When Rep. Michele Bachmann and four of her Republican colleagues alleged “deep penetration” into our government by the Muslim Brotherhood many Americans experienced an ugly instance of “déjà vu.” However when this letter was exposed to the full light of public review, something very important happened. The clear response from across the political spectrum shouldn’t be overlooked.
It was gratifying to see several senior Republican leade
rs including Arizona Sen. John McCain and House Speaker John Boehner—third in line from the presidency-- denounce Rep. Bachmann’s baseless accusations of disloyalty. When McCain went to the Senate floor to defend a patriotic American, Huma Abedin, I was proud to see him do it. McCain said “[these] attacks have no logic, no basis and no merit.”
This week, the leaders of 42 major religious and advocacy organizations wrote to the Republicans who signed the original accusatory letter, stating that “your actions have serious implications for religious freedom and the health of our democracy.” The Anti-Defamation League also asked the members to “refrain from promoting or trafficking in anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.”
When religious or ethnic intolerance arises from the miry quicksand of hateful thinking we should respond. This broad and swift public rebuke of fear-mongering and guilt by association is refreshing and should give us hope.
Like the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII and Sen. Joe McCarthy’s political witch hunts of the 1950s, exploiting fear for political gain is not new. Catholics, Jews and now Muslim Americans have faced exclusion and persecution. However, fear mongering has consequences. The lives of individuals and families have been destroyed by spurious accusations and campaigns of guilt by association. Further, rhetoric that labels groups as “dangerous” diverts our attention from evidence-based intelligence and real security threats and does a disservice to our nation.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution were insightful men with the same human frailties we all have. But they also had great courage and vision. While they made a lot of mistakes regarding racial and gender equality they set a foundation for protecting religious freedom. Freedom of religion is a bedrock American value. While Bachmann attempts to separate Americans by whipping up hostility over religious differences, leaders of all views have stood up to defend every American’s right to practice faith freely.
This situation demonstrates the framers’ wisdom in establishing the right to religious freedom, which has allowed our nation to hold true to our core values while becoming more inclusive and diverse. Many nations are in crisis because of their inability to be inclusive. In the past, African Americans, immigrants, Japanese Americans and many others were excluded from the full promise of our country largely because of their racial or ethnic heritage. The resulting strife threatened to tear our country apart. When we identify a group as “un-American,” “other,” or “dangerous,” we betray America’s foundational values.
I’m glad that a diverse group of leaders from across America, including Republicans and Democrats, put their own credibility on the line to defend every American’s right to practice faith freely. McCain wisely said that who we are as a people is at stake. As Americans, as people of faith, and as people who envision a brighter future we should embrace these values and reject attempts to undermine our nation’s promise. After all, the Constitution allows us free exercise of our beliefs but it doesn’t compel us to love one another—that’s up to us.
Congressman Keith Ellison represents Minnesota’s 5thCongressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2006, he became the first Muslim elected to the Congress.