Recently, President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney gave interviews with “Cathedral Age,” a magazine produced by the Washington National Cathedral, in which they reflected on the role of faith in America.
As religious leaders from distinct Abrahamic faith traditions, we were pleased to read this statement from Romney:
“Every religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These should not be bases for criticism, but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Because we concur with these sentiments we were very concerned when reports circulated that the Republican Platform, which was approved Tuesday at the Republican National Convention, includes support for federal legislation barring judges from consulting foreign, international or religious law when deciding cases.
A number of states have already considered legislation similar to this RNC plank, each based on framework legislation entitled “American Laws for American Courts,” which initially openly targeted sharia law (Islamic law). Passing this legislation has been a major goal of the American Public Policy Alliance and the author of the legislation, David Yerushalmi. Similar bills have been introduced in at least 23 states and Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arizona and Kansas have passed the legislation.
However, despite claims from the legislation’s supporters, its true intent is not to ensure that foreign laws do not control American courts. That question has already been answered by the U.S. Constitution, which states: “The Constitution, and the laws of the United Sates…shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby.”
Rather, the entire anti-foreign law movement is an effort to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment through fear-based rhetoric. Given the wave of anti-Muslim attacks across the U.S.in the early part of this month – at least 10 in two weeks – we are deeply concerned about the tremendous growth in violence aimed at American Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims, and are working hard to stop it.
Recent eruptions of anti-Muslim violence are a feverish escalation of over-the-top rhetoric that has existed in the U.S. since 9/11, and especially in the past two years since the so-called “Ground Zero” mosque controversy. This month, a mosque and an Islamic school in the Chicago area were targeted, respectively, with a homemade acid cocktail and gunfire. The site of a future mosque in Southern California was desecrated with pig parts. A mosque in Oklahoma City was shot at with a paintball gun. In Joplin, Mo., a mosque that had been the target of arson on July 4 was burned to the ground.
It is important that religious, social and political leaders from all faith backgrounds raise our voices in support for the religious freedom of American Muslims, and recognize the contributions that they make to American society. American Muslims serve the United States as teachers, volunteers, soldiers, law enforcement officers, doctors, and in many other professions. These individuals are not asking for sharia law to supplant U.S. law. In addition, barring judges from considering ‘religious’ law more broadly would not only infringe on the rights of American Muslims, it would threaten Jews, as well, preventing Jewish families from using Jewish religious courts.
Now that support for this legislation has been adopted as an official plank in the RNC platform, will Romney and other members of the Republican Party publicly disavow it or will they succumb to this hateful rhetoric? Will Romney credibly be able to claim to support religious tolerance at the same time his own party is targeting the American Muslim community?
Certainly, this platform does not help “Americans of different faiths meet and stand as a nation, united,” as Romney says he desires. Rather, it only serves to divide us.
As religious leaders, we urge all Americans to reject this movement, which dangerously stigmatizes American Muslims, and to uphold the vision so strongly articulated in Romney’s recent “Cathedral Age” interview:
“I believe that while we are a country with so many differences in creed and theology, we can all meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview.”
Rabbi Marc Schneier is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and Imam Mohamed Magid is president of the Islamic Society of North America. They are executive committee members of Shoulder-to-Shoulder, a national campaign of interfaith, faith-based and religious organizations dedicated to ending anti-Muslim sentiment.