More than 40 prominent Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders and religion scholars issued a statement Wednesday condemning the “xenophobia and religious bigotry” fueling the increasingly strident opposition to a proposed Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero. These leaders from New York City and across the country are specifically challenging the divisive rhetoric of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, who have fiercely opposed a center that will promote interfaith relations, combat extremism, and offer community programs for Americans of all religious backgrounds.
“It’s simply wrong for Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, public figures who frequently reference their Christian values, to malign all Muslims by comparing this cultural center and mosque with a radical ideology that led to the horrific attacks of 9-11,” said Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. “We fail to honor those killed by terrorists when we betray the bedrock principle of religious freedom that has guided our democracy for centuries.”
Newt Gingrich recently claimed that the Cordoba House “… is a sign of their contempt for Americans and their confidence in our historic ignorance that they would deliberately insult us this way.” Palin called plans for the center a “provocation” that “stabs at the heart.”
Faithful America – an online community of more than 100,000 people of faith – is also standing up for the American Muslim community and interfaith cooperation today, responding to anti-Muslim sentiment and fierce opposition to proposed mosques in communities across the country. Faithful America members are signing a petition to honor the “many contributions of American Muslims toward global peace” and denounce bigotry and limits on religious freedom as a betrayal of American values.
“Christians who believe in the values of religious freedom and interfaith cooperation welcome plans for Cordoba House, a center of culture and dialogue that will honor our nation’s highest ideals,” said the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, President of the National Council of Churches. “We are deeply saddened by those who denigrate a religion which in so many ways is a religion of compassion and peace by associating all Muslims with violent extremism. That’s like equating all Christians to Timothy McVeigh’s actions. This center will reflect not only the best of Islam, but the enduring hope that Christians, Jews and Muslims can together find common ground in addressing the most urgent challenges of our time.”
“Back in the fall of 2001, when President George W. Bush assured the American people that the War on Terror was not a war against Islam, it would have been hard to imagine a more picture perfect example of Muslim Americans exercising their civic responsibilities than by building a thirteen-story YMCA-style community center,” said Rev. Chloe Breyer, Executive Director of the Interfaith Center of New York. “Cordoba House is exactly the kind of initiative that we need here in New York – it will serve people of all faith traditions and enrich the city, cultivating a society that lives up to our highest ideals, not our worse fears.”
“I’m proud to join so many leaders from diverse faith traditions who recognize that fear-mongering and scapegoating ‘the other’ has no rightful place in a nation that strives to be a beacon of hope for all those seeking opportunity or escaping persecution,” said Simon Greer, President and CEO of Jewish Funds for Justice. “At a time when Americans deserve real solutions to profound challenges, I am hopeful that the shrill voices of division will be drowned out by a chorus of citizens dedicated to working across lines of race and faith to serve the common good.”
Rabbi Marc Schneier, President of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding in New York, said: “A fundamental tenet of the Torah teaches us to ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ (Leviticus 19:18). Far more challenging is the dictum, ‘Love the stranger, for you too were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 10:19). ‘Love thy neighbor’ is mentioned only once in the Bible while ‘Love the stranger’ is repeated 36 times. This added emphasis highlights how challenging and important it is to love someone different than yourself. Our great nation’s history as a beacon of tolerance and religious freedom further encourages us to embrace the strangers in our midst of different faiths and backgrounds. The Cordoba House embodies these proud and sacred traditions.”
The full statement with signatories is below, or available online here. To view the Faithful America petition, visit https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/2518/action/supporting_muslims.