(RNS) Without mentioning Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump by name, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron has blasted proposals like Trump’s that would specifically bar Muslims from the U.S., saying the idea “fractures the very foundation of morality on which we stand.”
Vigneron’s denunciation, in a letter he sent on Thursday (Dec. 10) to his priests, is significant because Catholic leaders have been strong defenders of religious freedom in recent years but have been largely quiet in the wake of Trump’s controversial pitch earlier this week to bar all Muslims from the U.S.
“While the Catholic Church refrains from weighing in for or against individual candidates for a particular political office, the Church does and should speak to the morality of this important and far-reaching issue of religious liberty,” Vigneron wrote in the letter, which he also sent to imams in his state.
“Especially as our political discourse addresses the very real concerns about the security of our country, our families, and our values, we need to remember that religious rights are a cornerstone of these values,” he wrote.
“Restricting or sacrificing these religious rights and liberties out of fear — instead of defending them and protecting them in the name of mutual respect and justice — is a rationalization which fractures the very foundation of morality on which we stand.”
In the wake of recent attacks by Islamic extremists some political leaders, principally Republicans, have floated a number of proposals that would seek to limit the entry of refugees from Syria or provide an explicit religious test to refugees in an effort to reduce the chance that Muslims would enter the country and to favor Christian refugees.
Catholic organizations have been among the faith groups that have defied the orders of governors in some 30 states — including Michigan — against resettling Syrian refugees.
On Monday, Trump took the issue a giant step further by proposing a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the U.S. “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
That prompted strong condemnations from leaders of both parties.
Yet while many religious leaders also decried Trump’s plan, some, like Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, supported Trump. And religious leaders who have been especially outspoken on religious liberty have not been as vocal on this episode as they have on others.
Vigneron’s appeal was also notable because southern Michigan is home to a large Muslim population, and metropolitan Detroit has the fourth-largest population of Syrian refugees among US cities, with about 3,000.
The archbishop began his letter by noting the Catholic Church’s teaching on respecting Muslims and their beliefs, and by stressing the “warm relations marked by a spirit of mutual respect and esteem” between Catholics and Muslims in southeastern Michigan.
Vigneron concluded by saying that his views on religious freedom were “not only Catholic sentiments” but “are the sentiments of all Americans.”
A national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Friday showed that nearly six in 10 Americans oppose Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the U.S., but it also shows Republicans are evenly divided on the idea.
(David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS)