12/09/2015 10:55 am ET Updated Dec 09, 2016

The Clergy Letter Project Condemns Islamophobia

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Thousands of Religious Leaders Call for Religious Respect and Understanding

Simply put, the horrific comments made by Donald Trump demanding that the United States close its borders to all Muslims are a disgrace. They run counter to the core values upon which the United States was founded and they create a climate of divisiveness and hatred.

By demonizing one religion because of the actions of a small number of fanatics, Mr. Trump has committed an act of either naïve or willful aggression against a significant portion of the world's population while managing to disgust much of the rest. But, as we have all seen, Mr. Trump is not alone in his actions even though he might be slightly more extreme than most. Islamophobia is on the rise and we are all worse off because of it.

While some politicians are pushing back, I am most impressed by the responses offered by various portions of the religious community, including religious leaders and scholars of religion. For example, the American Academy of Religion the world's largest scholarly society devoted to the critical study of religion, even before Trump's latest repulsive salvo, issued a powerful statement:

The American Academy of Religion is deeply troubled by the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States and around the world. Hate speech and intemperate political discourse aimed at Muslims and other religious groups are opposed to the values of our learned society and to the most cherished commitments of American civic culture. We call on our members, other scholars of religion, and all Americans, to reject that divisive and dangerous speech and to reaffirm our shared commitment to a free and open society where all residents' rights are recognized and protected.

Similarly, more than 1,000 rabbis signed a letter to Congress circulated by HIAS in support of the United States welcoming refugees. After noting that "In 1939, the United States refused to let the S.S. St. Louis dock in our country, sending over 900 Jewish refugees back to Europe, where many died in concentration camps," the letter concludes with six incredibly moving sentences:

In 1939, our country could not tell the difference between an actual enemy and the victims of an enemy. In 2015, let us not make the same mistake. We therefore urge our elected officials to support refugee resettlement and to oppose any measures that would actually or effectively halt resettlement or prohibit or restrict funding for any groups of refugees. As Rabbis, we take seriously the biblical mandate to "welcome the stranger." We call on our elected officials to uphold the great legacy of a country that welcomes refugees.

The Clergy Letter Project
, the organization for which I serve as the executive director, is proud to add its voice to those calling for respect and tolerance. The Clergy Letter Project is an organization of more than 13,800 clergy members in the United States representing numerous religions and denominations. Although these clergy members came together for a single purpose, to demonstrate that their religious beliefs are not at odds with modern science, the principles underlying the founding of The Clergy Letter Project have much to say about the nature of the current attacks on Islam.

One of those principles was to demonstrate that loud but rare fundamentalist ministers who assert that religion is incompatible with modern evolutionary theory are not speaking for the vast majority of clergy. Similarly, those committing violence in the name of Islam are not acting in the name or with the support of the vast majority of practicing Muslims.

Another principle associated with the founding of The Clergy Letter Project was the belief that understanding about the relationship between religion and science would increase as the level of discourse was raised. Similarly, the virulent strain of Islamophobia that has become all too common in our society can be countered effectively by education.

Each year The Clergy Letter Project celebrates Evolution Weekend, a time to focus on the relationship between religion and science. Aptly, and long before the current round of attacks on Muslims, the theme selected for Evolution Weekend 2016 (February 12-14, 2016) was an exploration of ways to engage in complex discussions in a civil manner. Such civil discussions are needed now more than ever.

The Clergy Letter Project calls for an end to the abhorrent attacks on Muslims and for members of all religions to be treated with respect and dignity. The Clergy Letter Project urges public figures and private citizens alike to recognize the shared humanity of all people and to work toward understanding and peace.