to denounce categorically derision, misinformation or outright bigotry directed against any religious group in this country. Silence is not an option. Only by taking this stand can spiritual leaders fulfill the highest calling of our respective faiths and thereby help to create a safer and stronger America for all of our people.

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7 years 8 months ago
I have a question.  Are these religious leaders guilty of bigotry and hate by accusing others of bigotry and hate.  Nearly 2/3 of the country has come out against the particular mosque at Park 51.  Are all these people bigoted?  I don't think so.


The particular church in Florida is anti military and anti Semitic and represents a miniscule of the population.  To use such sweeping language may in itself be bigoted.  It implies that opposition to the proposed site is based on bigotry.  By linking this absurd event by this particular group to the over all attitudes of those who oppose the Park 51 site is to me demagoguery.
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 8 months ago
We are all bigots, not just 2/3 of us.  Every person alive is devoted to his/her own opinion and beliefs, thinking that others are not quite as clear, correct, or holy. 

Real spiritual leaders hold up a mirror and show this to us.
Tom Maher
7 years 8 months ago
"Religious leaders" are making radical denouniations of America without basis.  This atatement is an example of ill concieved, elitism on the part of "religious leaders" who are making sweeping condemnation of American society without real evidence to support their radical assertions of "anti-Islamic bigotry".   No such actions against moslems have occured.

This statement exploits the legitimate concerns and feelings of citrizens over the frequent acts of mass murder of innocent Americans and even more frequent attemps at mass murder by moslem extremist. These concrete acts of terorism are often elaboratly planned , coordinated, financed and executed.  Freqeuntly these acts of terrorism are controlled or initiated and encouraged from foriegn sources wiho have extreme hatred of America and its institutions.  The United States spends billions of dollars a year over the very real concern over future acts of mass murder by moslem terrorist bent of literally destroying America by any means, up to and including the use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The constance threat of terroism by moslem extremist can not be ignored.  Terroism by moslem extrimist is a legitimate and necessary part of public discussion and protest  in America.

 America and its instituions deserve to be free of the  threat terrorism by moslem extremist.    "Religious leaders'" condemnation of the legistamate concerns of Americans is deplorable.
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 8 months ago
The legitimate concerns and fears of Americans need to be seen in a clear-er and broader light, and that is what religious leaders are for.

America was not attacked by Islam, but by a real and growing development within Islam- an indeginous violent movement that has caused much misery to Muslim societies as well as our own.  Muslims are struggling against the same poison as we are.  Being against Islam does not help our common struggle against Muslim extremism.

Also, Christianity was not attacked on September 11th, America was.  They are not the same thing.  There are ads out now in which the Ground Zero cross appears as the antidote to the Ground Zero Mosque.  Those who are behind those ads are extremists just like the Muslims who think that they are waging a holy war.  They have become what they say they are fighting.

I don't think that these religious leaders are condemning American society - they are showing the way through our fears and concerns, leading!
Bill Collier
7 years 8 months ago
The Park 51 controversy reminds me more and more of the treatment given Japanese residents of the U.S. after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Gross generalizations were made about loyal Americans of Japanese descent in response to an unprovoked and horrific attack planned and condoned by the Japanese government and military. As we know, many innocent people were relegated to internment camps, to the shame of the U.S. as the world's pre-eminent democracy.

The same sorts of gross generalizations are being made today in many quarters about Muslims in the U.S. and worldwide. Not only are generalizations foolish in and of themselves, but Islam is a religion with about a billion adherents. Why alienate Muslims in general because of the extremist acts of a few? What, specifically, demonstrates that the Muslims involved in the Park 51 project are extremists who should be prevented from building there? Absent hard evidence of extremism, it seems to me that we should welcome all Muslims of good will as an antidote to the anti-US sentiments that are growing in Muslim countries. Objection to Park 51 seems in many respects as offensive as the opposition of some Muslims to the building of Christian churches in Muslim countries. Intolerance only begets intolerance.    
Vince Killoran
7 years 8 months ago
It seems like Islamophobia to me.  I don't see the, as Tom Mahar puts it, "legitimate concerns and feelings of citizens."  When we start to weigh freedom of religion against the "feelings" of the populace we are in deep trouble.
Tom Maher
7 years 8 months ago
Grief and sorrow are feelings that are legitimate and should be recognized and respected. When a person suffer a loss of a family member,  most people do not have to be told the person is likely grieving.   Most mature people understand and respect humans experiencing grief, sorrow and other emotions and react to the person with respect accordingly.  The Catholic faith has always recognized the reality of personal sorrow.  Feelings are an intregal,  legitimate and expected part of human life and society. 

What we need to worry about is what we have on our hands: dull "religious leaders"  who lack the wisdom and understanding to recognize that people will grieve tha destruction and loss of innocent life at World Trade  Center for centuries to come.

9/11/2001 is an historic day of appalling deststruction and loss of innocent human life that can not be dismissed from people minds and hearts by cold logic.  People feelings of loss are permanent and will not be purged by legalistic arguments of religious rights.   

The feeling of loss and grief experienced by the thousands of families and people who lost loved ones in the World Trade Ccenter attack ,by New Yorkers, by Americans and by people across the world should be respected.  Their voices of protest to the location of the mosque so near to scene of destruction should be respected.  For "religious leaders" to call these people, for their words of protest, "bigots" is deplorable. 
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 8 months ago
Yes, grief and sorrow are legitimate feelings that should be recognized and respected.  But they should not be used as a weapon to up the ante in what is looking more and more like a full scale religious warfare.

Quoting Andrew Sullivan:
"This kind of cycle in this kind of environment is something that once started, no one can stop. It is a function of fringe Christian fundamentalism finally engaging fringe Islamist fundamentalism in a war of increasing terror and intolerance in a seamless global media world. It is the responsibility of all of us of actual faith rather than fanaticism to stand up and oppose this before it engulfs us all."

Vince Killoran
7 years 8 months ago
One can be passionate about their position, or bring an ethical perspective to the civic realm but an appeal to "feelings" is not a good way to craft public policy.  Most of the reactionary, racist backlashes in our country's history draw on this kind of "emotional" politics (including the southern white backlash to civil rights in the 1950s/60s).

 
Liam Richardson
7 years 8 months ago
The appeal to feelings here reminds me of the 19th century appeals by English-speaking Protestants to Foxe's Book of Martyrs as justification for marginalizing those evil Kathlicks....

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