On March 29, 2011, staff members of the American Humanist Association attended Senator Richard Durbin’s (D – IL) congressional hearing on Protecting the Civil Rights of Muslim Americans. The American Humanist Association was one of 40 groups—part of a civil rights coalition headed by the People for the American Way—that wrote a letter to Senator Durbin’s office prior to the hearings in support of this important initiative.
Senator Durbin opened with remarks regarding the adversity historically faced by immigrants, noting that he, like many Americans, is the descendant of an immigrant who encountered cultural barriers and persecution upon arriving in this country, and that the freedoms that immigrants seek, such as religion, are the freedoms America guarantees. He went on to condemn the wrongful villainization of Muslim Americans in the wake of 9/11.
“Guilt by association,” Durbin said, “is not the American way.”
He continued, “Protecting the rights of Muslims is as important as the rights of Christians, Jews, and even non-believers.”
Senator Lindsey Graham (R – SC) voiced his support for the hearing, while acknowledging that the radicalization is indeed taking place, and that it is the responsibility of moderate Muslims, whom he noted were the greatest victims of Muslim radicalization, to lead the fight against the radical Islam movement. Graham also emphasized the importance of respecting all faiths, and fighting for the right to practice these faiths as though it were one’s own faith on the line.
“If we can’t accept differences among faiths,” he warned, “then maybe yours is next.”
Senator Patrick Leahy (D – VT) spoke in great length about the Constitution’s merits.
“May I remind everybody that the Constitution is not a menu with options to choose based on the political whims of the moment. Instead it’s a Constitution that sets forth freedoms and protections for all of us.”
He went on to note, “(The First Amendment) preserves all our other rights by guaranteeing a free press, and the right to exercise religion, and ensures an electorate the freedom to worship God as we choose or not to worship as we choose; our choice.”
Testimony was given by Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, Muslim Advocates President and Executive Director Khera Farhana, and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick. Perez and Farhana spoke in great detail of the widely documented discrimination Muslim Americans face, resulting in harassment within schools and the work place, and in some cases, hate crimes. When intensely questioned by Senator Jon Kyl (R – AZ) if she stood by a statement on the Muslim Advocates website which instructed Muslims to bring a lawyer along if providing possible terrorist information to the authorities, Farhana responded, “I stand by all the statements on my website.”
The American Humanist Association was honored to attend such a positive and open hearing regarding the rights of Muslims in America, and looks forward to continue to support the initiatives of those in Congress who are determined to stand by freedom of and from religion.