C/o The Trump Organization
725 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10022
Dear Mr. Trump,
You have made it no secret that you are considering running for U.S. President. I believe in and will continue to defend the right of candidates to talk about the role faith plays in their lives, but a line is crossed when a candidate or potential candidate uses the political forum as a conduit for vilifying another religion or those who follow it.
On a recent episode of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s The Brody File, you admitted that you are no expert on the Koran. And yet, you went on to say, “There’s something there that teaches some very negative vibe.” Do you know that to be the case as a result of your own investigation or do you make that comment because someone has told you that it is true? Though you acknowledged that acts of terrorism in the Middle East may or may not stem from the teachings of the Koran, you insinuated that the holy book of Islam might, in fact, be to blame for the attacks of September 11 2001, as opposed to a perversion of the teachings of Islam. What is the basis of that serious hypothesis? You went even further by concluding, “There’s tremendous hatred out there. I’ve never seen anything like it. So, you have two views. You have the view that the Koran is all about love, and then you have the view that there’s a lot of hate in the Koran.”
As a Baptist minister, a patriotic American and the President of Interfaith Alliance, a national, non-partisan organization that celebrates religious freedom and is dedicated to protecting faith and freedom and whose 185,000 members nationwide belong to 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition, I have been deeply disturbed by the disproportionate role religion has played during recent election cycles, and in particular, by the way it runs the risk of contributing to the climate of anti-Muslim sentiment extant in America today. Entanglement between religion and politics threatens both the integrity of religion and the vitality of politics and is likely to perpetuate, rather than to alleviate, religious discrimination.
My experience has been that when a candidate speaks about faith on the campaign trail, it has more to do with politics than it does with religion. You chose to air concerns about the possible implications of the teachings of Islam on the modern-day peaceful version of the religion practiced by so many around the globe today, on a program targeted toward
an Evangelical Christian audience. It is hard not to see this choice as playing to the misguided fears and beliefs of those you are trying to court for political gain. Terrorism is a real threat that requires serious investigation based on fact; it is never acceptable to use religion as a political tool, especially when you are disparaging someone else’s religion in the process. Such claims have the dangerous potential to intensify, rather than to lessen, prejudice toward Muslims.
Our nation was built upon the freedom for all people of all faiths – and people of no religious faith – to be equal with none favored over the other. Your recent comments lead one to believe that you seek to benefit from the wedge that religion can drive between voters during elections. Furthermore, there exists in our country today a pervasive and unsettling trend of anti-Muslim fear, bigotry and rhetoric and a general lack of understanding of the real differences between Islamic extremists who commit acts of terrorism and non-violent adherents to Islam. It is the responsibility of our elected officials and those seeking elected office to promote reason, truth and civility in the public forum— especially at a time when Islamophobia is on the rise—not to waste time on victimizing select groups. When you employ exaggerated, over-dramatic language to characterize an issue, as for instance, when you said, “We’re so politically correct, that this country is falling apart,” you merely serve to exacerbate the issue.
Interfaith Alliance’s work is driven by the fundamental principle that protecting religious freedom is most critical in times of crisis and controversy. Even the most basic knowledge of the history of the First Amendment includes the understanding that religious freedom exists in part to protect the rights of the minority from what Alexis de Tocqueville not unrealistically called the tyranny of the majority. In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that if our Founding Fathers had relied on polling data, the First Amendment might not exist at all. Unfortunately, in today’s political climate, it may not ensure an “electoral win” to defend the rights of the American Muslim community, but there is no question that it is the right thing to do.
I hope that, if you choose to run for president – as well as in your private life – you would uphold the religious freedom of all Americans to believe in or to reject any religious faith, as they choose. This freedom is an integral part of American democracy and promised by the First Amendment to our Constitution. I hope that going forward you will look for opportunities to be part of the solution rather than the problem. Winning an election is not worth destroying the private integrity of your personal beliefs or compromising our nation’s historic commitment to religious freedom.
Our guide for candidates can be found at interfaithalliance.org/elections. You might find it useful.
C. Welton Gaddy
P.S. Neither a candidate for the presidency nor a President of the United States is expected to be an authority on judging religions, but rather a leader for all people in the nation regardless of anyone’s religion or lack of religion.
Interfaith Alliance is a network of people of diverse faiths and beliefs from across the country working together to build a resilient democracy and fulfill America’s promise of religious freedom and civil rights not just for some, but for all. We mobilize powerful coalitions to challenge Christian nationalism and religious extremism, while fostering a better understanding of the healthy boundaries between religion and government. We advocate at all levels of government for an equitable and just America where the freedoms of belief and religious practice are protected, and where all persons are treated with dignity and have the opportunity to thrive. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.