Protestors gather against Donald Trump’s Muslim ban at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport on January 29, 2017. (Photo credit: Gregory Varnum)

4,000 faith leaders oppose new refugee ban

By Bob Allen

Sixty Baptists are among 4,000 signers of an open letter opposing President Trump’s expected executive action barring travelers from the seven Muslim majority countries that were named in an earlier travel ban but declared unconstitutional by federal courts.

A petition released Feb. 22 by Church World Service and Faith in Public Life opposes “any policy change that would prevent refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, or individuals who practice Islam and other faiths from accessing the U.S. refugee resettlement program.”

“Proposals that would have the U.S. State Department disqualify refugees from protection based on their nationality or religion fly in the face of the very principles this nation was built upon, contradict the legacy of leadership our country has historically demonstrated, and dishonor our shared humanity,” the religious leaders said.

Prominent signers include Moral Mondays organizer William Barber, Faith in Public Life CEO Jennifer Butler and Sojourners founder and president Jim Wallis.

“We cannot remain silent as this administration sows seeds of division and bigotry,” said Butler, an ordained minister and former staff representative at the United Nations for the Presbyterian Church (USA). “Faith leaders must stand on the front line for justice.”

Baptists signing the letter include current and past leaders in the Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Churches USA and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

“As religious leaders from a variety of backgrounds, we are called by our sacred texts and faith traditions to love our neighbor, accompany the vulnerable and welcome the sojourner,” the letter begins. “War, conflict and persecution have forced people to leave their homes, creating more refgees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people than at any other time in history. More than 65 million people are currently displaced — the largest number in recorded history.”

The faith leaders said the United States has “an urgent moral responsibility” to receive refugees and asylum seekers and “an ethical obligation as world leaders” to welcome refugees from war-torn Syria.

The original order barred citizens of seven particular countries from entering the United States for 90 days, all refugees for 120 days and refugees from Syria indefinitely.

Thousands of visas were canceled. Hundreds of travelers were prevented from boarding airplanes bound for the United States or denied entry on arrival. Some travelers were detained, sparking protests at airports across the country criticizing the policy as a “Muslim ban.”

Critics fear the bans will effectively turn permanent if refugees are unable to meet vetting standards that Trump will set to lift the temporary bans.

In addition to calling on the government to provide refuge for vulnerable, the faith leaders decried “derogatory language that has been used about Middle Eastern refugees and our Muslim friends and neighbors.”

“Inflammatory rhetoric has no place in our response to this humanitarian crisis,” the petition says. “We ask our elected officials and candidates for office to recognize that new Americans of all faiths and backgrounds contribute to our economy, our community and our congregations.”

“Refugees are an asset to this country,” the faith leaders said. “They are powerful ambassadors of the American Dream and our nation’s founding principles of equal opportunity, religious freedom and liberty and justice for all.”