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NCC's Kinnamon joins with interfaith summit
to address fear and intolerance toward Muslims

See a stream of the September 7 press conference on C-Span at

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Washington, September 7, 2010 -- A high ranking group of U.S. interfaith leaders, including the general secretary of the National Council of Churches, assembled here today to condemn plans in Florida to burn the Holy Qu'ran on Saturday, and to decry incidents of violence committed against innocent Muslims.

The leaders noted the "anti-Muslim frenzy" that has existed in the U.S. since plans were announced to build an Islamic Community Center at the Park 51 site in Manhattan two blocks from the site of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

But the uproar over the Park 51 community center is only one aspect of the overall problem of anti-Islamic attitudes and actions across the country, the leaders said.

In a press conference at the National Press Club, Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of America (ISNA), said Muslims in America report the highest degree of anxiety they have felt since September 11, 2001.

"For nine years, we have been trying to get the message out that we reject the extremist views" of a few Muslims, "their justification for violence, their justification for militancy. It has been difficult to get this message out because then actions of the extremists are more dramatic."

"The majority of Muslims we know as law-abiding, ethical, good people," Mattson said.

Rabbi David Saperstein, executive director of the Union for Reform Judaism, said religious leaders had no choice but to gather together in response to anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Jews, Saperstein said, "have been the quintessential victims of religious persecution and discrimination throughout history. We know what it was like when people have attacked us verbally and attacked us physically and others have remained silent. It cannot happen in America in 2010 without a response from the religious community."

The Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, bluntly told Christians who were expressing anti-Muslim views or threatening to burn the Qu'ran, "you bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ."

The Rev. A. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, said, "Some of the most offensive statements about Islam, unfortunately, have been from the Baptist community."

Yet Baptists "were born of persecution, in England, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," and Roger Williams founded Rhode Island as the first geo-political entity based on religious freedom, Medley said. "That is why religious liberty is very dear to us."

The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, said, "we denounce anti-Muslim bigotry. We identify ourselves with religious tolerance."

"We are made richer and deeper in our Christian community by our relationship with Muslim and Jewish colleagues," Kinnamon said.

The participants in today's summit talked about next steps, Kinnamon said, including "calling on our networks, our constituencies, to replicate this kind of meeting in local communities. At the National Council of Churches we have spoken out as strongly as we can. We've also called upon state councils to say no to this kind of bigotry. It is important for us as a Christian community to say an unequivocal no."

Kinnamon also said there are minority Christian communities around the world who live in Muslim countries who feel threatened because extremists use what is happening in this country (anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions) as a pretext to violence."

A statement released by the leaders said they are "profoundly distressed and deeply saddened by the incidents of violence committed against innocent Muslims in our community, and by the desecration of Islamic houses of worship. We stand by the principle that to attack any religion in the United States is to do violence to the religious freedom of all Americans.

"The threatened burning of copies of the Holy Qu’ran this Saturday ... is a particularly egregious offense that demands the strongest possible condemnation by all who value civility in public life and seek to honor the sacred memory of those who lost their lives on September 11. As religious leaders, we are appalled by such disrespect for a sacred text that for centuries has shaped many of the great cultures of our world, and that continues to give spiritual comfort to more than a billion Muslims today."

The meeting, organized by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), was called to raise a shared religious voice that has been largely missing in the debate until now. The joint declaration of participants underscored the moral responsibility of clergy to communicate the need for solidarity and compassion and to lay out a plan of action for interfaith collaboration going forward. 

The full text of the interfaith leaders' statement is here.

Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's member faith groups -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell),