Religious Freedom For Everyone: We’re FOR It

Placing a religious litmus test on those who may enter the United States is troubling and objectionable for many reasons.

This afternoon U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), along with more than 50 other members of the House of Representatives, introduced the Freedom of Religion Act (FOR).

This bill would push back against one of the most troubling proposals we’ve heard during this already long presidential campaign: banning Muslims from entering the United States. The proposed legislation, by contrast, would ensure that immigrants, refugees and international travelers will not be barred from entering the United States solely because of their religion.

Americans United supports this bill because denying someone entry into the United States on the grounds that they are of the “wrong” religion, defies our county’s long-held commitment to religious freedom. And we applaud the bill sponsors for pushing back against policy proposals that discriminate on the basis of religion.

The bill’s co-sponsors include: U.S. Reps. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), André Carson (D-Ind.), Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-Washington, D.C.). In addition, 31 diverse religious and public policy organizations endorsed the bill in a letter earlier this week.

In December, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump announced that, if elected, he would bar Muslims from entering the country. In a press release issued by his campaign, Trump explained he “is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t have been shocked by this proposal, as Trump had already proclaimed he would close down mosques and would consider creating a database to register all Muslims. And yet, the audacity of this notion was still hard to believe.

Syrian refugees. (Photo by Getty images)

Over time, when pressed for details about the ban, Trump has offered some exceptions to his blanket rule: He would allow citizens to reenter the country (“If a person is a Muslim and goes overseas and come back, they can come back”); members of the military to return after deployment; and, of course, he would allow his rich Muslim friends to enter the country (“They’ll come in. You’ll have exceptions”). And just yesterday, he was kind enough to say that he would allow Sadiq Khan, the newly elected mayor of London, to enter the country.

Yet, these minor concessions would not fix this really bad idea.

Placing a religious litmus test on those who may enter the United States is troubling and objectionable for many reasons.

First, a government policy that openly discriminates against one religion would violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But even if it didn’t, it would betray our country’s legacy of religious liberty. Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus and atheists, among others, have all come to America because of our country’s promise of religious freedom.  

Indeed, the FOR Act reflects not only our country’s fundamental commitment to religious freedom but also its long and proud history of providing safe harbor for members of communities fleeing persecution and seeking a better life. 

Second, the rhetoric surrounding Trump’s idea has stoked anti-Muslim sentiment across this country. In fact, since he announced it in December, anti-Muslim hate crimes have spiked in our nation. The FOR Act will help send the message that such treatment of Muslims and their communities is unwarranted and unacceptable. It is important to speak up against discriminatory rhetoric and ideas.

Finally, singling out Muslims for disfavored treatment would harm our global relationships, our economy and our national security. Indeed, Christian Caryl of Foreign Policy called the scheme the “World’s Dumbest Idea,” because it is “politically, morally, and strategically wrong” and “also doesn’t make any sense.”

In fact, such a proposal would deny entry to world leaders, tourists, relatives of Americans, investors and scientific, business and political leaders attending meetings here.

That is why today we are at the U.S. Capitol, joining with the bill’s lead co-sponsors and the more than 100 allied organizations that support  the FOR Act.

As Thomas Jefferson explained, religious-freedom protections were intended to apply equally to the "Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.”