Presidential candidate Donald Trump invoked fears from last week’s terror attack in our community as justification for a bigoted religious ban. He called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
The toxic rhetoric in the Republican presidential campaign has hit a crescendo.
Over the past few months, candidates have boldly argued for, and sometimes backtracked on, shuttering mosques, registering Muslims in databases, killing relatives of terrorists, denying entry to orphan children, waterboarding, creating a government agency to promote “Judeo-Christian Western values” as well establishing a religious test for refugee admission and the presidency. Ben Carson likened Muslim refugees to rabid dogs.
By now, the firestorm of criticism engulfing Trump has crossed party lines to include not only Democrats such as President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders but former also Vice President Dick Cheney and many of Trump’s Republican presidential rivals. One of them, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a military veteran, was blunt: “He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.”
Cheney offered a more nuanced critique. “Religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from. … It’s a mistaken notion.” Fellow Republican Congressman Richard Hanna of New York said Trump’s proposal was “un-American, ill-advised, dangerous and shows a profound lack of understanding of the U.S. Constitution.”
Indeed, Thomas Jefferson, once labeled by critics as an infidel, regarded religious liberty as so crucial to our nation and his legacy that he asked that among three achievements listed on his tombstone be author “of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom.”
That statute read in part:
“No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.”
George Washington, addressing Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island, concurred. “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance…”
And of course our First Amendment restrains governmental interference with faith, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim’s entry to the United States, apparently now walked back to only apply to foreigners, is not just morally and legally wrong, it is strategically damaging.
A recent Pew Poll shows the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world reject ISIS. We need their aid if we are going to prevail against this growing surge, which now poses the most pronounced terror threat to our nation this century.
Graham stated that Trump’s divisive tactics against Muslims would enflame radicalism so that ISIS would name him “man of the year.” When ISIS kills, they do not make distinctions between Western Christians and moderate Muslims. Neither should we.
When such brutal terror strikes a place like ours, in San Bernardino, its devastating swath reaches us all. In contravention of both domestic politics and ISIS’ goals, however, our pained city has reflexively responded not with division and exclusion but with compassion.
With tears, hugs, prayers, song and candle light, we mourn and move slowly forward, knowing that many of our neighbors are still suffering so deeply from losses that time will numb but never heal.
We have found comfort in the help of others who have shown that in a difficult time, it is our connections to shared communal values, irrespective of faith, that binds us — not only here in San Bernardino but as our nation, as a whole.
People from a cross-section of faiths were killed or injured or responded at the scene, providing medical aid and later praying at vigils.
We have seen first-hand that the deafening cacophony of gunfire is but the fleeting grunt of the morally illiterate. The lasting defining voice will be ours, so we must be careful of what our actions say.