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 House Committee on Homeland Security for the record of the hearing on “The Threat of Muslim-American Radicalization in U.S. Prisons.”
As I noted in my testimony for this committee’s hearing into the “Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community” just three months ago, by singling out one particular religion for investigation, these hearings fly in the face of religious freedom as it is enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution.
Furthermore, this hearing is not only the wrong answer to the wrong question, but there appears to be little factual basis to necessitate this line of inquiry and in the end, this series of hearings may only perpetuate the problems the Homeland Security Committee seeks to solve, as well as add to a disturbing climate of anti-Muslim sentiment extant in America today.
Freedom of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment protects the freedom of all Americans to believe in any religious faith, as they choose, 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. Many incarcerated individuals turn their religion or find new faith while repaying their debt to society and indeed doing so can have positive results in many cases. Furthermore, the chaplains in our nation’s prisons serve an important role, facilitating the free exercise rights of prisoners. All Americans have the right to practice their faith or to pursue a different religious tradition should they choose; this is an integral part of American democracy just as rehabilitation and effective reentry are important parts of our criminal justice system. And any suggestion that clergy should have to pass some sort of values test of their own religion is a serious attack on our First Amendment.
There is no doubt that our nation faces serious threats to its security both at home and abroad, but the continued demonization of Muslims and questioning of the Muslim faith is not the answer. I fear that this approach is misguided and will only result in further alienating the American Muslim community. Terrorism is a real threat that requires serious investigation based on fact. At the same time, conducting hearings into what is being presented as a major trend of “radicalization” in the Muslim community that leads to violence when there is little to no evidence to support that claim, is also a real threat. Posing questions like “whether the American Muslim community is becoming radicalized” —whether supposedly occurring in prisons or in houses of worship— has the dangerous potential to intensify, rather than to lessen, prejudice toward 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 of the real differences between Islamic extremists who commit acts of terrorism and non-violent adherents to Islam. Targeting one particular faith for scrutiny when the overwhelming majority of that faith’s adherents in this country are peaceful, law-abiding citizens seems counterproductive and just plain wrong. It is the responsibility of our elected officials to promote reason, truth and civility in the public forum— especially at a time when Islamophobia is on the rise—not to waste time and public resources on victimizing select groups.
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 and the Muslim chaplains who give their lives to serving the least among us, but there is no question that it is the right thing to do.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony on this important issue.
Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance brings together members from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition to protect faith and freedom. For more information visit www.interfaithalliance.org.