Taking a Stand for Religious Freedom and Against Intolerance

Religious Freedom"All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good men [and women] to do nothing," wrote Sergei Bondarchuk. In order to stand up to the escalating animosity directed against Muslim Americans, and in light of the upcoming anniversary of 9/11, I helped create this pledge to support religious freedom and stand in solidarity against bigotry and intolerance. I hope people of all faiths, and people of conscience who do not practice a religion, will speak out against the planned burning of the Koran this Saturday, as with the burning of any sacred books or other books. Surely, good men and women in this country vastly outnumber hate mongerer Terry Jones and his little band of religious bigots in Gainesville and elsewhere.

Any ancient text -- including the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Koran, the Upanishads, The Republic, City of God, to name just a few -- has sentences that can be taken out of context by extremists in attempts to rationalize behavior that most modern followers or readers would reject as inconsistent and unacceptable in this day and age. In the days after September 11, 2001, people of all faiths -- Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and others, along with agnostics and atheists -- condemned those who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as murderers whose acts were not acceptable to any moral person. But the recent wave of intolerance and hatred across the country, symbolized by the burning of books, has unfairly maligned innocent practitioners of Islam. I believe we must stand against such acts, and the spin and propaganda they represent, before they take root. So three of us, who have long worked to strengthen national security and protect civil liberties, sat down and drafted it -- civil liberties lawyer Kate Martin, former national security official Suzanne Spaulding, and me. We wrote it because we do not believe that the voices of intolerance are an accurate reflection of America, and we worry that such intolerance puts wind in the sails of terrorists' propaganda. We hope Americans will respond to this call to stand up for religious freedom and against intolerance, and demonstrate that this nation remains committed to these fundamental founding values.

The pledge, pasted in its entirety below, simply asks people of good will to add their voices.

We are proud to live in the United States , a country founded on constitutional principles of tolerance and religious freedom.
We affirm America 's commitment to these principles.
We condemn bigotry and intolerance by any and all, especially those who murder others in the false name of their religion.
We condemn the act of burning the Koran, a sacred text for millions of Americans and others around the world, as we would condemn the burning of all sacred texts.
We pledge to remember Americans and others from around the world, including Muslims, Christians, Jews, and people of other faiths, who were murdered on September 11, 2001, American service men and women of all faiths who have lost their lives in the wars since then, and innocent civilians, of all faiths, who have died in those wars, and to honor their sacrifice by reaffirming our commitment to the principles of tolerance and religious freedom.

Please join us in lighting a candle in solidarity on the eve of September 11th and that night. Share the link to our petition on your website, Facebook page, or Twitter, and forward it to appropriate lists of potential signers: http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/632/action/Tolerance
Lisa Graves

Lisa Graves is President of the Board of the Center for Media and Democracy and President of True North Research. She is a well-known researcher, writer, and public speaker. Her research and analysis have been cited by every major paper in the country and featured in critically acclaimed books and documentaries, including Ava Du Vernay’s award-winning film, “The 13th,” Bill Moyers’s “United States of ALEC,” and Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously.”



Bravo for your post. There is so much hate in this world and such acts of burning religious books just adds to that hate.

Burning books no matter how "sacred" is in no way comparable to killing people or committing terrorism. Terry Jones is a bigot and an idiot but I wholeheartedly support him ripping, burning, folding or even reading whatever books he legally purchased. It's no more our business what he does with his property than it's our business what two gay men do in the privacy of their homes. It's just a book and it's hardly unique. It will offend people but so what, one of the great parts of free speech and freedom of religion is that people (especially religious people) get offended. Best response: stop treating this like it's equivalent to burning people and stop giving in to the Muslim's threats of violence - it's political blackmail and we're better than that.

Thank you for writing in. I am not suggesting that Jones be charged with any crime for book-burning; I agree that people can lawfully burn books they own. But, I disagree that the antidote to such small-minded bigotry is just silence. I think that it's appropriate to exercise free speech rights to condemn such bigotry. And, I never said burning a book is the same as killing a person; they are plainly different acts, morally and legally. I also disagree with the assertion that this is about giving into threatened violence or blackmail. If other small-minded jerks decided to burn Bibles or other holy books, I'm sure there would be violent reactions in some quarters of those faiths because to people of faith their books are thought to be the word of God and sacred. I think that it is not just right but essential for people of conscience to speak out against such intolerance and bigotry, even when the proponent attempts to wrap his warped mind and actions in the Bible or other religious claims. Lisa

