By Cherilyn Crowe

The Baptist Joint Committee decried an order from the White House that preferences refugees based on their religion.

On January 27, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order that affects immigration and refugee programs. It temporarily halts immigrant and non-immigrant entry into the United States for individuals from seven countries: Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It also implements a 120-day suspension of the entire U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees.

At press time, the order had been halted nationwide by one federal judge, and it is facing ongoing court challenges.

In the Executive Order, the resumption of the refugee program includes a directive that the government should prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious persecution, “provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.”

The clause and its implications drew a direct response from BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler, who said it is “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,” Tyler continued. “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.”

In light of the order, the BJC also joined with fellow members of the Know Your Neighbor coalition — a group of organizations committed to increasing understanding across religious lines — to suggest ways to respond, such as reaffirming basic American values.

The coalition of faith-based and humanist organizations called for an increase in interfaith engagement, education about Muslims and Islam, and a commitment to and training in being “upstanders” who respond supportively to victims of incidents of hate and bigotry.

The coalition also urged everyone to maintain an attitude of charity and openness to all, including those with whom we most profoundly disagree.

“In our statements, we will condemn actions but not persons. We will speak firmly but respectfully of and with those whose words and actions we oppose,” the statement said.

From the January/February 2017 edition of Report from the Capital. You can also read the digital version of the magazine or view it as a PDF.