More than 40 prominent Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders and religion scholars issued a statement today 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 strongly 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 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.”
As Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders and scholars committed to religious freedom and inter-religious cooperation, we are deeply troubled by the xenophobia and religious bigotry that has characterized some of the opposition to a proposed Islamic center and mosque near where the World Trade Center towers once stood.
Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, is the most recent prominent opponent to cast this debate in a way that demonizes all Muslims and exploits fear to divide Americans. “It is a sign of their contempt for Americans and their confidence in our historic ignorance that they would deliberately insult us this way,” Gingrich, a Catholic, said in a statement. Sarah Palin, an evangelical Christian who frequently references her faith as an inspiration for her political beliefs, called plans for the center a “provocation.” Fox News has aired a steady stream of irresponsible commentary and biased coverage that reduces what should be a civil debate into starkly combative terms.
The profound tragedy of Sept. 11th revealed the horror that can unfold when a small minority of violent extremists manipulates religious language for political gain and falsely claims to represent one of the world’s great religions. We have witnessed this sinful corruption of religion across faith traditions throughout history and must condemn it without equivocation whenever or wherever it occurs. However, we fail to honor those murdered on that awful day – including Muslim Americans killed in the Twin Towers and Pentagon – by betraying our nation’s historic commitment to religious liberty, fueling ugly stereotypes about Islam and demeaning the vast majority of Muslims committed to peace. The proposed mosque would be part of Cordoba House, a center open to all Americans that will provide Islamic, interfaith and secular programs. The project aims to support “integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture,” according to the Cordoba Initiative, which promotes improved “Muslim-West relations.” These are exactly the kind of efforts that foster dialogue, break down barriers and begin to build a world where religiously inspired violent extremism is less likely.
Mr. Gingrich, Ms. Palin and other prominent voices privileged to have the ear of the media would make a more lasting contribution to our nation if they stopped issuing inflammatory statements and instead helped inspire a civil dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims committed to a future guided by the principles of compassion, justice and peace. Fear-mongering and hateful rhetoric only undermine treasured values at the heart of diverse faith traditions and our nation’s highest ideals.