If Sessions won't defend Muslims, he's wrong AG for religious freedom
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The United States attorney general must uphold the basic value of religious freedom for all Americans. We do not tell people how to pray in America, and we do not ban people from entering our country based on their religion.

As religious leaders committed to this shared American value, we are deeply concerned about this week’s hearings on the nomination of Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsBannon encouraged Sessions to run for president before meeting Trump: report Sanders: 'What do the Russians have on Mr. Trump?' Poll: Trump controversies make him more popular among supporters MORE to serve as our next attorney general. His record and rhetoric of apparent Islamophobia should make all senators on the Judiciary Committee who care about religious freedom ask him these hard questions.  

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How can Senator Sessions defend the religious freedom of all Americans when he has denigrated one religion in particular?

 

Just days after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, President George W. Bush visited a mosque and addresses the American people. He reassured worried Americans who are Muslim that:

“America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. … And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”

More recently, President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaGraham: Left is 'going insane' after Trump's win President travels again for meetings at Trump golf club in Va. Cotton: House 'moved a bit too fast' on healthcare MORE has boldly said: “We are not at war with Islam.”

Members of the incoming Trump administration have departed from this rhetoric, instead heightening tensions with talk of a holy war.

Senators must ask Sessions if he endorses the idea that America is at war with Islam or if he agrees with the words of our past two presidents which uphold our American ideals. Sessions record points towards concern. He called Islam a “toxic ideology” in an interview with the American Thinker in June.  

Does Senator Sessions support a “Muslim ban” or a “Muslim registry?”

As a top surrogate and advisor to the president-elect, Senator Sessions has supported the concept of a “Muslim ban.”  Senators on both sides of the aisle have raised questions about not just the constitutionality of such a ban, but whether it undermines our values as a nation.

Religious freedom questions have plagued the president-elect throughout his campaign, including whether he would establish some type of “Muslim registry” for foreigners residing within the United States.

Many of the Trump administration’s policies as they relate to religious freedom have yet to be outlined or detailed. Senator Sessions’ confirmation hearings present the Judiciary Committee with its first opportunity to question the direction of the administration and ask tough questions about policies floated during the campaign.

Will Senator Sessions renounce his ties to extremist organizations?

Senators must question whether Sessions still supports and receives advice from anti-Muslim groups like the David Horowitz Freedom Center and the Center for Security Policy, both of which have been labeled hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Senator Sessions has been on an award-winning streak with these extremist groups. In 2014, he received the “Daring the Odds: The Annie Taylor Award” from the David Horowitz Freedom Center. And in 2015, he received the annual “Keeper of the Flame” award from the Center for Security Policy.

We are stronger when we come together as Americans and weaker when we let fear and hate come between us. Senator Sessions can’t be allowed to bring his hate-group friends with him to the Department of Justice.

Giving platforms to fringe individuals and organizations that have been designated by some as extremist groups only divides us. Our attorney general should help unite us and treat all Americans with the same dignity, fairness and respect.

Will Senator Sessions protect the rights of all Americans?

The attorney general serves as the nation’s top law enforcement officer. He or she must address terrorist acts based on evidence, not single out an entire group of people based on their faith. Not only is that the right course of action based on our values, it is more effective at keeping us safe.

The Judiciary Committee must press Senator Sessions on his history of showing limited respect for the equal protection clause of the constitution.

Senator Sessions hasn't just peddled Islamophobia by seeming to accept a Muslim registry, but has allegedly called the NAACP “un-American” and “communist-inspired.” He has allegedly joked about approving the KKK and treated his own employees with disrespect.

Our Christian faith teaches us to stand up for the most marginalized and vulnerable in society, to treat others as we would like to be treated, and to work for justice and equality.  No one should fear for their safety because of the color of their skin, what language they speak or how they pray.

Sessions must demonstrate the willingness to respect the dignity and rights of all Americans, and the ability to account for his past statements and behavior.

When senators on the Judiciary Committee raise these important questions of discrimination and religious freedom this week, they are speaking on behalf of more than just the millions of Americans who are Muslim. They speak for all Americans of any religious background.

Our Constitution enshrines the freedom of religion to us all, and we must all defend any attempt to weaken this freedom.

Rev. John L. McCullough is the President and CEO of Church World Service, a global humanitarian agency that works to end hunger and poverty among the world’s most vulnerable. McCullough previously served on the White House Task Force on Global Poverty and Development.
 
Rev. Jennifer Butler is the CEO of Faith in Public Life and chair of the White House Council on Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships. Before leading FPL, Butler spent ten years working in the field of international human rights representing the Presbyterian Church (USA) at the United Nations.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.