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Religious leaders react to Trump’s orders on visitors and refugees

World Relief Seattle receives refugees. Photo courtesy of World Relief/Amanda Wingers

(RNS) Religious groups and leaders, many invoking the biblical command to welcome the stranger, lambasted President Trump’s orders indefinitely banning Syrian refugees from the U.S. and temporarily halting the entry of refugees from other countries and visa holders from seven Muslim-majority nations.

Federal judges have partially blocked the orders, which Trump issued late Friday (Jan. 27).

Several of the statements below are edited for length.

Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

Friday’s action was “a back-door bar on Muslim refugees, telling an entire faith group that they are not welcome on our shores. Any attempt to ban Muslim refugees based on their religion betrays our values and sends the un-American message that there are second-class faiths. Our country, founded by immigrants who established religious freedom as a bedrock principle, is better than this. A threat to anyone’s religious liberty is a threat to everyone’s religious liberty, and we as Baptists stand with those facing religious persecution around the world, regardless of their faith.”

World Relief President Scott Arbeiter

“The lengthy delay imposed in this ban further traumatizes refugees, most of whom are women and children, keeps families separated and punishes people who are themselves fleeing the terror we as a nation are rightly fighting to end.”

United Church of Christ General Minister and President John C. Dorhauer

“I’ve spoken with church leaders who are housing and providing sanctuary to immigrant families. I’ve stood with refugee families taking shelter in a makeshift tent village in Jordan less than a kilometer from the Syrian border. I’ve given aid to a Syrian father living just a block from my home who had been tortured and forced to flee with his family and afraid for his life. In each circumstance, I was proud as an American to know that we were seen by all of them as a place of refuge and hope. I was proud of a faith that inspires me and others to be kind to the stranger.”

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago

“This weekend proved to be a dark moment in U.S. history. The executive order to turn away refugees and to close our nation to those, particularly Muslims, fleeing violence, oppression and persecution is contrary to both Catholic and American values. Have we not repeated the disastrous decisions of those in the past who turned away other people fleeing violence, leaving certain ethnicities and religions marginalized and excluded? We Catholics know that history well, for, like others, we have been on the other side of such decisions.”

Faith Voices for Immigration

“As Christian leaders, we remain focused on serving God and loving our neighbors (Matt 22:36-40). Rather than build a wall, the U.S. should address the extreme poverty and violence that are too often at the root of migration. We must ensure that immigrants are treated fairly in the workplace and have safe and decent places to live. Our immigration policy should make sure that families are not separated by deportations and when cities and localities offer them refuge, their citizens should not be penalized. Moreover, immigrant children must be cared for and get a good education.”

Reform Jewish leaders

“The Reform Movement denounces in the strongest terms the horrifying executive order on immigration and refugees issued late Friday evening by President Trump. The order . . . is even worse than feared, barring entry of all Syrian refugees, imposing in essence a religious test for entry to the U.S., and refusing entry to any individual coming from a list of majority-Muslim nations – betraying even those individuals who have supported our nation’s military efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Families are now being held apart and countless individuals who have served our nation in the most difficult circumstances are in jeopardy.”

Khizr Khan, Gold Star father and People For the American Way Foundation board member

“Donald Trump’s race to violate constitutional principles and fundamental American values by targeting Muslims and immigrants is of tremendous concern. His expected executive orders on refugees and visas are a disturbing first step toward banning Muslims from entering our country. Trump didn’t just threaten a Muslim ban, he promised this on the campaign trail, and it is incumbent on every single American to speak out against Trump’s actions today and every further step he and his administration may take to discriminate against Muslims.”

Muslim Advocates Executive Director Farhana Khera

“Today, President Trump took a wrecking ball to the Statue of Liberty. All Americans can agree that our government should take steps to ensure that those who seek to do us harm are not allowed into the country, but the executive order issued today goes much further and relies on bigoted stereotypes of Muslims. It is the ‘Muslim ban’ the President promoted during the campaign.”

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration

“We strongly disagree with the Executive Order’s halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope. We will continue to engage the new administration, as we have all administrations for the duration of the current refugee program, now almost forty years. We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans, and to ensure that families may be reunified with their loved ones.”

University of Notre Dame President John I. Jenkins

“The sweeping, indiscriminate and abrupt character of President Trump’s recent Executive Order halts the work of valued students and colleagues who have already passed a rigorous, post-9/11 review process, are vouched for by the university and have contributed so much to our campuses. If it stands, it will over time diminish the scope and strength of the educational and research efforts of American universities, which have been the source not only of intellectual discovery but of economic innovation for the United States and international understanding for our world; and, above all, it will demean our nation, whose true greatness has been its guiding ideals of fairness, welcome to immigrants, compassion for refugees, respect for religious faith and the courageous refusal to compromise its principles in the face of threats.”

Conservative/Masorti Jewish leaders

“Our religious tradition repeatedly forbids us from oppressing the stranger. For instance, Leviticus 19:34 commands us, ‘The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens; you shall love each one as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ And Exodus 22:21, ‘And you shall not wrong a stranger, neither shall you oppress them; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ It is a betrayal to Jewish history and our own Jewish values to stand quiet as victims of war and terror are left helpless — especially on the basis of religion.”

His Grace Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom

“While it is important to safeguard individuals, communities and entire nations, it is undeniable that there has been widespread instability and conflict that has also led to the inhumane treatment and vast displacement of millions of vulnerable people across the Middle East and elsewhere. In seeking to protect individuals or a particular sector of a community, it is imperative that we do not alienate others, especially when it means denying the basic human rights and freedoms of those most vulnerable. We are already witnessing the generic application of law and policy running the risk of violating the same rights they seek to protect, potentially doubly discriminating against vulnerable families and individuals fleeing war and conflict by denying them the opportunity to seek refuge and safe haven.”

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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