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House Delegation Introduces Religious Freedom Bill

Legislation Would Prohibit Blocking Entry to U.S. Based on Religious Identification

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Washington, May 11, 2016 | Thomas Scanlon (202 225 4376) | comments
In response to political rhetoric vilifying select religious groups and increasingly hostile rhetoric toward religious freedom in the immigration system, a House delegation, including Reps. Don Beyer (VA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Keith Ellison (MN), Joe Crowley (NY), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Mike Honda (CA), Betty McCollum (MN), André Carson (ID), introduced the Freedom of Religion Act today to prohibit the use of religious litmus tests as a means to ban immigrants, refugees, and international visitors trying to enter the United States.
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In response to political rhetoric vilifying select religious groups and increasingly hostile rhetoric toward religious freedom in the immigration system, a House delegation, including Reps. Don Beyer (VA),  Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Keith Ellison (MN), Joe Crowley (NY), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Mike Honda (CA), Betty McCollum (MN), André Carson (IN), introduced the Freedom of Religion Act today to prohibit the use of religious litmus tests as a means to ban immigrants, refugees, and international visitors trying to enter the United States.

“We cannot allow fear and paranoia to drive our public policy, especially when it comes to the defining values of our country,” said Rep. Beyer.  “Our Founding Fathers guaranteed religious freedom for all in the First Amendment to our Constitution.  People all around the world look to us as the standard for freedom, liberty, and tolerance.”

“The first Americans often were refugees from religion oppression,” said Norton.  “Many come today for the same reason.  We betray our first principles when religion becomes a qualification for entry or exclusion from the United States.”

“Our country is built on religious tolerance and the freedom to worship. When presidential candidates talk about closing our borders to people of a certain faith, they aren’t just being prejudiced – they’re being un-American. This bill will uphold our core values by guaranteeing that religion isn’t used to decide who can enter the country. The inscription on the Statue of Liberty reads: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It doesn’t say anything about a person’s faith,” said Rep. Keith Ellison.

“This bill is about the very foundation our nation was built on, and that’s religious freedom,” said Rep. Crowley, Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus. “Unfortunately, the rhetoric we’ve heard over the past year or so has not only greatly affected our national discourse, it has fanned the flames of hate and hurt innocent families. I’m proud to join Congressman Beyer and my colleagues on this legislation - we must ensure that the United States will continue to remain a model for religious tolerance and freedom.”

“As a nation of immigrants, we should welcome all who come to this country regardless of their religion or ethnic background,” said Rep. Schakowsky. “It is outrageous that many in this country are fanning the flames of hatred and intolerance by pushing for a religious test to enter the country. I am proud to stand with my colleagues today in supporting this legislation that will ban any attempt to prevent people from entering this country based on their religion. We are one nation, and we will only rise above the hatred spouted by terrorists abroad by staying united here at home.”

“I have been proud take our oath of office and promise to protect and defend the Constitution,” said Rep. Honda. “That Constitution makes it the mission of our nation to fully defend the right to freely practice religion. It is sad that, based on our current politics, that mission must be written into a new law, but as long as that step is needed, I will absolutely support that law.”

“As Americans, we take great pride in our Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. It would insult that tradition to impose a religious test at our borders,” Congresswoman McCollum said. “I am proud to be an original co-sponsor of this bill, which ensures our country lives up to its best traditions of openness, tolerance, and religious freedom.”

“To turn our back on immigrants would be to betray our nation's core values,” said Rep. Andre Carson.  “Blocking immigrants because of their religion would send a demoralizing and dangerous message to the world that the United States is no longer a beacon of freedom. This critical legislation signals that the United States has always been, and will continue to be, a country that welcomes people of all races, ethnicities, and religions.”

“I’m proud to cosponsor Rep. Beyer’s bill, which makes clear that the United States does not discriminate based on religion.  Regardless of what Donald Trump may think, barring members of a particular religious group from entering the country is unconstitutional and would never be supported by Congress or the courts.  Like many before them, those seeking to come to our country are doing so because they want a better future for themselves and their children.  I hope House Republicans will join with us as cosponsors of this bill to send a strong message of support for our Constitution and the freedoms we hold dear and that have sustained us for generations,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

Additionally, the bill has more than 70 bipartisan original co-sponsors: Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Reps. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Steve Israel (D-NY), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Dan Kildee (D-MI), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Al Green (D-TX), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Adam Smith (D-WA), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Bobby Rush (D-IL) Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Mark Takai (D-HI), John Delaney (D-MD), Sander Levin (D-MI), Mark Takano (D-CA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), David Cicilline (D-RI), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Sander Levin (D-MI), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), John Conyers (D-MI), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Robert Brady (D-PA), Denny Heck (D-WA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), John Larson (D-CT), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Sam Farr (D-CA), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jose Serrano (D-NY), John Garamendi (D-CA), Ron Kind (D-WI), Jim Himes (D-CT), Judy Chu (D-CA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Tim Walz (D-MN), Mike Capuano (D-MA), and Richard Hanna (R-NY).

