Thwart religious litmus test on Syrian refugees

We need clergy and bishops to support welcoming ALL Syrian refugees to the U.S. 

Clergy should sign a letter to ensure ALL refugees are welcome: Sign Clergy Letter Now!

Our hearts break seeing the images of Syrian refugees seeking safe sanctuary. Unfortunately, Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, recently introduced HR 3573: legislation that would prioritize religious minorities when the U.S. considers refugees to resettle from Iraq and Syria. This is a not-so-subtle way of discriminating against Muslim refugees to prevent them from being resettled in the United States. There is a real danger that only helping Christian refugees might actually gain traction in both the House and Senate.

We must speak out against any plan that would prevent resettlement based entirely on religion.

Here is a letter for CLERGY TO SIGN (the text is below) that urges legislators to welcome ALL Syrian refugees and to not have a religious litmus test. I hope if you are clergy that you will sign and share the letter with your ministerial networks.

If you, like me, are not clergy, then let's get our pastors and our bishops to sign! We need signatures by this Wednesday, Sept. 30, because both the Senate and House Judiciary Committees will be holding hearings on Syrian refugees on Oct. 1 and 8, respectively

This is a very important moment in which inclusive faith voices need to be heard! Let's get our clergy to sign up in a hurry!

Here is the text of the letter from clergy:

Dear Honorable Members of the United States Congress,  

As religious leaders from a variety of backgrounds, we are called by our sacred texts and faith traditions to love our neighbor, accompany the vulnerable, and welcome the sojourner. War, conflict and persecution have forced people to leave their homes, creating more refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people than at any other time in history. According to a recent United Nations report, 60 million people are currently displaced — 1 in every 122 people on earth.

This nation has an urgent moral responsibility to receive refugees and asylum seekers who are in dire need of safety. Today, with more than four million Syrian refugees fleeing violence and persecution, the United States has an ethical obligation as a world leader to reduce this suffering and generously welcome Syrian refugees into our country. This is why we are calling on the Obama Administration and U.S. Congress to show bold leadership and increase the number of Syrian refugees resettled in the United States, in addition to the recently announced global resettlement admission numbers. The United States has a rich history as a leader in refugee resettlement, with significant precedent, including after World War II and after the fall of Saigon.

The U.S. Refugee Resettlement program has been and should remain open to those of any religious tradition who face persecution on account of the reasons enumerated under U.S. law. We write today to specifically state opposition to any legislation or proposal that would prevent Muslim refugees and individuals of other faiths from accessing the U.S. refugee resettlement program. Proposals that would have the U.S. State Department perform a religious litmus test on people fleeing persecution fly in the face of the very principles this nation was built upon, contradict the legacy of leadership our country has historically demonstrated, and dishonor our shared humanity.

As the United States joins the world in seeking ways to meaningfully respond to the Syrian refugee crisis, it is paramount that the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) stay true to its mandate to resettle the most vulnerable. Vulnerable individuals from a host of religions, ethnicities and backgrounds have been and should continue to be resettled in the United States.

Together, representing our various faiths, we decry derogatory language that has been used about our Muslim friends and neighbors. Inflammatory rhetoric has no place in our response to this humanitarian crisis. We ask our elected officials and candidates for office to recognize that new Americans of all faiths and backgrounds contribute to our economy, our community, and our congregations. Refugees are an asset to this country. They are powerful ambassadors of the American Dream and our nation’s founding principles of equal opportunity, religious freedom, and liberty and justice for all.

As people of faith, our values call us to welcome the stranger, love our neighbor, and stand with the vulnerable, regardless of their religion. We pray that in your discernment, compassion for the plight of refugees will touch your hearts. We urge you to be bold in choosing moral, just policies that provide refuge for vulnerable individuals seeking protection.

I hope if you are clergy that you will sign this letter and share it with your ministerial networks. I hope if you are laity that you will please urge your own faith leaders to sign the letter to Congress to avoid any religious litmus test in this humanitarian crisis.

Editor's note: Bill Mefford is Director of Civil & Human Rights at the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society.