Congresswoman Suzan DelBene glanced around the table on Tuesday afternoon at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) and told the eight interfaith leaders that these are challenging times.
DelBene, a Democrat who represents Washington’s First Congressional District, was glad to be connecting with the leaders at the Redmond mosque, but wished it was under more pleasant circumstances.
She noted that she has reintroduced the No Religious Registry Act (H.R. 489) to ensure individuals of all faiths are protected from the establishment of a national religious registry.
“It’s disappointing to me. We shouldn’t need legislation on things like registries,” DelBene said. “It’s important that our recent president (-elect Donald Trump) is a president for all Americans. We need freedom of expression and choice for everyone in our country.”
DelBene added that Trump — who will be inaugurated as the nation’s 45th commander in chief today — supports the creation of a Muslim registry.
Her bill would prohibit any U.S. government official from establishing or utilizing a registry for the purposes of classifying or surveilling individuals on the basis of religious affiliation, according to a DelBene press release. The bill would also prohibit programs like former President George W. Bush’s National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which focused on nationality but was widely considered a religious registry based on its targeting of majority-Muslim countries, the release also reads.
“This is not just a piece of legislation, but what we do as community members to make a difference,” DelBene told the leaders at MAPS.
MAPS President Mahmood Khadeer said there is angst among the Muslim community, much like there was when NSEERS was introduced the year following 9/11.
“The idea of a registry has already created a scar that runs deep,” said Riad Chummun, MAPS treasurer.
As Chummun and DelBene locked eyes later in the meeting, he added that men and women of faith have no other option but to be hopeful. “Twenty five years from now, it will be your bill that we will cherish,” Chummun told DelBene in an emotional moment.
Also representing MAPS at the roundtable was discussion leader Aneelah Afzali, executive director of MAPS-AMEN (American Muslim Empowerment Network).
Following last Saturday’s arson at the Islamic Center of Eastside in Bellevue, Ubax Gardehere’s fifth-grade child asked, “Are we safe?”
“We’re concerned about the registry. There’s a lot of fear out there about who it will affect and how it will affect them,” said Gardehere, an equitable strategies manager at the City of Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development.
Michael Ramos, executive director of The Church Council of Greater Seattle, said that religious leaders of all faiths need to stand together and speak out against the registry, which would affect all religious communities.
“This is really serious,” he said. “The challenge is to get ahead of the curve before we get too far behind.”
Embracing one’s religious freedom is paramount, according to Harjinder Singh, board and founding member of the Gurudwara Sikh Center of Seattle, which is located in Bothell.
Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg of Congregation Kol Ami in Woodinville’s message to the group was to honor and celebrate religious diversity, and to respect and love each other.
While the registry is a “terrible” thing to think of, Rev. Carol Jensen said it’s been a blessing for her to see people of all backgrounds standing united.
“It’s really ramping up the interfaith relationships in our community,” said Jensen, who is with Trinity Lutheran Church in Everett and co-chair of the Faith Action Network governing board.
By bringing her bill back into action and by meeting with religious leaders and other constituents, DelBene said it’s important to be outspoken and tackle issues head on.
It’s all about getting to know each other and then working together for change.
“A lot of times we realize we have more in common than we think,” DelBene said.