Written Testimony of Catherine Orsborn, Director of Shoulder to Shoulder, Submitted to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts

On Press Release

Written Testimony of Catherine Orsborn, Director of the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign

Submitted to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts on “Willful Blindness: Consequences of Agency Efforts to Deemphasize Radical Islam in Combating Terrorism.”

June 28, 2016; 2:30 pm

I would like to thank Chairman Cruz, Ranking Member Coons, and members of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts, for providing the opportunity to submit this statement as a contribution to this hearing. As I will discuss below, this is an issue that is too often clouded by misinformation and prejudice, and I welcome the opportunity to expand the conversation of this critical topic.

I bring before you today the collective voices of 31 different religious denominations and organizations, the members of the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign to combat anti-Muslim bigotry, which includes the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the American Baptist Churches, the Union for Reform Judaism, the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, the Islamic Society of North America, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and a number of other religious denominations and organizations. While the religious groups that came together to form this campaign are diverse in religious belief and political persuasion, we stand together on the notion that this country must continue to better its commitment to religious freedom, mutuality and respect. All of us rely on this common commitment, and thus we stand together to uphold American ideals, particularly in the face of rising anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation.

The recent tragedy in Orlando was an egregious affront to all people of faith and good conscience. As American Muslims across the nation have come together with other faith communities in this country to unequivocally condemn this act of violence, and as American Muslims have also demonstrated – in word and deed – solidarity with LGBTQ communities, we are appalled that elected officials would swiftly call a hearing focused on the terminology of “radical Islam” as its first mode of response. To use this tragedy to score political points by demonizing a religion writ-large is unhelpful and, indeed, counterproductive.

The Orlando shooting was an act of hate against the LGBTQ community. Hate crimes and terrorist acts have been committed using a number of justifications in our nation in recent times. Just over a year ago, Dylann Roof entered an American Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, claiming white supremacist beliefs as his reason for killing nine people. Robert Dear killed three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic, claiming fundamentalist religious beliefs. Each of these people should be held responsible for their actions and we should not punish or paint as suspect entire identity groups for the crimes of these individuals. Shifting the emphasis after Orlando to the use of the term “radical Islam” betrays the victims of this shooting and creates more victims, rather than more security, by implying that the entire Muslim faith is to blame for the actions of an individual or for a radical fringe group. We need to be focused on decreasing hate crimes and violence in our nation, and to enriching our public discourse rather than marginalizing one religious community. The terminology of “radical Islam” reinforces the Manichean narrative of ISIS/Daesh. We protect our security and values by countering this narrative with our unique American narrative of unity amidst diversity and the safeguarding of the rights of all individuals, regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. To divide Americans against one another erodes our values and our unity, rather than increasing our security as a nation.

We stand united against bigotry and hate against any community in our nation. Our unity is our strength, and our national response to Orlando must focus on bringing Americans together and increasing protections and civil rights for those most vulnerable and marginalized in our communities. Spiritual leaders have a moral responsibility and a sacred calling to categorically denounce derision, misinformation or outright bigotry directed against anyone, regardless of faith community. 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.

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