Just hours before it was to go into effect, Judge Derrick Watson temporarily blocked the administration’s latest effort to essentially grind the resettlement of refugees to a halt and prevent all migration from six predominantly Muslim countries. What is noteworthy is that Judge Watson based his ruling against the federal government on the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, which forbids unequal treatment based on religion.
Judge Watson blocked the Muslim ban specifically “Because a reasonable, objective observer — enlightened by the specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequence of events leading to its issuance — would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion.” Hence, this is why those of us opposed to this inhumane policy have from the start called it what it is; and in fact, we have called it what Administration officials, including Donald Trump himself called it — a Muslim ban. And that is and will always be unconstitutional.
There have been many who have argued that it cannot be a Muslim ban because it does not target all Muslims. Judge Watson spoke specifically to that notion when he said,
"The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable. The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed. The Court declines to relegate its Establishment Clause analysis to a purely mathematical exercise….’It is a discriminatory purpose that matters, no matter how inefficient the execution.’ Equally flawed is the notion that the Executive Order cannot be found to have targeted Islam because it applies to all individuals in the six referenced countries. It is undisputed, using the primary source upon which the Government itself relies, that these six countries have overwhelmingly Muslim populations that range from 90.7% to 99.8%. It would therefore be no paradigmatic leap to conclude that targeting these countries likewise targets Islam. Certainly, it would be inappropriate to conclude, as the Government does, that it does not."
It is increasingly apparent, whether it is banning Muslims from entering the country or allowing people, or even businesses, the right to discriminate against others by denying services, that religious freedom will be a hot-button issue during these next several years.
I, for one, dread these kinds of fights because it takes away energy and passion from the real mission of the church — to love the world and to witness to God’s transformative love. But the efforts by some, in the federal government and sadly, even in the church, to use religion as a way to harm or discriminate against others is so anathema to the missional purpose of the church that we must speak out and stand against that which would threaten peoples’ lives and do harm.
For me to use my power and privilege to deny services to someone because of who they choose to love, or for me to use that same power and privilege to deny entry to refugees — the most vetted individuals in the United States today, who themselves are fleeing violence and persecution — is the zenith of religious triumphalism. I can think of nothing that fails worse to illustrate the biblical Jesus than this kind of twisted form of self-aggrandizing advocacy.
Our hunger for justice for ourselves and for our own security at the expense of those who are facing tremendous persecution and violence and terror will only end in our own bitterness. Peace and abundant love will come from serving the needs of others before our own. And before people jump to the conclusion I am absolutely not making — that we drop all vetting of people entering the country — please know that is not at all what I am trying to say. We currently already have in place extreme vetting; a seven-stage process that takes at the very least eighteen months for refugees to go through before they are allowed entry. The United States has allowed in hardly a handful of Syrian refugees in particular compared to many other nations in the world. Surely we can do better and surely the church should be leading the charge demanding that we open our doors and our hearts to allow in our brothers and sisters from Syria.
Now is not the time for religious triumphalism; now is the time to lovingly serve and place the needs of others before our own.
Faithfully advocating for the welfare of others is at the heart of our faith and mission as followers of Jesus. And this is why I am excited to invite other faith leaders to covenant in accepting a pledge to utilize our faith in this way. To be honest, I am not big on pledges. But I believe that in the coming weeks, months, and years of this current administration, we will need new visions, new connections, and new leaders to help spur us on. This is one of those visions; a vision of a community of faith people committed to lifting one another up as together we advocate for justice
Here is the pledge I ask you to not only sign, but to share widely with other faith leaders you know.
As a person of faith, I cherish the fundamental guarantee of the freedom of religion and belief. I share this conviction with people of all faiths as well as those who profess no faith. It protects our right to believe—or not—as we see fit and ensures we can act on our beliefs so long as we don’t impose harm on others.
· I pledge to use my faith to lift up and encourage people, rather than tear down or demean.
· I pledge to use my faith to stand alongside all those whose basic human and civil rights are being denied, and to advocate for justice.
· I pledge to stand up for real religious freedom, and against efforts that would allow religion to be used to harm and discriminate against others.
Only together will we draw the necessary energy, hope, creativity, and yes, faith, to resist injustice, and to stand with those who are targets of injustice so that we can ensure religious freedom for all people while preventing religion from being used to harm others.
Let’s remain in solidarity in the struggle ahead.