Religious leaders in the Lehigh Valley released a statement last week addressing the “rising tide” of anti-Muslim rhetoric that they said is a troubling part of public discourse.
The statement, signed by more than 40 religious leaders in the community, called those who believe in religious liberty “to stand in solidarity with Muslim neighbors.”
The statement was released on Thursday, Jan. 21, at a news conference at Lehigh’s Packer Chapel attended by about 20 prominent Lehigh Valley religious leaders.
In opening the news conference, Lloyd Steffen, professor of Religion Studies and university chaplain, recalled a note he had received from a Muslim friend that read, “In my four decades-plus years of living in the U.S., this is the first time that I feel apprehension being Muslim. In hindsight, it appears that period of 9/11 and its immediate aftermath was mild compared to the present moment.”
Steffen invited others to the podium to speak on behalf of their sectors.
“Love of all is central to life and to faith,” said Jennika Borger, chaplain at Moravian College. “We sometimes allow the loudest of voices to set the ideas and tones for all of the people of our county. During this time, when we are hearing voices speak about exclusion and discrimination, I am choosing to speak of the beauty and richness of diversity.”
Rabbi Michael Singer, of Congregation Brith Sholom, echoed the call to unite. He spoke about the power of words and encouraged those listening to use their voices to come together.
“We will not give in to hate,” he said. “We will not give in to prejudice. We should unite together. To make sure that all traditions and all people feel that this country, and this place, and this community are welcomed.”
Borger and Singer were not alone in their sentiments. About 10 other community religious leaders from the Lehigh Valley joined them on behalf on Muslims in the Lehigh Valley to celebrate, the statement said, “the diversity of our religious community and the good citizens of the Lehigh Valley.”
Troubled that anti-Muslim rhetoric is spreading in the media and that attitudes of hostility toward Islam are on the increase in the United States, we affirm the right of Muslims to practice their religion freely and without fear or intimidation. We call on all citizens who believe in religious liberty to stand in solidarity with our Muslim neighbors that they might be assured of support from the larger inter-faith community of which they are so vital a part. Accordingly, we, the undersigned, who are leaders in the religious community of the Lehigh Valley, offer our names in support of the following affirmations:
1. That Muslims who live in the Lehigh Valley community as neighbors and friends have a right to live free from fear and intimidation;
2. That the First Amendment stands as the foundation upon which has been built the world’s most religiously diverse nation, and that infringing the religious liberty of one group diminishes the rights of all;
3. That respecting the right of all people to exercise religious belief and practice in a context of peaceful co-existence is not only a legal but a moral imperative, and that hate-filled speech and actions that threaten the personal safety or the dignity of others constitute a form of violence, which has no place in an open, free and religiously pluralistic society;
4. That our religious traditions have themselves endorsed the importance of showing hospitality to the newcomer and that all people in new settings are in need of welcome, hospitality, friendship and peace;
5. That Muslims, who have themselves been the subjects of terrorist attacks throughout the world, deserve the protections of law and the good will that citizens in the United States afford to each other.
As religious leaders we affirm the need for dialogue among people of diverse religious traditions, and we urge members of our community, whether or not they are religious, to study and learn about Islam and other religions. We affirm the values that we cherish as Americans: free inquiry, respectful encounter with others, tolerance of diverse viewpoints and peaceful co-existence among a wide array of religious bodies, groups and organizations. We celebrate the diversity of our religious community and the good will of citizens in the Lehigh Valley.