Last weekend, small groups of Americans are gathering in cities across the country to “March Against Shari’ah Law,” including in Harrisburg. These marches, and the hate-groups that organize them promote an overtly anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant agenda by couching their arguments in the language of religious freedom and human rights, making a mockery of the very foundation of our country and commonwealth.
Pennsylvania’s founder, William Penn was an advocate of religious freedom, refusing to enforce a Quaker majority in the colony and enshrining the ideas of religious freedom and liberty in his colonial government. Penn’s writings heavily influenced Thomas Jefferson and the authors of the Constitution when it came to issues of religious liberty and a spirit of tolerance. We, who live in the state that bears his name, must safeguard these teachings and the fabric of diversity that they engender.
These “Marches Against Shari’ah” are organized by ACT for America, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. ACT promotes a very narrow view of religious freedom equating all Muslims with terrorists. They have called Islam a “natural threat to the civilized world” and have pushed an anti-Muslim agenda at the state and federal level. Most distressing, they have targeted Syrian refugees – people fleeing some of the worst actual extremist violence in history – for specific harassment. The choice to schedule these marches during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan – traditionally a time for contemplation, spirituality, and celebration for Muslims – is particularly galling and offensive.
These marches are expected to be fairly small. When last checked, only 75 people had replied to the Harrisburg march’s Facebook page. When contrasted with the overwhelming outpouring of support for refugees and immigrants demonstrated by the airport protests following the announcement of President Trump’s initial refugee ban, it is clear that most Americans are committed to the values of freedom, equality, equal treatment, and diversity. We understand that there are violent extremists in all traditions but that most Muslims, like most Christians, most Jews, most Hindus, most atheists – in truth, most human beings – seek to live peaceful, safe, productive lives in their communities and worship God (or not) as they see fit.
Religious freedom is enshrined in our Constitution – and in the foundation in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As a Jewish American who has seen my community flourish here as nowhere else in the world, I am committed to standing up for every person of faith. I invite all who share my belief in religious freedom and human dignity to reject the message of these marchers and recommit ourselves to diversity, acceptance, compassion, and welcome to people of all faiths and backgrounds. To the Muslims of my community and the Commonwealth, we welcome you, support you and wish you a Ramadan Mubarak (Blessed Ramadan). Together, we will build this Commonwealth and country as a haven for all with a rich, diverse, tapestry of faiths. We are stronger together and we will not let the hate of the few divide us.