On November 4th, the New York Times published an article, Egypt says it killed 19 militants after deadly attack on Christians. The attack occurred last Friday, November 2nd, when gunmen opened fire onto three buses as they departed from the Monastery of St. Samuel, in the desert south of Cairo. The attack killed seven people in one bus and wounded 19 people total. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility.
We’ve been watching the ongoing persecution of Christians and our hearts ache. Tragically this is not a new phenomenon. In May of 2017, Tanenbaum published a blog post condemning a similarly violent attack which targeted another bus filled with Egyptian Coptic Christians.
Why has there been no change?
On Sunday at the World Youth Forum, Egypt’s President Sisi responded to the attack, by affirming religious freedom for all and reiterating his commitment to fight discrimination. In contrast, critics maintain that freedom of religion is currently in an uncertain state under the current Egyptian administration.
In this moment of sorrow, Tanenbaum stands with the Coptic Community in Egypt, with Christians worldwide and with our global community—including all people, from all, or no, traditions.
We have a responsibility to pay attention, to stand up to the hate that fuels violence and terrorism internationally and domestically, and to make sure that we do not let hatred inform our hearts and minds.
The time is now,
Joyce S. Dubensky
With a heavy heart, Tanenbaum condemns the violence that erupted yesterday morning at the Tree of Life Synagogue near Pittsburgh. At least eleven are dead. Families irrevocably shattered. At least six injured. And a shooter who was reportedly making anti-Semitic comments as this slaughter unfolded.
The scale and gravity of this attack, coming only a week after bomb threats, scares all of us—as Americans and as individuals from a variety of minority religious tradition in our diverse country. This shooting is part of a larger pattern in which people are being targeted for their beliefs—religious and also social and political.
Bigotry and violence have no place in America. The discourse that divides, dehumanizes and demeans civility lays the groundwork for violence. That is why we must all stand shoulder to shoulder with those who exercise their sacred right to pray together, to practice their faith, to peacefully assemble, and to advocate for their beliefs.
Tanenbaum strongly urges all communities and groups to reject the violence of hate and the discourse that breeds it. This includes the anti-Semitism so horrifically visible at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Our hearts are with all those who lost loved ones and were injured. Our commitment is to you and to our national values.
We stand—always—for a world that respects and protects our differences—including our different ways of believing.
Image: Vector Illustration
Behind many of the headlines, there is a forceful debate on what the 1st Amendment means in 2018, and how to practice religious freedom in a country that is increasingly diverse—religiously and non-religiously.
On Monday, Attorney General Sessions announced the creation of the Religious Liberty Task Force. His speech touches on our history and some of our historic values, reflects what moves him, and talks to the actions the administration is taking (and has taken) with respect to religious liberty.
His speech is informative. But for us, it also raises questions. (See the full speech delivered by Attorney General Sessions here). As you’ll see, his words raise foundational questions for all of us…
- How do you put religious freedom into practice in a country where there are a variety of different beliefs?
- What is the proper role of government—when the Constitution says it cannot establish religion?
Check out our reflections on the Attorney General’s remarks and some more questions to consider, by clicking here.
And please, tell us what you think. Make no mistake. Religious liberty—and what it looks like—is one of the key issues facing us today.
With respect and concern,
Joyce S. Dubensky
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Travel Ban, which we believe to be a Muslim Ban, is a disheartening moment for people dedicated to religious pluralism. At it’s essence, the travel ban targets people of a particular religion. In this case, it’s Muslims… but it leaves open the question – Who’s next?
We have steadfastly opposed the Muslim ban (see A Hidden Impact of the Muslim Ban), and we’ve partnered with others who have joined together in amicus briefs opposing the ban. Today, we joined our friends at the Islamic Networks Group (ING) and it’s Know Your Neighbor Campaign, in issuing Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters Statement on Travel Ban Supreme Court Ruling.
The statement’s call to dialogue with your neighbor is a call to action. And one place where you can start is our Guidelines for Conducting Open Conversations, a “how-to” guide to help you share and discuss all of our Combating Extremism resources.
This is a time for everyone who believes in religious pluralism to take a stand. By downloading and sharing our resources, by speaking out – and listening – we can undermine and untangle the misinformation that feeds injustice.
