WASHINGTON (ABP) – Organizations including the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty urged a Senate panel probing racial profiling in America to include profiling of religious minorities in their study.
Thirty-five groups wrote leaders of a Senate Committee on the Judiciary subcommittee April 17 advising that religious profiling can be “used as a proxy for race, ethnicity or national origin.”
“We appreciate that most law enforcement officials discharge their duties honorably,” the groups said. “Yet, when law enforcement profiles individuals and communities based solely on their real or perceived religion, religious appearance, religious observance or religious practices, it undermines Americans’ trust in those sworn to protect them and our nation’s commitment to religious liberty and equal protection of the law. Furthermore, such actions not only have the effect of discriminating against religion generally and religious minorities in particular, but also fuel divisiveness by casting suspicion over an entire religious community.”
Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance, one of the groups endorsing the letter, said in written testimony to the panel that since 9/11 there has been a “dramatic rise in the inappropriate profiling of Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs and South Asians” in the United States.
“Religious profiling is not only a betrayal of the trust that American Muslims put in their government, but in the trust that all Americans put in their government,” said Gaddy, a Baptist minister. “To profile individuals simply because they belong, or appear to belong, to a particular religious community turns First Amendment-protected beliefs and activities into cause for suspicion and is an affront to the freedom of religion, paramount in our nation.”
Gaddy, pastor for preaching and worship at Northminster Church in Monroe, La., said “targeting specific individuals because of their religion – or perceived religion – is unacceptable” in a nation that values freedom of religion. “All Americans should be able to live free from the fear of being unduly singled out by law enforcement simply because of their religious, racial or ethnic appearance,” he said.
In their letter, the organizations described religious freedom as “one of our most treasured liberties, a fundamental and defining feature of our national character.”
“Our Constitution guarantees that we are free to hold any religious belief, or none at all, and we are free to join together in communities to exercise those beliefs if we so choose,” the letter said. “As a result, the United States is among the most religious, and religiously diverse, nations in the world. Our diversity of faiths and beliefs is a great strength.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.