April 2011 Church & State | Editorial

U.S. Rep. Peter King’s decision to hold a congressional hearing last month on “radicalization” of the Muslim community in America is troubling. The New York Republican is flirting with a new witch hunt and should have pulled back.Americans United joined an array of organizations that expressed concern about the hearing. Forty-two organizations are speaking out, representing a broad cross section of religious and political life. Dozens of other religious and public policy organizations issued similar protests. In a joint letter to King, AU and the other groups warned, “Treating an entire community as suspect because of the bad acts or intolerant statements of a few is imprudent and unfair, and in the past has only led to greater misunderstanding, injustice and discrimination.” King insists that he is concerned about terrorism. Terrorism is certainly a legitimate problem, but King’s remedy is misguided. There are 1 billion Muslims in the world, and it is a gross oversimplification to tar them all with the acts of a few extremists. A disturbing wave of Islamophobia has already wreaked havoc on religious tolerance in America. Things are so bad that some legislators have seriously proposed banning the construction of mosques and barring Shariah – Islamic law – from being imposed, even though no one is trying to impose it. (If they were, the First Amendment would put a stop to it.)These overreactions border on hysteria; they have no place in a country founded on religious freedom. Denying law-abiding Muslims their constitutional rights does nothing to stop terrorism and only serves to make a mockery of our Constitution.Muslims, like the members of all other faiths in America, must abide by our nation’s laws; any who take part in terrorism can and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But that principle holds true for anyone – religious or non-religious.Terrorism is a real threat. But our response to it should be measured and always operate within the boundaries of our Constitution. Overreactions based on fear and hatred promote divisiveness and foster a dangerous “us vs. them” mentality.King’s hearing had all the hallmarks of a show trial – an exercise designed not to shed light or inform but to grandstand. It threatened to deny innocent people their rights, promoted unwarranted assumptions about faith traditions and fomented interfaith discord.If there’s anything un-American going on here, it’s not coming from the American Muslim community; it comes from Rep. King’s office.