We all have a right to freedom of belief without fear of harm. However, we are seeing a surge in Americans being targeted for their religious identity – including elected officials. Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel confirmed this week that she was a target of a threat on Twitter to kill Jewish members of Michigan’s government. The incident comes in a moment when there is a terrifying rise in attacks on Jewish people across America, combined with attacks on elected officials and government workers.
The impact of threats to Jewish members of Michigan’s government extends beyond those public officials. When intimidation and harassment singles out Jewish officials, that sends a message to all Jewish people that they are not safe. Nobody should be targeted because of their religion – it is unacceptable and goes against the core values of our nation. It’s our duty to show up for our neighbors including in online spaces where extremism and bigotry are allowed to thrive. As United States Attorney Dawn N. Ison explained in the case against the man who is being charged in this incident, “no one should be threatened or targeted with violence because of their religious beliefs.”
Online Hate is a Unique Threat to Our Communities and Democracy
The fact that the threat was made on Twitter puts renewed focus on decisions that have been made since Elon Musk took over Twitter. In one of his first acts, Musk fired staff responsible for addressing misinformation and hateful content. The result was a rise in antisemitic, Islamophobic, as well as racist content flooding the site, apparently making the perpetrator in this threat feel like Twitter was a place where he could feel comfortable posting his threats to harm Jewish people. Lack of attention and resources dedicated to hate online leaves a breeding ground for extremists to learn, connect, and eventually threaten the lives of others. Interfaith Alliance is committed to advancing an inclusive vision of religious freedom, one where all feel safe to choose belief or non-belief. It’s impossible to fulfill that vision without addressing the role of social media in disseminating hate and the acts of violence it inspires.
Religious Communities Can Lead in Combating Hate
Now more than ever, we must show up for one another. Religious leaders and people of faith are uniquely positioned to strengthen ties and push back against hateful rhetoric by providing an alternative message of love, inclusion, and mutual respect – whether that is in our communities or in online spaces. Interfaith Alliance recently launched a report, Big Tech, Hate and Religious Freedom Online, which focuses attention on the role that social media is playing in spreading hate across the internet and our world. We also offer “Partnering Against Hate,” a grassroots toolkit designed to help guide groups and individuals who want to do more to make their communities safer and more inclusive.
Standing in solidarity with affected communities means showing up for them through action. Faith communities can and must come together to take an active role in making our communities safer. By partnering against hate, religious leaders and people of faith can send the message that hate speech and hateful violence will not be left unchallenged. US Attorney Ison also encourages this kind of vigilance against hate, saying, “our community members are the first line of defense in cases like this.”
As religious minorities are increasingly targeted, the connection between religious freedom and the preservation of our democracy is apparent now more than ever. The freedom to believe as we choose is a fundamental component of our national identity. True religious freedom protects people of all faiths and none.
Learn more about Interfaith Alliance’s efforts to combat hate and harassment.