Shoulder to Shoulder coalition submits testimony in Congress

Shoulder to Shoulder coalition submits testimony in Congress

Text of statement and link to letter to Congress

Shoulder-to-Shoulder is a coalition of 27 American faith-based and interfaith organizations and religious denominations, including the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ, who have joined together to promote tolerance and put an end to anti-Muslim sentiment. It submitted testoimony to Congress in last week’s hearings entitled, “Homegrown Terrorism: The Threat to Military Communities in the United States.”  The written testimony, submitted for the record of the hearing, is included below.  In addition, a letter, signed by the Rev. Stephen Boyd, the UCC’s Minister for Government and Professional Chaplaincies, was sent to the appropriate Senate and House committees. Click here to read the letter.

Shoulder-to-Shoulder is a coalition of 27 American faith-based and interfaith organizations and religious denominations who have joined together to promote tolerance and put an end to anti-Muslim sentiment. We share a deep obligation to call upon our elected leaders to foster an ethical commitment to bedrock American values such as pluralism and religious freedom, mutuality and respect—values also at the core of our religious traditions.

We therefore submit this testimony for the record of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs Joint Hearing entitled “Homegrown Terrorism: The Threat to Military Communities Inside the United States.” Several Shoulder- to-Shoulder member-organizations endorse military chaplains and minister to active duty and retired service personnel.

We firmly believe that keeping service members safe is paramount. Yet, by focusing only on the American Muslim community for threats of radicalization, this hearing does a disservice to American Muslims – especially those serving in the United States Armed Forces – by wrongly connecting faithful observance of Islam with suspect behavior. This connection sows mistrust of these men and women by distorting their military service. Some American Muslim soldiers, buried in Arlington Cemetery, have given what President Abraham Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion” while serving their country.

As spiritual leaders and people of faith, we call on the United States Congress not to perpetuate damaging false witness against our neighbors. Instead, we urge the members of these committees to honor all those who serve in the military protecting foundational American values of freedom of religion, of pluralism and opportunity for all. We encourage our elected leaders to honor the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution that have enabled the free exercise of religion across our great land—
not to turn the exercise of these freedoms into a cause for suspicion.

All of our faith communities share a powerful prohibition against bearing false witness, with the understanding that destroying a person’s reputation is tantamount to destroying his or her life. To assert that American Muslim soldiers are not deeply devoted to America’s safety and the peaceful interaction of its entire citizenry or that these soldiers are more susceptible to commit acts of violent extremism – that is false witness. By subjecting American Muslims to such scrutiny, we weaken our more perfect union, and we harm the national vision of our common good that is a witness to the nations.

American Muslims serve proudly and with distinction in all branches of the US armed services, as well as in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, on police forces, and in fire departments, next to service personnel of all faiths, many having given their lives for our country. In these and other vocations, Muslims work hard, give back to their communities, and worship in peace—just as do Americans of other faiths.

The Muslim community’s clergy work closely with the leaders of our nation’s other faith groups in and out of the military. We study our sacred texts together, pray together, and join hands to address issues of shared concern, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, trauma healing, overcoming suicidal tendencies or coping with disabilities which often follow from military service. These are also burdens borne by American Muslim soldiers alongside all other service members.

As faith leaders, we are committed to building a future in which extremism is an artifact of the past, and where religious identity is not the cause of hostility but of acceptance. This country’s spiritual, religious and ethnic diversity serves to enrich our public discourse. When our public discourse is enriched, extremism is seldom given quarter.

We urge the members of our government as well as citizens of good will to refrain from passing judgment on religious or faith groups based on the actions of the few who pervert their spiritual traditions through acts of violence and hostile rhetoric. We believe that politicians, cultural figures and members of the media are never justified in exploiting religious differences in order to advance ideological or political aims. Our leaders in Congress must stand up and speak out against hearings that perpetuate misrepresentations and harm our country rather than lead it to greater awareness and a strengthened citizenry.

We hope to see such lines of inquiry soon cease, for they simply perpetuate the damaging climate of anti-Muslim sentiment in America today. As spiritual leaders we have a moral responsibility and a sacred calling to categorically denounce derision, misinformation or outright bigotry directed against any religious group in this country. Silence is not an option. Only by taking a stand together can we fulfill the highest calling of our respective faiths, and thereby play a role in building a safer, more secure America.

Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims; Upholding American Values