Written Testimony of Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of Interfaith Alliance
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security and Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
for the Hearing Record on “Joint Hearing: Homegrown Terrorism: The Threat to Military Communities Inside the United States.”
December 7, 2011
As a Baptist minister, a patriotic American and the President of Interfaith Alliance, a national, non-partisan organization that celebrates religious freedom and is dedicated to protecting faith and freedom and whose 185,000 members nationwide belong to 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition, I submit this testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security and Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for the Joint Hearing Record on “Homegrown Terrorism: The Threat to Military Communities Inside the United States.”
From its inception, citizens of this nation have appreciated, if not revered, both religion and the military.Our armed forces are key to the security of the American people and often, our service members who bravely defend our nation are our representatives abroad. Ensuring their safety is of the utmost importance and we should all be cognizant of the enormous sacrifice the men and women who serve in our armed forces make on our behalf every day.
There is no doubt that our military faces serious threats which should be rooted out, but the continued demonization of Muslims and questioning of the Muslim faith is not the answer. I fear that this approach is misguided and will only result in further alienating the American Muslim community. Homegrown terrorism and countering violent extremism require serious investigation based on fact. I am concerned that the line of inquiry likely to be taken up in this hearing may do a disservice to American Muslims serving in our Armed Forces and the memory of those who have died serving their country, and spreads distrust amongst our troops.
By singling out one particular religious community for investigation, these hearings, as have several others held this year by the House Committee on Homeland Security, fly in the face of religious freedom as it is enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution. Furthermore, these hearings are not only the wrong answer to the wrong question, but in the end, they may only perpetuate the problems the Committees seek to solve, as well as add to a disturbing climate of anti-Muslim sentiment extant in America today.
Freedom of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment protects the freedom of all Americans to believe in any religious faith, as they choose, without fear of criticism, retribution, or investigation because of it. In our nation, all people and all faiths are equal with none favored over any other. The fact that Muslims in this country are taking full advantage of all clauses of the First Amendment does not make them inherently any more radical than any other religious community in this country. These freedoms are an integral part of American democracy.
There exists in our country today a pervasive and unsettling trend of anti-Muslim fear, bigotry and rhetoric and a general lack of understanding about Islam. Targeting one particular faith for scrutiny when the overwhelming majority of that faith’s adherents in this country are peaceful, law-abiding citizens seems counterproductive and just plain wrong. It is the responsibility of our elected officials to promote reason, truth and civility in the public forum— especially at a time when anti-Muslim bigotry is on the rise—not to waste time and public resources on victimizing select groups.
Interfaith Alliance’s work is driven by the fundamental principle that protecting religious freedom is most critical in times of crisis and controversy. Even the most basic knowledge of the history of the First Amendment includes the understanding that religious freedom exists in part to protect the rights of the minority from what Alexis de Tocqueville not unrealistically called the tyranny of the majority. In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that if our Founding Fathers had relied on polling data, the First Amendment might not exist at all. Unfortunately, in today’s political climate, it may not ensure an “electoral win” to defend the rights of the American Muslim community, but there is no question that it is the right thing to do.
That today’s hearing falls on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor should give us reason to pause and reflect. With 70 years’ hindsight we are now able to see just how wrong our treatment of the Japanese American community after Pearl Harbor was. We have a responsibility to ensure that seven decades from now, our government and our neighbors are not apologizing to the American Muslim community for how they were treated. I hope we can make the right decisions today so we do not repeat the mistakes of our past.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony on this important issue.
Interfaith Alliance is a network of people of diverse faiths and beliefs from across the country working together to build a resilient democracy and fulfill America’s promise of religious freedom and civil rights not just for some, but for all. We mobilize powerful coalitions to challenge Christian nationalism and religious extremism, while fostering a better understanding of the healthy boundaries between religion and government. We advocate at all levels of government for an equitable and just America where the freedoms of belief and religious practice are protected, and where all persons are treated with dignity and have the opportunity to thrive. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.