Joyce S. Dubensky
I don’t know if you’ve been following the Masterpiece Cakeshop lawsuit or the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in that matter yesterday—but we have. It’s the case of a religious man, a baker, who refused to bake a custom wedding cake for a gay couple.
At Tanenbaum, we see this case as raising core questions of our national identity. We actually filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court because this case challenges us to answer:
- How can we live respectfully and honor our differences as a religiously diverse country?
- What do we do, when core principles that guide us—like the right to freely practice our faith and the right to live and go into stores without suffering discrimination—clash?
- Where do we draw the line between a religious baker who objects to baking a cake based on his deeply held beliefs, and a gay couple protected by their state’s anti-discrimination laws when they want to purchase goods for their wedding?
In the decision, a majority of the Court agreed that the case presented difficult questions. Rather than answer those difficult questions, however, the Court focused on the conduct of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which it described as “inconsistent with the State’s obligation of religious neutrality.” In fact, the Supreme Court held that their deliberations reflected “religious hostility” and were neither “tolerant nor respectful of” the baker’s religious beliefs.
By ruling that the underlying procedures were unfair and declining to reach the difficult questions, the Court put these foundational questions off for another day. But that is only one of The Five Key Takeaways from Masterpiece Cakeshop.
1. “IT’s not over”… The court’s ruling was narrow… the question of how to implement religious freedom when it results in not complying with anti-discrimination laws is yet to be determined.
2. YES! Those who implement the law must be neutral and practice respect (including respect for religion and diverse religious beliefs)! The principle behind the court’s narrow decision is spot on. Those who implement our laws must do so in an even-handed, neutral way and that means…they cannot demean / evidence bias against / or ridicule religious beliefs (or non-religious beliefs) with which they disagree during a legal proceeding. And that principle applies both to regulatory commissioners and judges in our courts, whether they are secular or deeply religious.
3. The Court says the LGBTQI community deserves dignity…but members of that community still have to ask, “What happens when I get married?” Though the Masterpiece Court spoke of the critical need to respect LGBTQI people in the public square, there is now an aura of uncertainty for the gay community. Yes, they can legally marry. But they still have to ask: “Will I be able to purchase the wedding cake, flowers, or hire the best photographer in town?” AND, “Will I be able to adopt a child?”
4. The U.S. Supreme Court mandates tolerance in the application of the law, religious freedom, and in our treatment of the gay community—but what do we really mean by tolerance? The Court tells us what it doesn’t look like. But what does it look like? And how do we put it into practice?
5. The Supreme Court has a critical role to play in how our country moves forward. Objections to providing services based on religious beliefs can have long-term implications for religious freedom—and whether it survives for all of us. Freedom of religion is preserved in the First Amendment. To put it into practice, however, we rely on anti-discrimination laws that require people to provide goods and services no matter someone’s religion. Those same anti-discrimination laws also protect people against racial bias, age discrimination, bias based on ability status, and in some states, bigotry based on sexual orientation. If the religious beliefs of someone choosing to serve the public are legally able to undo these laws when it comes to a person’s sexual orientation, why can’t those same religious beliefs allow for discrimination based on a customer’s religious or non-religious beliefs? Why couldn’t a baker refuse to bake a cake for an interfaith couple, because one of them was Jewish and her Christian partner might be led astray? Or because the couple were atheists? Muslims? Sikhs?
So where does the ruling leave us, as a country? That, my friends, is up to us.
Joyce S. Dubensky
Photo credit: AP
Once again, on a Monday morning, we awoke to news that made us stop in our tracks— terrorism and the slaughter of a 17-year-old girl on Father’s Day because she was Muslim. Again, we mourn and extend our condolences to the families, friends and communities who are suffering these losses most directly.
Below are my 5 Reflections on London and Virginia:
- I am heartsick. But I also realize that the volume of the horrors has a numbing effect on too many of us.
- As numbness to the deaths sets in, fear is escalating at the randomness with which terrorism and hate crimes are becoming a daily norm.
- Terrorism is not limited to any one group or ethnicity. Just look at the perpetrators of these two crimes and you’ll see what I mean.
- Terrorism targets all of us— including Muslims.
- And the question… How is it that London and Virginia grab at our heartstrings— but we barely notice atrocities in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Somalia, India, etc.?