<i>And, I never said burning a book is the same as killing a person; they are plainly different acts, morally and legally</i> That's the clear impression you leave by saying that you condemn burning the Quaran and then immediately talking about 9/11 and the sacrifices of soldiers. <i>I think that it is not just right but essential for people of conscience to speak out against such intolerance and bigotry, even when the proponent attempts to wrap his warped mind and actions in the Bible or other religious claims.</i> Let's be clear. Which is the problem here: the burning of a book or the violent retribution some fanatics use to silence critics? I think the answer is obvious, the violence is the problem. When I read pieces like yours (and this is very common) I'd never imagine that a violent riot or assassinations would be anything other than a reasonable response. You're giving the classic "she wore a short skirt" rape defence.

Seriously, Tyro, the rape "defence"? Absurd and actually offensive to me. We mention 9/11 because the event was scheduled to take place that day and because the day should be a day of remembrance of those who lost their lives that day and since then. After the attacks people from all faiths and no faiths came together to condemn those murderous attacks. That unity was splintered in part by right-wing efforts to portray the fight not as one against al Qaeda but against Islam, efforts that were ultimately disavowed by the Pentagon and numerous national security and civil liberties advocates. This is not about "silencing critics"; it's about speaking out against religious hatred and intolerance, using speech to challenge speech in the marketplace of ideas, which is certainly part of our American tradition. I'm sorry you want to spend so much time quibbling, and I'm sorry Mr. Jones' stunt has consumed so much attention when there are so many important challenges we face domestically and abroad. But, I stand by my call to speak out against bigotry and for religious tolerance for all faiths, not just Mr. Jones' version of the truth. Lisa

<i>Seriously, Tyro, the rape "defence"? Absurd and actually offensive to me.</i> Oh really? In both cases you have an innocent person exercising their rights and in response they're threatened with violence with the claim that the men/zealots can't control themselves in the face of such provocation. In both cases, people leap out to say "she should have known better" or "he was egging them on". In both cases the response should be to condemn the violence, yet instead you ignore the threats and the real violence and instead condemn the innocent victim. <i>it's about speaking out against religious hatred and intolerance</i> And what displays less tolerance: killing infidels, killing those who offend your religious beliefs (like Theo VanGogh), or a symbolic book burning? Nice to see where your priorities lie. Time that you stood up for genuine liberties against those who would take it through actual violence. (And no, I don't think burning books will accomplish anything but stabbing a few cartoonists and movie makers has sure worked wonders - it's got you firmly on their side!)

Is anyone else bothered by the unaware irony of claiming to defend religious freedoms by condemning someone who is exercising them?

Dear Tyro: With all due respect, I don't find it ironic at all to urge people to stand up for religious freedom while condemning religious bigotry. The claim that Jones is exercising his freedom to practice his faith by burning the Koran seems far-fetched and just a rationale. Such a claim would allow almost any act of bigotry to be rationalized and excused. I don't buy it. I was raised Christian and I know it's not a tenet of faith that the books of other faiths be destroyed by fire. And, if Mr. Jones had bothered to read the Koran he would see many of the stories written in the Old Testament, but he's an opportunist who has decided to make money attacking the faith of millions of fellow Americans, https://www.prwatch.org/node/9421. What I do find ironic is a person claiming he is exercising his religious freedom by trying to prevent other people from exercising their religious freedom. Lisa

<i>What I do find ironic is a person claiming he is exercising his religious freedom by trying to prevent other people from exercising their religious freedom.</i> Burning a book he bought legally isn't preventing anyone from worshipping, that's ridiculous. It's when one religious group tries to force others to obey their religious beliefs that we hit problems. That can be when fundamentalist Christians try to force their views of relationships onto others by outlawing sodomy or interracial marriage or merely blocking gay marriage. It can be when Muslims demand that their hyperactive sensitivity to insults to their bible, prophet or faith must be followed by everyone. And here you are, saying that just because one group gets irrationally upset when someone disagrees with them, that we should try to assuage their hurt feelings. I think that's blackmail and I'm not buying it. We've learned that the right reaction to burning Harry Potter books or publishing caricatures of the Pope is to call them bigots and idiots, not to try to prevent other "insults". Muslims already have plenty of countries which prohibit religious insults and it doesn't take a political genius to see that they aren't bastions of these liberties you claim to support. You value freedom of speech & freedom of religion? Then the price is living in a society where everyone can be insulted and have their sacred books disrespected and I think an educated person like you should know that.