What is the Truth About American Muslims?
Throughout American history, people of many faiths have come to these shores seeking religious freedom. Despite periodic outbreaks of nativism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of religious intolerance, America has been home to history’s boldest and most successful experiment in religious liberty. Faith communities have thrived in this land without threatening the rights and freedoms of citizens of other religions or no religion.
More than 200 years after the ratification of the First Amendment, Americans still hold fast to the principles of religious freedom. Nearly 9 in 10 Americans agree that the United States was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone, including the smallest minorities or least popular communities.7
Today our commitment to religious freedom is tested once again as American Muslims and their institutions increasingly come under attack by those who raise unfounded fears and create confusion about Muslims – or, in some cases, use the violent extremism of a faction as an opportunity to demonize an entire faith.
We urge all Americans of goodwill to join us in combating ignorance and fear with knowledge and compassion. Religious freedom cannot be sustained by laws and courts alone – as important as they are. Full religious freedom depends on the courage and commitment of ordinary citizens to stand up for the rights of their fellow citizens.
In the words of the Williamsburg Charter (1988), all Americans should “affirm that a right for one is a right for another and a responsibility for all. A right for a Protestant is a right for an Orthodox is a right for a Catholic is a right for a Jew is a right for a Humanist is a right for a Mormon is a right for a Muslim is a right for a Buddhist – and for the followers of any other faith within the wide bounds of the republic.” The same guarantee prevails for people with no religion.8
We commit ourselves to speak, write and act according to this vision of mutual respect and religious liberty. We further commitment ourselves to disseminate this document widely in an effort to combat misunderstanding and false information about American Muslims. We urge our fellow citizens to do the same.
7 Public Religion Research Institute, Pluralism, Immigration, and Civic Integration Survey (August 2011).
8 The Williamsburg Charter is a reaffirmation of religious liberty signed by more than 100 American leaders and presented to the nation on June 25, 1988, the 200th anniversary of Virginia’s call for the Bill of Rights.
Editor's note: This publication, jointly produced by the Religious Freedom Education Project of the First Amendment Center and the Interfaith Alliance Islamic Understanding, is republished here with permission.