America faces a clear choice: affirm our commitment to religious freedom and pluralism or give into religious bigotry and hate.
Some of our neighbors chose to give into religious-based discrimination by marching “against Sharia” last Saturday in Atlanta, which I live near, and in two dozen other cities around the nation. This march was rooted in nothing more than fear mongering. The sponsor of the rally is a notorious anti-Islamic organization, ACT for America, which has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, has a long history of vilifying Americans who are Muslim. She has publicly claimed that “every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim” and that Muslims represent a “natural threat to civilized people of the world.”
This view doesn’t reflect our nation’s values. In fact, only a few dozen people RSVP’d according to the Facebook invitation. Brigitte Gabriel and her band of anti-Muslim extremists have a right to peddle their hate speech, but we have a duty to stand up for our values.
America must unite to defend religious freedom.
Nobody in our nation should fear for their safety because of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs or any other reason. Hate rallies lead to a culture that puts our neighbors who are Muslim at risk of danger. We all saw what happened in Portland, Ore., and there have been sharp increases in hate crimes since 2015.
Our values don’t have to be compromised.
Some may say that the price of our security is discrimination based on religion. We know this doesn’t work. As a Baptist, there was a time in our nation’s history when others in power discriminated against our religious tradition. Not only does religious-based discrimination betray our values, it does not make us safer. We don’t ban people from the country based on how they worship and we won’t allow our government to tell people how to pray.
There are more than a few dozen extremists on our side.
ACT for America can turn out a tiny march of anti-Muslim extremists, but we’ve seen a much larger protest here in Atlanta. Thousands turned out at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Jan. 29 to protest the Muslim ban executive order. The massive turnout in the face of federally-mandated anti-Muslim bigotry showed the best of our city’s commitment to religious pluralism and being a welcoming city.
Now in the face of more anti-Muslim bigotry, all of us must again show that we will come together and not let fear divide us. We are stronger as a nation when we unite across our many different backgrounds. We can’t let a few dozen hate group extremists define what our nation stands for, because we know they don’t speak for us.