With great sorrow,
Joyce S. Dubensky
Senator Bernie Sanders recently faced criticism for his questioning of Russell Vought during Vought’s confirmation hearing for Deputy Director for the Office of Budget Management. Sanders brought up a blog post in which Vought wrote that Muslims who “have rejected Jesus Christ” stand “condemned”. Sanders called this language “hateful” and said he would vote against Vought’s confirmation. Many leaders from a variety of Christian denominations have responded that Vought’s belief is a core tenant of Christianity, and one shared by many Americans.
Those who thought Sanders’ comments toward Vought were inappropriate, or even unconstitutional, argue that he was imposing a religious test on Vought. Some Muslim advocates have defended Sanders, saying that in the current political climate it’s important to ensure that nominees will treat all Americans fairly. This difference of opinion perhaps stems, not only from the different political or religious ideologies of those who are responding to the encounter, but also in whether they viewed Vought’s beliefs or his behavior as under attack.
One of Tanenbaum’s core principles is that when religious issues emerge in the workplace, employers should focus on behavior and not belief. Employees are free to believe what they want to believe, and it is not appropriate (or, in many cases, legal) to argue with someone about their deeply held convictions. That said, it is appropriate to have standards for behavior in the workplace, and to require employees to meet those standards. For example, an employee may believe that homosexuality is an abomination, and is entitled to that belief. If, however, the employee starts harassing LGBT colleagues or posting defamatory statements on the company’s intranet page, such behavior would threaten to create a hostile work environment and the company would then be within its rights to discipline that employee.
Similarly, Vought has both a moral and constitutional right to his religious beliefs, including his belief that non-Christians will go to hell. If Sanders was criticizing Vought simply for holding that or any other religious belief, it would be inappropriate. However, Sanders’ office has since stated that he was concerned, not with Vought’s beliefs themselves, but whether the expression of those beliefs would prevent Vought from “carry[ing] out the duties of his office in a way that treats all Americans equally.” That criticism is far more valid because it focuses on what Vought’s behavior would be like if confirmed.
In the future, politicians who are concerned about nominees’ statements on religion should be careful to frame their concerns around the nominee’s behavior, not their beliefs.
By: Eliza Blanchard
Assistant Director, Workplace & Health Care Programs
This article was published on the Huffington Post Blog March 16, 2017
President Trump’s re-issued travel ban was supposed to go into effect today. But courts in Hawaii and Maryland have issued temporary injunctions, blocking its implementation nationwide. President Trump has vowed to appeal, and the ban’s ultimate future remains uncertain.
Like so many others, we don’t see the executive order as simply affecting travel or ensuring safety. That’s why we join with those who call it a Muslim ban—because no matter how you frame it, the ban disproportionately harms Muslims and institutionalizes religious discrimination. As lawsuits emerge, civil and immigrant rights organizations take action, the press debates, and public protests proliferate, we are deeply troubled by the serious harm that many will experience because of the ban.
That said, we also recognize that there are less visible negative consequences. Like the ban’s impact on organizations like Tanenbaum that are battling against religious prejudice—prejudice that the ban actually fuels. In this way, the ban is doubly dangerous: it fans the flames of division while jamming the water hose.
Perhaps the ban’s most obvious impact on Tanenbaum is in our peacebuilding program. There, we work with religiously motivated Peacemakers, who daily risk their lives to counter some of the world’s worst armed conflicts. Currently, we work with 26 such individuals—including in Yemen and Syria, two of the six countries where travel to the U.S. is to be restricted. As a practical matter, this affects us, especially with our Peacemaker from Yemen.
Sheikh Al-Marwani has spent his life trying to prevent tribal warfare in Yemen, kidnapping of tourists, and the radicalization of youth. Today, he is caught in a brutal civil war and working to stop the terrorism that is destroying his country. Tanenbaum had hoped to bring him to New York so that we could document his work, learn from his lifetime of pursuing peace in the face of unbelievable odds, and provide lessons learned to the growing field of peacebuilding, as we do with all of our Peacemakers. Instead, he is precluded from coming —because of where he lives.
Tanenbaum also works to counter overt and subtle manifestations of religious discrimination and hate in workplaces and health care. Those were large tasks before the Muslim ban. Now they are even more complicated.
