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Religious Leaders Denounce Anti-Muslim 'Bigotry' in US


Reverend Terry Jones, whose small church in Florida plans to burn Korans on September 11

Reverend Terry Jones, whose small church in Florida plans to burn Korans on September 11

As a pastor from a small church in the U.S. state of Florida plans to burn Korans on September 11, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders stood side by side at the National Press Club in Washington Tuesday to show their solidarity against anti-Muslim acts of discrimination in the U.S.

A group of religious leaders from Christian and Jewish faiths joined together with the Islamic Society of North America for an emergency meeting to discuss a recent increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric and intolerance.

Baptist Pastor Gerald Durley spoke for the group. "As religious leaders in this great country, we have come together in our nation's capital to denounce categorically the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry being directed against America's Muslim community," he said.

The group said people around the world have seen non-Muslim Americans show fear and contempt toward their Muslim neighbors--emotions that have generated from a national debate about a planned Islamic Center near the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City.

Catholic Cardinal Theadore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, said he wants the international community to understand that the U.S was built on the principle of valuing one another.

"I have a great fear that the story of bigotry, the story of hatred, the story of animosity to others is going to be taken by some to be the story of the real America and it's not. This is not our country and we have to make sure our country is known around the world as a place where liberty of religion, where respect for your neighbor, where love for your neighbor, where these things are the most prominent in our society," he said.

A Christian pastor in Florida says his church will burn Korans on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. He says the act serves as a protest against violent Islamist extremists.

The local government has denied the church a permit to conduct the public burning. But the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center has vowed to go ahead with his plan.

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer says the interfaith group strongly condemns the desecration of a sacred text.

"We stand by the principle that to attack any religion in the United States is to do violence to the religious freedom of all Americans," she said.

Farhana Khera, president of the organization Muslim Advocates, was part of a separate group of religious leaders that met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at the Justice Department. She said Holder also condemned the plan.

"To quote the attorney general, he called the Gainesville plans, burning of Korans, idiotic and dangerous," Khera said.

The plan has sparked protests in Indonesia and Afghanistan. Demonstrators in the Afghan capital burned the American flag and shouted "Death to America."

Islamic Society of North America President Ingrid Mattson says American Muslims must show the world that the U.S. is a place where all religions can live together in peace.

"American Muslims have a unique ability to be this bridge and to show the Muslims who do not live in this kind of freedom that an open, pluralistic atmosphere where there are diverse religions together can really be good for everyone," she said.

Tensions have heightened in America as the anniversary of the attacks approaches. In 2001, Islamist extremists killed nearly 3,000 people by ramming passenger planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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