On the heels of the anniversary of one of the deadliest religious hate crimes in recent history, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) led 36 members of Congress on a letter urging President Obama to address the rising violence against religious minorities and host a summit on religious tolerance. The letter sent to President Obama today echoes the sentiment of approximately one-hundred civic, faith-based, and civil rights organizations that sent a formal request to the President on September 20th, 2012.
Leading the broad coalition, Rep. Honda remarked: "Our nation has reached a boiling point in the frequencies of violence wrought by hate and injustice. As a longtime advocate for civil rights and justice, I have fought to ensure that all communities have a place to speak, worship, and serve in every corner of our nation. I urge President Obama to convene a summit on religious diversity, and to reinforce that hate crimes and religious intolerance have no place in our democracy. America's diversity is our foremost strength, not a source of peril."
"The recent increase in violence directed towards religious minorities warrants the attention of the President of the United States," Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said. "A summit on religious tolerance at the White House with prominent interfaith leaders would show the world that in America there is no exception to liberty and justice for all."
"The terrible and very public episodes of violence this country has seen over the past several years deserve a response, and as elected leaders we have an obligation to be a part of that response," said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.). "It would be a shame if we forgot the lessons of our own past and let hatred and intolerance go unchecked. I don't believe it's in anyone's interest to move on as though none of these terrible shootings occurred. That's why I believe in this effort, and that's why I hope we can do more as a government to provide peace and stability for every American no matter her background."
August 5th marks one year from when a white supremacist raged into a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisc., opening fire on worshiping American Sikhs, killing six individuals, leaving three critically injured, and leaving many others wounded. In the following months, several houses of worship throughout the country were attacked. On August 6th, a mosque in Joplin, Mo., burned to the ground in a suspected arson attack. On December 27th, a Hindu man was murdered when a woman pushed him in to the path of a moving subway train in Queens, NY. The woman told police: "I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims since 2001 when they put down the Twin Towers." Similarly, the Jewish community continues to experience hate crimes at an alarming rate. On August 26th of last year, a student at Michigan State University was brutally assaulted after being asked if he was Jewish.
A number of civic and faith-based organizations also support action by the President:
- Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates: "Americans of all faiths should feel safe and able to worship freely without fearing harassment or violence. Our nation unfortunately has reached a crisis point, and the President's leadership is crucially needed to send a strong message that hate and bigotry targeting religious minorities have no place in America."
- Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League: "In the aftermath of the tragic August 2012 bias-motivated murders at the Sikh Gurdwara in Wisconsin -- and with vandalism at synagogues and mosques and crimes targeting immigrants and those who look like immigrants continuing at a disturbing pace -- now is the time for the President to call stakeholders together to raise awareness, promote new initiatives, and identify programs and effective prevention strategies that work."
- Amardeep Singh, co-founder of the Sikh Coalition: "Too many lives have been taken, injured, and changed because of hate violence against religious minorities. I cannot look into the eyes of another mother, child, or wife and tell them that their loved one died in vain. We need President Obama's leadership to address this serious issue so that Americans of all faiths can live their lives peacefully, without fear of bigotry and hate."
- Suhag A. Shukla, Esq., Executive Director and Legal Counsel for the Hindu American Foundation: "The increasing hate and violence directed towards religious minorities undermines the religious diversity and pluralistic ethos we cherish as Americans. We hope that the tragic death of innocent victims, such as Sunando Sen, who was pushed in front of a subway train in New York City, will not go in vain. It is therefore incumbent upon the President to play a leading role in addressing this growing hatred and bigotry, and encourages religious understanding so that all communities of faith, or of no faith, can live in harmony."
Congressional leaders and civic, faith-based, and civil rights organizations believe that the President's direct involvement in this crisis is necessary to keep Americans safe and protect the rights of religious minorities to practice their religion without fear of bigotry and violence. A summit on this issue will allow leaders, academics, and community members to convene and find real solutions to keeping America a beacon of freedom for members of all faiths.