Religious leaders call on West to apologize for ‘intemperate comments about Islam’ (Update: West responds)

Posted on: February 2nd, 2011 by Melissa 2 Comments

In a letter sent today to Rep. Allen West, R-Fort Lauderdale, national religious leaders called on West to apologize for saying that Muslim congressman Keith Ellison represents the “antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established.” #


The letter — signed by the Interfaith Alliance’s Welton Gaddy, the Rabbinical Assembly’s Jack Moline, the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism’s David Saperstein and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty’s J. Brent Walker — chastises West for his comments about Ellison, and also criticizes his “tendency to offer intemperate comments about Islam”: #

In a recent interview with the “Shalom Show,” you underscored that your mission is to represent and uphold the values of your constituents; this is an unquestionably noble goal. However, your subsequent statement that Representative Keith Ellison, one of your colleagues in the House of Representatives, is the “antithesis of the principles on which this country was established” because he is Muslim, shows a frightening lack of understanding for these values. Regardless of the specific “principles” you intended to reference, it is an indisputable fact that one of those principles is religious freedom for all, memorialized in the United States Constitution—including, of course, Article VI’s prohibition on any religious test for public office. Your remarks disrespect not only your Muslim colleagues in the Congress, but also all of your constituents of the Muslim faith. This is neither appropriate, nor true to the American values that you reference. #


Regrettably, this is just the latest example of your tendency to offer intemperate comments about Islam. At a town hall meeting during your campaign, you characterized Islam as America’s enemy and asserted, “Islam is a totalitarian, theocratic political ideology; it is not a religion.” Such untrue and inflammatory remarks intensify an unsettling trend of anti-Muslim rhetoric and fear in our country. They are also likely to confuse your constituents as to the differences between radical, Islamic extremists and non-violent adherents to Islam. Many peaceable Muslims live in your district and two serve alongside you in the House of Representatives. At a time when Islamophobia is on the rise, it is the responsibility of our elected officials to promote dialogue, understanding and civility in the public forum. #


#


Although your laudable decision to offer yourself for public service in no way disqualifies you from discussing your own faith, we urge you not to use the prestige of your position in the U.S. House of Representatives to proselytize for one religion or demonize another. Rather, we hope that you will seek opportunities to uphold the religious freedom of all of your colleagues and constituents, including Muslims, to believe in or to reject any religious faith, as they choose. This freedom is an integral part of American democracy and promised by the First Amendment to our Constitution. We also hope that you will issue an apology, not only to Representative Ellison, but to the Muslim citizens of your district. [Emphasis added.] #

Update: #


West has responded to Gaddy, Moline, Saperstein and Walker’s letter. #


“I am neither anti-Muslim nor anti-Islam,” West writes them in response. “I respect every religion, and the Constitutionally-protected right to practice that faith in a peaceful manner.” (You can read the letter in full below.) #


Attempting to explain his comments about Rep. Ellison, West states that he is concerned with the “radical jihadist movement” within Islam, and accuses the Council on American-Islamic Relations of being one of a few American groups “that masquerade as more peaceful moderates” while supporting that movement. #


“My comments in regards to my colleague, Representative Keith Ellison, are not about his Islamic faith, but about his continued support of CAIR,” West writes, a point the congressman was unclear about when making his original controversial statement. #


West’s description of Ellison as someone who represents the “antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established,” came when answering this question: #

Since you’re with a new crowd, people you haven’t really met before and will be very closely associating with in the future, including Keith Ellison, who supports Islam, how will you manage that, if I may ask? Because it’s not really easy to be that polite often with individuals one totally disagrees with, which I believe may be the case. #

“I certainly will take your concerns to heart,” West writes in concluding his letter, “and hope that we can work together to continue to educate the American public on the importance of both understanding the threats we face, and exercising religious tolerance.” #


West’s letter:


Letter From Allen West

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