The Senate Must Stand Up for American Ideals and Against a Religious Ban

The recent calls to shut our borders to people based on their religion are beneath us as a country. Leaders should appeal to the best in us, and such stunningly divisive rhetoric, fomenting fear and intolerance, is not the signature of American leadership.

For more than 235 years, the United States has upheld freedom of religion as one of our founding principles. We are a confident nation unafraid to welcome newcomers. In fact our willingness to take in the outsider who yearns for freedom and opportunity is a source of tremendous strength. We have welcomed Catholics like my ancestors who came here to seek a new life. Jews who were fleeing persecution. And today, yes, refugees from Syria who have fled unimaginable horrors at the hands of the ISIS terrorists we are trying to defeat. In Vermont, refugees of diverse faiths have enriched our communities. They are our neighbors and our friends, and they contribute immensely to Vermont's culture and economy.

Among those who founded our nation were those fleeing religious persecution. It goes against those basic American ideals to close our doors to visitors and immigrants based on their religion. It is deeply regrettable that this even needs to be said.

Great leaders appeal to the best in us by embracing the shared ideals of tolerance and diversity. Earlier this week I joined faith leaders who stood in unity with vulnerable refugees fleeing violence. The very next day another leader, FBI Director Comey, confirmed that rhetoric that suggests that the United States is anti-Muslim is part of the terrorists' narrative. A Pentagon spokesperson similarly reminded us that "anything that tries to bolster the ISIL narrative that the United States is somehow at war with Islam is contrary to our values and contrary to our national security." For our humanity and for our national security, we must soundly reject this rhetoric.

That is what the Senate Judiciary Committee did this week. Members of the committee overwhelmingly rejected the notion that America should impose a ban on admitting people to our country based on their religion. It was disappointing that not every committee member supported this straightforward declaration that is fundamental to who we are as a nation, but it was an important moment for members to be on record to show where they stand on the issue of religious freedom. I hope that all senators soon have a chance to send the same strong message.

A country as great as ours should not have a religious litmus test; we must loudly and soundly reject those who propose it.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee.