A band of Democratic congressmen on Wednesday fired back at anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States by announcing new legislation to protect Muslim immigrants.
The Freedom of Religion Act would ban religious litmus tests that could prevent immigrants and refugees from entering the U.S.
Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.), Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), André
Carson (D-Ind.) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced the legislation on Wednesday, with a powerful cosponsor – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland. The four primary sponsors last banded together in December on legislation condemning anti-Muslim bigotry.
“For over 400 years, people have flocked to our shores in search of religious freedom,” Beyer said. “America has always been a country that welcomes people from all faiths."
Carson said the idea of a religious litmus test would “betray our nation's core values.”
“Blocking immigrants because of their religion would send a demoralizing and dangerous message to the world that the United States is no longer a beacon of freedom,” he said. “This critical legislation signals that the United States has always been, and will continue to be, a country that welcomes people of all races, ethnicities, and religions.”
Wednesday’s announcement was a not-so-thinly-veiled reaction to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who sparked a firestorm in December by suggesting banning Muslims from entering the United States. Trump made the remark after terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, that were either inspired or carried out by Islamic State militants.
“Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” Trump said in a statement at the time.
Far from apologizing or dialing down his rhetoric, Trump has doubled down in recent speeches and interviews. He has renewed his call for the Muslim ban, and only stepped back slightly this week by suggesting that he may appoint former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to head a commission to study the idea.
At almost the same time as Wednesday’s press conference, Trump got some high-profile help from billionaire energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens at the SkyBridge Alternatives global-investment conference in Las Vegas.
Pickens said he not only supported Trump for president, but his call for a Muslim immigrant ban as well. “I like his immigration policy. I didn’t say it’s permanent. But I’d cut off the Muslims coming into the United States until we can vet these people … We’ve got to know.”
About 30 organizations have announced support for the bill announced Wednesday, including a number of Jewish organizations as well as the Anti-Defamation League. But opposition is likely from conservative groups allied with Trump. Indeed, an audience at a South Carolina rally loudly cheered the idea when Trump appeared a day after proposing his Muslim ban; a Christian Broadcasting Network correspondent lauded him for “bravery.”
Beyer is leading the charge for the measure. In a “Dear Colleague” letter to House members on Tuesday, he referred to “the current political discourse surrounding the issue of religious-based acceptance into the U.S.,” and noted that the idea behind the bill is enshrined in Article 6, Clause 3 of the Constitution.
“(The Constitution) bans religious litmus tests for Americans who seek or hold higher office, and the opening phrase of the Bill of Rights bans both the establishment of a national religion and limitations on the free exercise of religion,” Beyer wrote. “The Founding Fathers could hardly have been more clear in expressing their desire to make America a tolerant nation, and yet we are faced with a political atmosphere in which political candidates, pandering to fear and prejudice, have proposed introducing religious litmus tests to our immigration system.”
Beyer also observed that Trump’s proposal could even potentially ban world leaders from entering the U.S., as well as scientific or business leaders who may be visiting U.S. shores for business or political purposes.
Muslims make up almost a quarter of the world’s population, and is considered the world’s fastest-growing branch of faith. The percentage is expected to reach 30 percent by 2050, putting Muslims on an even level with Christians, according to a Pew Research Center report in April. A 2011 Pew report said up to 90,000 Muslims enter the United States each year.