Of the 105 stakeholder groups that endorsed the bill, representatives from Bend the Arc Jewish Action, Council on American Islamic Relations, Interfaith Alliance, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepard, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation were also on hand to support the Freedom of Religion Act.

Yasmine Taeb, the Legislative Representative for Human Rights & Civil Liberties at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, said “The Friends Committee on National Legislation is committed to religious freedom, which is a value deeply rooted in Quaker history.  Quakers came to this country 365 years ago to escape persecution, and practice their faith openly. We all have a responsibility and an opportunity right now to protect the religious freedom of Muslims facing a new wave of persecution here in the United States – FCNL applauds this bipartisan effort to ensure that discriminatory measures, based solely on a person’s faith, have no place in legislation.” 

Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, Director at Bend the Arc Jewish Action, said “Policies that bar people from entering the United States because of their religion go against everything we stand for as American Jews. That’s why Bend the Arc Jewish Action is proud to support the Freedom of Religion Act -- to stand with the elected officials, faith leaders, and others across this country who are stepping up to denounce bigotry. Informed by our history and strengthened by our values, the Jewish community will continue opposing prejudice and hatred in all its forms.”

Article 6, Clause 3 of the Constitution already bans religious litmus tests for political offices and the opening phrase of the Bill of Rights prohibits the establishment of a national religion and any limitations on the free exercise of religion.

"We thank the sponsors of this bill, as it restores balance to our national conversations about both religion and immigration," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). "America must uphold its ideals of religious tolerance and welcoming the stranger, or else we face a diminishing role at the table of international leadership."

Lawrence Couch, Director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, said "Convinced of the importance of each individual, St. Mary Euphrasia, founder of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, claimed that each person was worth the whole world. We believe that no person should ever be denied entry to our country simply because of her or his religious beliefs."

Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, said “Freedom of religion means that there can be no religious test for citizenship in this great nation, no religious test for our compassion to those refugees in need. The Freedom of Religion Act is an important step toward guaranteeing that our immigration policies remain free from religious discrimination, which is why more than thirty religious organizations – including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim communities – have called for its passage.”

A religious based immigration or travel ban would hurt the United States and our relationships abroad. Such a proposal would deny entry to world leaders, tourists, relatives of Americans, and scientific, business, and political leaders attending meetings in the United States.

The Freedom of Religion (FOR) Act is supported by the following organizations:

Alliance for Peacebuilding

American Center for Outreach

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)

American Humanist Association

American Muslim Advisory Council

American Muslim Institution

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Amnesty International USA

Anti-Defamation League

Arab American Institute

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC

Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles

Asian Law Alliance

Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

Bend the Arc Jewish Action

Bread for the World

Brooklyn For Peace

California Council of Churches IMPACT

Caring Across Generations

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

Center on Conscience & War

Church World Service

Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE)

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles

Council on American-Islamic Relations

CREDO

Disciples Center for Public Witness

Disciples Home Missions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Disciples Justice Action Network

Equal Partners in Faith

Emerge USA

Franciscan Action Network

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

Human Rights First

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Institute for Policy Studies

Interfaith Alliance

International Center for Religion and Diplomacy

Islamic Society of North America

Islamic Relief

Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington

J Street

Just Foreign Policy

Korean American Resource and Cultural Center

Korean Resource Center

Leadership Conference of Women Religious

League of United Latin American Citizens

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Lutheran Services in America

Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition

Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office

Muslim American Society

Muslim Community Network, MCN NYC

Muslim Public Affairs Council

NAFSA: Association of International Educators

National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum

National Center for Lesbian Rights

National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)

National Council of Jewish Women

National Employment Law Project

National Immigration Forum

National Immigration Law Center

National Korean American Service and Education Consortium

National Network for Arab American Communities

National Religious Campaign Against Torture

NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates

Office of Social Justice; Christian Reformed Church

OneAmerica

Pax Christi USA

Peace Action

People for the American Way

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Progressive Congress

Refugee and Immigration Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Secular Coalition for America

Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN)

Shoulder to Shoulder

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund

Sisters of Mercy

South Asian Americans Leading Together

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)

Southern Poverty Law Center

Syrian American Council

Syrian American Medical Society

Syrian Emergency Task Force

T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

Tacoma Community House

The Center for APA Women

The Interfaith Center of New York

The United Methodist Church - General Board of Church and Society

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

Union for Reform Judaism

Unitarian Universalist

Unitarian Universalist Association

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

United Methodist Church Cal-Pac Conference

United for a Free Syria

UURISE - Unitarian Universalist Refugee & Immigrant Services & Education

We Belong Together

Welcoming America

 

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