For too long in our country, politicians have weaponized religion for their own selfish gain, fomenting bigotry, fears and suspicions based on the faith, religion or spiritual practices of their political opponents.

Whether we think of ourselves as Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Sikh, Buddhists, Jews, atheists, agnostics, or anything else, it is imperative that we stand united in our commitment to protect religious freedom and the right to worship or not worship, safely and without the fear of retribution. 

ADVERTISEMENT

We must stand together, and with one voice condemn those who seek to incite bigotry based on religion. We cannot allow those who are anxious to exploit our differences to drive a wedge between us. We cannot and will not tolerate prejudicial treatment of those with whom we disagree, any more than we would tolerate such treatment of those with whom we agree.

Standing up for freedom of religion for all people is as critical now as it’s ever been--hatred and bigotry are casting a dark shadow over our political system and threatening the very fabric of our country. The heartbreaking atrocity in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were murdered while worshiping at their synagogue, is but the latest reminder of the horrible potential consequence of prejudice and bigotry. The shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, the shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., the shooting at the mosque in New York and too many others to list serve as devastating and atrocious reminders of what this kind of hatred and this kind of bigotry can lead to.

While I oppose the nomination of Brian Buescher to the U.S. District Court in Nebraska, I stand strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers Buescher’s Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus. If Buescher is “unqualified” because of his Catholicism and affiliation with the Knights of Columbus, then President John F. Kennedy, and the 'liberal lion of the Senate' Ted Kennedy would have been “unqualified” for the same reasons.  
Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that there "shall be no religious test" for any seeking to serve in public office.

No American should be told that his or her public service is unwelcome because “the dogma lives loudly within you” as Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate Judiciary Committee requests consultation with admin on refugee admissions Trump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick GOP's Kennedy sends warning shot to Trump nominee Menashi MORE (D-Calif.) said to Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearings in 2017 to serve as U.S. Circuit Court judge in the 7th Circuit.

While I absolutely believe in the separation of church and state as a necessity to the health of our nation, no American should be asked to renounce his or her faith or membership in a faith-based, service organization in order to hold public office.

The party that worked so hard to convince people that Catholics and Knights of Columbus like Al Smith and John F. Kennedy could be both good Catholics and good public servants shows an alarming disregard of its own history in making such attacks today.

ADVERTISEMENT

We must call this out for what it is – religious bigotry.  This is true not just when such prejudice is anti-Catholic, but also when it is anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Hindu, or anti-Protestant, or any other religion.

In politics or at home, we Americans can disagree with and oppose people if we are concerned about their views, opinions, or their commitment to uphold their constitutional duties. However, we must not claim or imply that an individual is not qualified because of their religion or their membership in a particular religious organization, or their belief in the tenets of their faith.

While deployed in the Middle East, I saw first-hand the suffering and violence that is inherent to religious bigotry. In Iraq in 2005, I saw candidates for political office labelled according to their sectarian religion, with supporters of “Shia candidates” threatening attacks to the polling centers where supporters of “Sunni candidates” were casting their votes, and vice versa. These insane sectarian divides and prejudices gave rise to ISIS and other terrorist organizations and are the cause of immense human suffering and wars in the Middle East.

If we can all agree that we do not want prejudice and bigotry to rule our nation, then we must stand united to denounce it whenever it raises its ugly head.

Elected leaders engaging in religion-baiting are playing with fire. They are sacrificing the well-being, peace and harmony of our country to satisfy their own political ambitions for partisan political interests. 

We must stand together, call out and reject religious bigotry no matter where it comes from, and fight to protect the freedoms and principles that bind us together as Americans.

Gabbard represents Hawaii’s 2nd District.