National Religious Leaders Urge Governors and Congress to Stop Anti-Refugee Rhetoric and Proposals

November 18, 2015

WASHINGTON – Following announcements from 31 governors that their states will not accept Syrian refugees, and in anticipation of a congressional vote on similar legislation, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Jewish and Muslim leaders united in opposition to anti-refugee proposals and rhetoric.

“We need to make sure that we do not perpetuate the sense of terror that people are already feeling. We must take a moral stand and do what is right,” the Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO of Church World Service said regarding the current refugee crisis and anti-refugee sentiment. Some political leaders, particularly governors, have called for an end to resettlement of Syrian refugees. He continued, “As a resident of one of the states where the governor has indicated that Syrian refugees would not be welcomed, that is not reflective of my values and my expectations, and certainly not my support.”

“We call on our leaders in Congress and in the states to withdraw harmful rhetoric that would call into question the U.S. commitment to resettlement. We should expand, not restrict resettlement,” said Galen Carey, Vice President of Government Relations at the National Association of Evangelicals.

“It is appalling that some political leaders in our country would call for the end of refugee resettlement based on religion or country of origin,” said Sister Marie Lucey, Director of Advocacy and Member Relations at Franciscan Action Network. “This is not who we are as Americans.”

Speakers throughout the event reiterated their faith communities’ opposition against any legislation and political rhetoric discriminating against refugees, especially on the basis of religion or country of origin. Faith leaders specifically called on those within religious communities to share a message of acceptance and welcoming, rejecting the anti-refugee sentiment utilized in the media and by some political leaders.

“Do not succumb to this seductive, racialized demagoguery,” the Rev. Richard Cizik, President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good and Steering Committee Member with the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign stated, referring to those seeking to spread anti-refugee or anti-Muslim rhetoric. “We know from history that those who suffer and those who rescue the suffering are forever changed for the better, just as our nation has been changed in the past and must do again for these Syrian refugees.”

“When the Constitution says there should be no religious test for office, it means there is no religious test. When the President says there is no religious test for our compassion, it means there is no religious test. When I suggest to you that there should be no religious test for the humanity of a refugee, it means no religious test,” said Rabbi Jack Moline, Executive Director of the Interfaith Alliance. “If the legacy of this country is to give to bigotry no sanction… what does it mean when our fellow human beings who are fleeing for their lives ask for safety? It means no religious test.”

“Islam is a religion of peace,” Imam Talib Shareef, President and Imam of Masjid Muhammad said. “Sadly, due to the actions of a few, it has been associated in the media with the violence seen from extremist groups that have no foundation or place in Islam. Refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are fleeing the same violence we saw in the Paris attacks from those extreme groups.”

Sharing stories of communities and congregations of all faiths around the United States, speakers emphasized the importance of welcoming all refugees, especially as the global community grapples with the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II.

“This is a pivotal moment in our nation’s history. Future generations will look back with either a great sense of pride, or they will hang their heads in shame,” said the Rev. Dr. Earl Trent, Chairman of the Board of Church World Service and Senior Pastor at Florida Avenue Baptist Church. He ended, “Our elected leaders must cease inflammatory words that appeal to the basest of fears. I pray they have the moral courage to champion facts over fears.”

Since 1946, Church World Service has supported refugees and others displaced individuals, in addition to providing sustainable relief and development solutions to communities that wrestle with hunger and poverty.

To view an excerpt from the press conference, please click here.

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