Our nation was founded by immigrants and has, since its inception, welcomed those who seek a haven from oppression or simply a better life. Studies repeatedly show that immigrants, as a group, bolster the work force and have a net positive effect on the economy.
But historically there has been resistance when groups of immigrants from far-away places first arrived, including ethnic groups like the Irish, Polish, and Italians, and religious groups, including Roman Catholic and Jewish immigrants. These immigrants became loyal, productive citizens, and eventually were accepted as fears subsided. Now it is the Muslims who are the object of American fear.
In recent months some elected officials and political candidates have proposed that all Syrian refugees be barred from entry into the U.S. because they are Muslim. Some have gone so far as to propose creating a system to track Muslim American citizens. This religious litmus test and the setting up a database of one religious group represents a serious departure from our country’s basic values.
The sacred texts of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions call us to welcome and care for “the stranger in our midst.” As faith leaders, we oppose discrimination based on religion or race and support the resettlement of vulnerable refugees through the careful vetting of the United States Refugee Admissions Program. We encourage faith communities to welcome and assist refugees.
As faith leaders we also reject calls to specifically limit the resettlement of Syrian refugees. Syrian refugees already undergo an extremely rigorous vetting process that can take up to 3 years. Europe is flooded with refugees and the situation is desperate. According to the United Nations’ Commission for Refugees, half of the 4.8 million registered Syrian refugees are children who have been traumatized by persistent bombings and a lack of food and medical care. The United States, as a world leader, has a responsibility to do its part to meet this crisis.
More importantly, it is contrary to our values and it dishonors our humanity to deny refuge to people fleeing the brutality of terrorists who seek to kill them or impose on them a distorted and un-Islamic version of Islam.
We also encourage you to get to know your Muslim neighbors who are bearing the fears of our nation. The members of South Dakota Faith in Public Life are committed to building relationships between our congregations and Muslim congregations to promote understanding and friendship. The Jewish Torah teaches, and Jesus affirmed: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…[and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Deut. 6:4, Lev. 19:18 and Mark 12:28-31). Many of our Muslim neighbors are our doctors, professors, business owners, veterans and colleagues. When we safeguard their religious freedom, we are safeguarding the religious freedom of all Americans.
Today as we deliberate how to treat Syrian and other refugees fleeing for their lives we face an historic test. We can either allow our fears to undermine our identity as people of faith and as a nation, or we can be courageous in choosing moral, just policies that provide safety for desperate refugees. We pray that together we find the courage to embrace the values of our faith traditions, and the values on which our nation is founded by choosing the path of compassion.