Twenty-one religious leaders of various faiths gathered on the steps of the National Cathedral on Friday to sign a pledge for religious freedom and to call on public officials and political candidates to reject bigotry and protect religious freedom.
These religious leaders were not advocating the religious right’s vision of religious freedom, such as calling for exemptions from participating in same-sex wedding ceremonies. The pledge that 50 religious leaders, including the 21 who were on the Cathedral steps, signed reads:
I, ______________, pledge and commit to the American people that I will uphold and defend the freedom of conscience and religion of all individuals by rejecting and speaking out, without reservation, against bigotry, discrimination, harassment and violence based on religion or belief.
The event was hosted by the Cathedral and the Shoulder-to-Shoulder campaign, an interfaith group that formed in 2010 to push back against rising anti-Muslim rhetoric, particularly around the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” the Qu’ran-burning pastor Terry Jones, and the hearings organized by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) on “radicalization” in the American Muslim community.
Catherine Orsborn, Shoulder-to-Shoulder’s campaign director, said the gathering was triggered, in part, by an uptick in anti-Muslim rhetoric by some 2016 presidential candidates, although “we had been seeing a climate of anti-Muslim rhetoric” before that.
Orsborn added the “real lack of education and unwillingness to seek out” information to understand Islam was “very alarming.”
The religious leaders were seeking to model not just tolerance of each others’ faiths, but, as Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad, the Muslim chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania put it, the shared humanity and community that is “essential to any great civilization.”
“Pluralism is not a threat,” she added. Rather, it “amplifies all this is good among us.”
Inside the nave, there were statements of purpose, the Muslim call to prayer, a cantor singing Psalm 133 in Hebrew, a Christian chant in Latin, a hymn. There was a message—a keynote speech, really—by Rabbi David Saperstein, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, who called on the audience to “transcend mere tolerance,” and find a commitment to religious freedom out of the “authentic vision of our own religious traditions.”
The Rev. Ron Stief, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, recounted a meeting, the previous night, between Muslims and evangelicals. “It’s time to speak up,” he said, to “reject bigotry” and to take the pledge “out in the public square.”
Reflecting this evangelical-Muslim alliance, Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America, encouraged the audience “to share the good news” of the pledge “with everyone we meet.”
The Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, General Secretary of the United Methodist Church Board of Church and Society, said as she signed the pledge outside, “the continued prejudice and discrimination against Muslims in the United States betrays the core values of religious freedom upon which the United States was founded.”
“Tolerance is not enough,” she said, but respect for other faiths “is the pillar of democracy.”
This post has been clarified to include the correct language in the pledge.