Question to my readers
It may seem directed at my Christian readers but it is a general question to all readers. When Jesus said “Love your neighbor”, did he put an asterisk on the ‘neighbor’? In other words did he say “Love your neighbor except if they are blacks, whites, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, gays, immigrants, Latinos…”?
The independence of our nation on this July 4th is a stark reminder of the foundations our nation was built upon. What is the responsibility of the faith workers to ensure we maintain our values at a time they seem to be so vulnerable?
America is at a crossroad as our nation celebrates Independence Day in a couple of days. Sure, I would like to enjoy the fireworks like the guy next door. But Independence Day is much more than having barbeque parties and fireworks. On one hand we have the pledge of Allegiance to our flag, cherishing freedom and liberty for all. On the other hand, the very principles that form the foundations of our country are being tested and challenged time and time again.
Pledge of Allegiance
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The pledge of allegiance is originally attributed to Rear Admiral George Balch in 1887 and Francis Ballamy, a Baptist minister, proposed its current language five years later. U.S. Congress adopted the pledge in 1942. However “under God” was not part of the pledge until 1954.
Let me review the various components of pledge under the current environment.
One Nation and Indivisible?
Unfortunately America is as polarized today as ever. As reported by Mother Jones, referencing studies by Pew Research Center, Republicans hate Democrats and Democrats cannot stand the Republicans. Pro-choice groups have constant run-ins with pro-life supporters. The “99%” feel the country is hijacked by the “one percent”. Pro-immigration groups snipe at the anti-immigrant supporters constantly.
And yes, I am leaving the two of the most controversial issues to the end of this list- the racial rift between blacks (and other minorities) and whites, and the division based on religion. ‘Black Lives Matter’ has taken a life of its own. Islamophobia is at its peak, and anti-Semitism is on the rise. Despite many laws discrimination against LGBT communities, gay hate crimes are not unusual. The hate crimes against Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and places of worship, including temples, synagogues, mosques, and yes, even churches is on the rise.
We are far from being one nation. The same issues are viewed very differently in the “red states” and “blue states”. Recent presidential election added fuel to the fire and most people would agree that our country is more divided than ever, regardless of which side you favored during the election (or afterwards).
This has been a thorny issue almost from the very beginning of the addition of this phrase to the pledge that has resulted in many legal challenges. Additionally, there are numerous instances when the parents wanted their children to be not part of the pledge during school.
Religion in general, has come under attack. Religion has been blamed for dividing people and inciting violence. As much as the people of faith despise the notion, the fact is that religion has been used to divide people-for political and other selfish gains as the fear-mongers fully realize that creating fears and hate based on religion actually works.
Even though Islam has been under the limelight, and Muslims and terrorism have been seemingly made interchangeable, the fact is that even within the United States, the law enforcement feel the right wing extremist groups pose the biggest threat, as reported by Charles Kunzman and David Schanzer after conducting a survey of 382 law enforcement agencies.
“The main terrorist threat in the United States is not from violent Muslim extremists, but from right-wing extremists. Just ask the police.”
Liberty and Justice for all?
There are widespread reports that the minorities-blacks, Hispanics and others are treated differently by the justice system. The Muslim travel ban has faced legal challenges from the word go but portions were recently upheld by the Supreme Court. Here are some examples where the “justice for all” seems to be failing.
“People of color are significantly overrepresented in the U.S. prison population, making up more than 60 percent of the people behind bars. Despite being only 13 percent of the overall U.S. population, 40 percent of those who are incarcerated are black.. People of color, particularly black males, face longer sentence than their white non-Hispanic counterparts for similar crimes. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, between 2007 and 2011, sentences for black males were 19.5 percent longer than those for whites.”
Similar discrepancies were reported by Huffington Post and Washington Post among several respected outlets, and Pew Research center has reported how blacks view the justice system as unfair, along with American Bar Association in a piece reported by The Guardian.
I did not mean to overwhelm you with references here, nor do I believe we live in an “unjust” country. In fact I believe strongly that despite all of these challenges, the United States remain the most open, the most welcoming and the most preferred place to live.
As a person of faith, I also believe strongly, like my colleagues in my interfaith council as well as other interfaith workers around the country, that the core values of our faith traditions are in line with the values of the United States. The following is a small sample of the teachings as they relate to some of these core values we cherish as proud Americans. I have quoted the teachings without much, if any, commentary.
I have a Dream verse in the Qur’an
I don’t know if Dr. Martin Luther King read the Qur’an but his famous speech envisioning a nation where his ‘four children will live in a nation where they will be judged, not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character’ was commanded fourteen hundred years ago by the Qur’an.
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you(best in conduct)…” 49:13
Diversity in the Qur’an
The color of our skins and different languages we speak should not be the excuse to discriminate but rather respected and cherished as a sign of God.
“And among His [God’s] signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.” 30:22
Prophet Muhammad’s last sermon emphasizing equality
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white – except by piety and good action.”
Justice for all in the Qur’an
“O you who believe! stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, though it may be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin (relatives), and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both…” 4:135
Torah’s view on immigrants
“Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”Leviticus 19:33-34
Not judging others in the Gospels
Don’t judge others, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn others, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37).
The Golden Rule- Christian
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”Matthew 7:12
“The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31
The Golden Rule- Jewish(according to Hillel)
“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”
The Golden Rule-Islamic
“As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don’t do to them.” Kitab al-Kafi vol. 2, p. 146
The Golden Rule- Hinduism
“One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self.”
I have simply quoted some passages from the teachings of the various faith traditions. Lets us pledge that on this Independence Day that we will:
- Be independent from hate and fear of others who are not like us.
- Be Independent from forces that divide Americans based on religion, race, color, social status, ethnicities, gender, gender identity etc.
- Fight to protect our civil liberties and freedom.
- Treat others like we would like to be treated.
- Pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” And mean it.
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 Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer, “The Growing Right Wing Terror Threat” New York Times , June 16, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/16/ opinion/the-other-terror-threat.html?_r=2 (accessed July 02, 2017).
 Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2015/05/28/113436/8-facts-you-should-know-about-the-criminal-justice-system-and-people-of-color/ accessed July 02, 2017.