Video of these remarks can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/jewishaction.us/videos/705614492975135/
Video of all speeches can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/moveon/videos/10154390220140493/
In 1790, our first president, George Washington, sent a letter to the Jewish community in Newport, Rhode Island, pledging that “the government of the United States…gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
Washington’s sentiments echoed those of Thomas Jefferson, who, more than a decade before, right here in Richmond, declared that “our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions” and that “no man shall be compelled to…suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.”
This exceptional notion of religious liberty championed by Washington and Jefferson is a bedrock American principle. It’s what makes America America. It’s what makes America great. This core value, a value that brought many of our ancestors to this country’s shores and borders, has weathered economic depression, war, and terror. It has made us more diverse, prosperous, just, and free. If we truly want to make America great, then we must first and foremost reject bigotry and end persecution.
My name is Rabbi Michael Knopf. I lead a congregation called Temple Beth-El here in Richmond. We, along with Jewish communities across the country, are dedicated to ensuring our country remains a land that welcomes all who yearn to breathe free. And I stand with you today representing Bend the Arc Jewish Action, a national Jewish organization that is mobilizing Jews across the country in opposition to the Muslim Ban and other regressive policies like it. Bend the Arc isn’t just fighting this ban in the streets, we are honored to be fighting in the courts by joining friend-of-the-court briefs in opposition to this ban, including in the case being heard today.
I stand with you today to say as loudly and clearly as possible: this Executive Order, this Muslim Ban, is un-American. The first version of the Ban was un-American. The second version of this Ban is un-American. Any version of this Ban will be un-American! It is un-American to single out one group for discrimination based solely upon their religion. It is un-American to consider an entire religion guilty until proven innocent. It is un-American to dismantle core First Amendment protections in order to score cheap political points.
We are here today to send a message to the President, to his advisors, to his cabinet, and to all the politicians around the country who have cruelly, cowardly and cynically lined up behind these un-American actions: We oppose this ban!
We are here today to tell our nation’s judges, at every level: We oppose this ban!
We are here to assure our Muslim friends and neighbors, the men, women, and children, who have been made to live in fear: We oppose this ban!
We are here to affirm to freedom-loving peoples across the world: We oppose this ban!
And we are here to invite all Americans of conscience to join us in saying loudly and firmly: We opposed the first ban, we oppose this ban, and we will oppose any ban. NO BAN. EVER!
We oppose this ban because it is un-American.
We oppose this ban because it makes us less safe.
We oppose this ban because it hurts our country. Our diversity, and the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution designed to protect and cultivate it, is what makes America strong, prosperous, resilient, and admired around the world. We oppose this ban because it threatens our future and our children’s future.
We oppose this ban because it is immoral. Religious discrimination is immoral. Collective punishment is immoral. It is immoral for those who occupy the highest offices in our land to embolden racists, bigots and xenophobes through plainly discriminatory words and deeds, giving licence to acts of violence against innocent people and vulnerable communities. It is immoral to make war halfway across the world and then coldly shut our doors to the millions of refugees displaced by those wars. It is immoral to deny to others the same freedoms, the same opportunities, the same fundamental dignity, we would want for ourselves.
Just over 70 years ago, the Jewish people were the victims of the largest genocide in human history. We know the dangers of bigotry and prejudice. We know where the road of religious discrimination can lead. And we know therefore how precious are the freedoms that have long been the cornerstone of our democracy. But this great gift of religious liberty bequeathed to us by our ancestors is not inevitable. We, the people, must perpetually work to nurture and protect it. That is why we, the people, have gathered today. It’s why we will continue to gather whenever our freedoms are threatened. It’s why we say with one voice: This ban is un-American. This ban is immoral. It’s why we say with one voice:
No to bigotry!
No to persecution!
No to this ban!
No to any ban!