Written Testimony of Shoulder-to-Shoulder submitted to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights for the Hearing Record on “Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism”
Written Testimony of Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims; Upholding American Values, submitted to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights for the hearing record on “Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremims”, September 19, 2012.
Shoulder-to-Shoulder is a national campaign of interfaith, faith-based and religious organizations dedicated to ending anti-Muslim sentiment. Our membership includes 28 national organizations of this kind who represent the diversity of America’s Abrahamic faith traditions. Together, we work to end anti-Muslim sentiment by resourcing and supporting local clergy and lay leaders to address this challenge in their own communities.
As religious leaders representing the country’s largest denominations and traditions, we thank you for this important hearing. American Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs, South Asians and Hindus are woven into the American tapestry with all of our nation’s diverse religious and ethnic communities. Individuals from these communities serve as teachers and factory workers, doctors and lawyers, social service volunteers and loving parents. They serve proudly and with distinction in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, on police forces and in fire departments, and in all branches of the U.S. armed services next to soldiers of all faiths, many having given their lives for our country. In these and other vocations, these individuals work hard, give back to their communities, and worship in peace. The Muslim community’s clergy work closely with the leaders of our nation’s other faith groups where we study our sacred texts together, pray together, and join hands to address issues of shared concern, such as homelessness, drug abuse, and violence against women.
Even still, these communities continue to experience hate crimes, job discrimination, school bullying and racial and religious profiling. According to FBI hate crime statistics, there were over 6,600 hate crimes reported in the United States in 2010, 1,552 of which were religiously-motivated. While this is deeply troubling, a 2005 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggested that the true number of hate crimes may be 15 times higher than reported.
These numbers reveal that while the shooting at Oak Creek was distinctly tragic, it was not an isolated incident. Sadly, individuals from American Muslim, Sikh, Hindu Jewish and other minority religious communities continue to report discrimination, and places of worship are routinely targeted. Within 11 days of the shooting at the Oak Creek Gurdwara, there were eight attacks on houses of worship throughout the country. The level of hate and violence inflicted on innocent Americans because of their appearance or religious faith is now at a crisis point.
We are committed to working alongside our elected leaders to end xenophobia, racism, and hate in our country. We hope that this hearing is only the first step in bringing stakeholders together to identify concrete solutions. And we urge all individuals, regardless of faith or background, to speak out against hate-fueled violence and bigotry wherever it exists, be it at houses of worship, workplaces, schools, or family kitchen tables. We must stand shoulder-to-shoulder to protect our nation’s values of equality and freedom for all, and to fulfill the imperatives in our faith traditions which require us to love our neighbors.
Our leaders must take concrete and effective steps to end anti-Muslim and anti-religious hate in the United States. To do so, we suggest the following steps be taken:
- Improve federal hate crime data collection, disaggregation, categorization, and reporting efforts. The Department of Justice should encourage comprehensive participation in existing hate crimes reporting requirements and the Federal Bureau of Investigation should improve hate crime incident reporting by developing new categories on hate crime incident reports for various affected communities not yet covered, including anti-Arab, anti-Sikh, and anti-Hindu incidents.
- Establish formalized interagency efforts and positions at the highest levels of government, in partnership with community stakeholders, to address hate crimes. This should include a White House-convened Presidential summit on hate crimes affecting religious minorities that engages community members, religious leaders, and federal government officials, with the purpose of developing best practices for stakeholders addressing this issue.
Spiritual leaders have a moral responsibility and a sacred calling to categorically denounce hate, misinformation or outright bigotry directed against anyone, regardless of faith community or ethnicity. 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.