Prominent Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders held an extraordinary “emergency summit” meeting in the capital on Tuesday to denounce what they called “the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry” aimed at American Muslims during the controversy over the proposed Islamic community center near ground zero.
“This is not America,” said Cardinal, the emeritus Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, flanked by three dozen clergy members and religious leaders at a packed news conference at the National Press Club. “America was not built on hate.”
They said they were alarmed that the “anti-Muslim frenzy” and attacks at several mosques had the potential not only to tear apart the country, but also to undermine the reputation of America as a model of religious freedom and diversity.
Interfaith events are not unusual, but this one was extraordinary for the urgency and passion expressed by the participants. Some of the same religious leaders later met with Attorney Generalto urge him to prosecute religious hate crimes aggressively.
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said: “We know what it is like when people have attacked us physically, have attacked us verbally, and others have remained silent. It cannot happen here in America in 2010.”
The clergy members said that those responsible for a poisoned climate included politicians manipulating a wedge issue in an election year, self-styled “experts” on Islam who denigrate the faith for religious or political reasons and some conservative evangelical Christian pastors.
The Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, said: “To those who would exercise derision, bigotry, open rejection of our fellow Americans of a different faith, I say, shame on you. As an evangelical, I say to those who do this, you bring dishonor to those who love Jesus Christ.”
The summit meeting was initiated by leaders of the Islamic Society of North America, an umbrella group of mosques and Muslim groups, who contacted Jewish and Christian leaders they know from years of joint interfaith projects.
A Catholic priest, the Rev. Mark Massa, executive director of ecumenical and interreligious affairs of the, wrote the draft of the statement. About three dozen clergy members representing Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, evangelical and Orthodox Christian groups refined it at the meeting.
Watch video of press conference here
Read text of statement here