The ban’s effect on business has already made headlines, with many companies and industries responding to the original version and its revised form. Tech companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft were on the front lines condemning the first order, and many signed an amicus brief challenging the first version in the Ninth Circuit. Their argument highlighted the ban’s real-world impact. It hurts business. It negatively affects their companies’ operations by infringing on their ability to recruit talented employees from around the world. Top executives at companies like EY, PwC, and Kaiser Permanente also issued statements reinforcing their commitment to diversity and inclusion within their workplaces, and reassuring frightened employees that they would support them in the aftermath of this ban.
The ban—and the associated hostile rhetoric surrounding Muslims and other religious minorities—not only affects talent acquisition and retention, it also creates an environment where religious disrespect and discrimination are flourishing, including at work. Complaints about workplace religious discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rose sharply in 2016, after five years of steady decreases. Likewise, 52% of employers in an October 2016 survey reported that their workplaces were more volatile than previously.
As an organization that promotes respectful communication among employees and inclusion for people of all religious (and non-religious) beliefs, we are alarmed by these reports. And we are hearing from corporations that they are too. It’s hard to operate a successful business when your employees are afraid to come to work.
The ban also has negative implications for the health care institutions we serve. Not only do they often rely on foreign-born workers, but one quarter of all physicians practicing in the U.S. are international medical graduates; of them, more than 7,000 U.S. doctors attended medical school in one of the six countries currently named in the ban. It’s therefore predictable that the ban will exacerbate current physician shortages, particularly in the Rust Belt, rural areas and in specialties like primary care. This will prevent high-quality care from being delivered to patients – whether native born or immigrant. And if that weren’t serious enough, hate mongering in healthcare institutions—like the “White Power” graffiti in the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital—causes concern among diverse patients, making them question whether it is safe to get the care they need and, if they do, whether they will respected by their providers.
It is sobering to contemplate the large scale, destructive human toll of the Muslim ban. It prevents refugees from finding safety. It targets people from one of the world’s largest religious groups because of their faith. It curtails freedom. It falsely leads people to believe their unfounded fears are legitimate. And it affects the daily work of organizations like Tanenbaum, seeking to create a world where differences are respected—for all of us. Because respect isn’t just a nicety. It’s a matter of life and death (just ask Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers and the medical practitioners we work with).
America doesn’t need a Muslim ban. It needs a fire extinguisher.
The current news cycle is reporting that President Trump will soon issue an executive order temporarily banning all travel to the U.S. by men, women and children from seven predominantly Muslim countries and precluding most refugees from entering our country. While it appears that these bans will be time-limited for most, they may be indefinite when it comes to Syrian refugees.
In the name of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and basic human decency, Tanenbaum calls on President Trump to refuse to issue an executive order that would bar a single religious group from entering the United States.
This potential policy bears the harrowing hallmark of U.S. treatment toward refugees during the Holocaust. Then and now, such policies—even if short-lived—can amount to a death sentence. During World War II, the U.S. turned away thousands of Jewish men, women and children fleeing imminent extinction in Europe, fearing they might be “Nazi spies.” Upon return home, actual Nazis sent these innocent individuals to Auschwitz to die. Their only crime: being Jewish.
Today, the refugees are people fleeing terror, whether from terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Shabaab, or from governments that slaughter their citizens as collateral damage. Even if there is an executive order that makes an exception for persecuted religious minorities, such as the many Christians suffering in the Middle East, every indication is that this would not include the Muslims who are also living in imminent danger—in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa. Their only crime: being Muslim.
Terror does not discriminate, but a ban like this would make the U.S. a nation that does.
Equally alarming, a ban on Muslims with visas or those seeking them would have consequences that most Americans would not support. Students currently in the U.S. would not be able to visit their families abroad, because they might not be allowed to return. Muslim U.S. citizens awaiting the arrival of a spouse or other loved one might not be able to reunite. Fears of deportation and internment would heighten for Muslims living in the U.S. And all Americans, not just those from the Muslim community, would be further disconnected, as unfounded stereotypes about our Muslim neighbors become the law of our land.
And the refugees. While strong safeguards must be in place to identify those that are a threat, we must remember that, whether Jews from Europe during the 1940s or Muslims from the Middle East and Africa today, we are talking about innocent men and women just like us, who seek only to save their lives, and the lives of their children, by finding a safe-haven in a nation founded in the name of religious freedom.
Our government’s decision to deny refuge for Jews, who left their homes out of desperation, will forever remain a stain on America’s claim to being a moral compass. Let us not make the same mistake again.
With commitment to our nation’s values,
Joyce S. Dubensky