Rabbi Moline Submits Testimony About Syrian Refugees, Anti-Muslim Bigotry, and the Religious Case for Aid

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WASHINGTON – Today the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing about U.S. efforts to address the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. The following is a statement submitted for the hearing record from Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of Interfaith Alliance,  outlining the religious case for addressing the crisis and urging Congress to see past the religious prejudice and bigotry that might hamper our nations aid efforts.

Written Testimony of Rabbi Jack Moline, Executive Director of Interfaith Alliance

Submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee for the Hearing Record on “Oversight of the Administration’s FY 2016 Refugee Resettlement Program: Fiscal and Security Implications

October 1, 2015

On behalf of Interfaith Alliance, whose membership represents individuals from seventy-five faith traditions committed to defending religious freedom, I would like to thank Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Leahy, and the members of the Judiciary Committee for this opportunity to submit a statement about the plight of Syrian refugees. As an organization dedicated to the religious freedom here at home in the U.S., it is rare that we comment international crises, but we are moved to do so by the immediacy of this moment and the implications for religious communities that will certainly reverberate here at home.

When we look inside our religious traditions, many of us find the inspiration – if not the moral mandate – to address this humanitarian crisis. Whether from the biblical commandment to not stand idly by the blood of a neighbor, the spiritual understanding of our own oneness with all those who suffer, or a theological commitment to the sanctity of every human life – our faith cannot abide suffering on the magnitude we see among Syrian refugees today. No one could put it more eloquently or passionately than Pope Francis when he addressed a joint session of Congress last week:

“We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation… To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.”

As Pope Francis described, theological and spiritual imperatives motivate many of us to address the current refugee crisis, it is also the history of our religious communities that drives our moral urgency. From the time the pilgrims landed in Plymouth to our work to provide safe harbor for Evangelical Christians persecuted in China, the United States has been built on a commitment to provide refuge for religious communities in need. Throughout our history they U.S. has opened its doors to Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Evangelical Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs and countless others who faced religious persecution at home. There is, in fact, no better antidote to religious tyranny, extremism and the targeting of religious minorities, then a healthy and welcoming approach to refugees.

My own community’s memory of the refugee experience is still fresh and, for many, brutally painful. We remember our grandparents, our siblings, and loved ones who were denied entry to the United States despite the atrocities they faced in the Holocaust. In that time, the suffering of too many was ignored and too many people died.

World War II drove our nation and the world to rethink the way we address refugees. The legacy of that suffering was a commitment to never close our doors to so many in need again. Since then we have made room on our shores for people escaping political repression in Latin America, fleeing the aftermath of the war in Vietnam, searching for freedom from the Soviet Union’s restrictions on religious practice, and many, many more. But that is a legacy we are failing today.

While religion may inspire us to act in the face of this crisis, while religion may be at the center of our historical experience as refugees, religion and religious prejudice should never stop us from helping those most in need. Too many people – and far too many politicians – have raised the specter terrorism, fed on fears of Islamic fundamentalism, as an excuse for inaction in helping refugees from Syria. The anti-Muslim bigotry that has fueled hate crimes across the nation, demonstrations at mosques and community centers, and unjust surveillance of religious communities, now threatens to stay our hands from reaching out to those crying for help.

Faith may be the basis of our call to action, but it must not be the barrier. We may be moved by the faith of those suffering, but we cannot let it stand in the way of our aid. Neither the Constitution nor our moral conscience can allow a person’s religion to condemn a person to be ignored and invisible to our efforts to help.

As the situation in Syria deteriorates, and the plight of refugees endures, the U.S. government is compelled to act. As your committee examines how best to address this situation, I hope you draw inspiration from your faith tradition, I hope you remember the plight of religious refugees throughout our nation’s history and, most importantly, I hope you can see past the bigotry and prejudice that too often clouds our conversations about Syria and the Muslim community.