Testimony for the Hearings on “Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims”

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Written Testimony of
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of Interfaith Alliance
Submitted to
The Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights
for the Hearing Record on
“Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims.”
March 29, 2011


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 submit this testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights for the record of the hearing on “Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims.”

There exists in our country today a pervasive and unsettling trend of anti-Muslim fear, bigotry and rhetoric and a general lack of understanding about Islam.  This climate calls us to question not only whether we as leaders in the religious freedom community are doing enough to spread the truth to combat the misconceptions being perpetuated about Islam, but also whether enough is being done by our government to protect the civil and religious freedom rights of American Muslims and other American minorities.  The answer to the latter question might very well be “yes,” and I hope that it is, but a hearing of this nature is both necessary and important to determine if this is the case.

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, defending the rights of the American Muslim community may not ensure an “electoral win”, but there is no question that it is the right thing to do.

Recently we have seen the anti-Muslim trend spread across our nation at all levels of society. We have seen it in the inflammatory rhetoric in our national dialogue; in the recently-held Congressional investigation into the so-called radicalization of the Muslim community; in state legislatures’ proposals to effectively criminalize Shariah law; and in local debates over whether the building of mosques should be permissible. It is clear that those of us who stand up for the religious freedom of all faith communities have our work cut out for us.  Freedom of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment protects the freedom of all Americans to believe in any religious faith, without fear of criticism, retribution, or investigation because of it.  In our nation, all people and all faiths are equal with none favored over any other.  These freedoms are an integral part of American democracy.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony on this important issue.