October has been a good month for religious pluralism in America.
Not great, but good. This past Sunday on Meet
the Press
former Secretary of State Collin Powell condemned the religious
bigotry that has emerged during the campaign, saying:

“I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but
what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as,
‘Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.’ Well, the correct answer is, he is
not a Muslim, he’s a Christian.  He’s always been a Christian.  But
the really right answer is, what if he is?  Is there something wrong with
being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.”

Congratulations to Secretary Powell for his willingness to
challenge those on the right who use the Muslim community as their punching
bag, and to those on the left who seem less than enthusiastic about speaking in
their defense.

Thankfully, Secretary Powell is not alone. His comments echo
a commentary CNN anchor Campbell Brown delivered on her program earlier this
month entitled “So what if Obama were a Muslim or an Arab?” In it she asks:

“When did that become a disqualifier for higher office in
our country? When did Arab and Muslim become dirty words? The equivalent of
dishonorable or radical?”

Alongside these great statements by Powell and Campbell is
the continued distribution of 28 million copies of the movie Obsession. This film, despite what its
makers tell us, is a pervasive demonization of Islam.

I have been happy to see a broad range of people from across
the religious and political spectrum speak out against both Obsession, and the false rumors about
Senator Obama’s religious background. But, I remain concerned about the staggering
number of people who are choosing to stay silent.  Now is the time for all fair-minded,
freedom-loving people to condemn the poisonous onslaught of religious prejudice.

Religious freedom is a founding principle of this nation. Basic
to American identity as envisioned by our founders is every citizen modeling
not merely tolerance, but respect and understanding.  Right now it is particularly crucial that
political leaders – on both sides of the isle – not only pay lip service to
religious freedom, but embody it.

October has been a good month for religious pluralism in America. Not
great, but good. What would make it better would be if a presidential candidate,
asked about being a Muslim, were to respond by saying, “I am not a Muslim, but
so many patriotic Americans are.” What would make it exemplary would be if a
presidential candidate whose allies seek to use religion as a political weapon were
to put a stop to such divisive tactics. What would make it terrific – and most
patriotic -would be if faith were not a factor in presidential politics.


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