President Donald Trump’s ban against Muslims entering the United States doesn’t have a prayer of support among the majority of religious leaders in the country, a sentiment that many Coulee Region faith representatives share.
Some religious leaders in the region are equally skeptical of the Trump administration’s claim that the restrictions against people from seven Muslim-majority countries are intended solely to safeguard the homeland, indicating that they seem more like wholesale discrimination against Muslims.
“I was extremely alarmed and shocked by the action taken by President Trump. This could have very easily been my own family,” La Crosse Muslim Wale Elegbede said Monday.
“To me, this is a Muslim ban, and it doesn’t matter how folks spin it,” said Elegbede, a native of Nigeria who has lived in La Crosse for 17 years and has three children with his wife, Audrey.
Elegbede participates in an interfaith group that is a subcommittee of the La Crosse Interfaith Justice and Peace Network. The group’s goal is to promote religious understanding among all denominations. It also aims to help the estimate 100 to 300 Muslims in La Crosse — the higher number being when universities are in session — feel safe and respected.
Similarly chagrined about Trump’s executive action, announced Friday, is Vince Hatt, former head of the Franciscan Spirituality Center who chairs the network’s subcommittee.
“My image today is of the Statue of Liberty weeping,” Hatt said. “This decision violates the compassion of most Americans.”
Lutheran bishop rejects blaming Muslims
Bishop Jim Arends, leader of the La Crosse Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said, “As an American, this depresses me.
“My main concern is as a bishop in the ELCA, the world has more refugees than any time,” said Arends, who lives in La Crescent and whose synod includes 74 churches in southwest Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota.
The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has been conscientious in vetting refugees and in working with the federal government to help them settle in the United States, he said.
“That’s just not being addressed now, except (alleging) ‘danger,’” Arends said.
The Lutheran bishop agreed with the need for caution in crafting immigration rules, adding, “You do this carefully. We do have concerns for safety. But as a Christian, I reject the idea” of blaming all Muslims for the acts of a radical minority.
“That’s just not who we are,” he said.
Bishop William Callahan, head of the 19-county Diocese of La Crosse, also noted the need for balance, saying, “It behooves us as people of faith to assist those in need and protect those who are helpless and unjustly deprived of life and liberty in their native land.”
Along with the longtime U.S. leadership in resettling refugees, “It is also our responsibility as citizens of this country to protect ourselves from those who may harbor evil intentions in their plans to come here,” Callahan said.
Under Trump’s order, more than 100 people, — including a 5-year-old boy separated from his mother — flying to the United States from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen were detained for hours upon landing at several U.S. The detentions resulted in demonstrations of thousands of people at airports, although Trump said Monday that the hubbub was the result of computer glitches and that the sequestering went smoothly.
Nationally, leaders of denominations and organizations representing more than 150 million Americans of virtually every denomination criticized Trump’s action in voices ranging from careful and measured to condemnatory.
Although Trump and administration officials insisted that the restrictions are not intended to target Muslims, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani contradicted them during an interview on Fox News on Sunday.
Giuliani: Trump specified ‘Muslim ban’
When host Jeanine Pirro asked Giuliani whether religion was a consideration in forming Trump’s decree, he said, “I’ll tell you the whole history of it. So when [Trump] first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’
“He called me up,” said Giuliani, an adviser to Trump. “He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’”
The executive order has come under fire in federal courts, among lawyers and in other quarters as illegal on its face, violating the 1965 law that outlawed discrimination based on national origin on immigration matters.
Trump further roiled the waters with comments that Christians can move ahead of Muslims in the immigration line to enter the United States.
“That’s discrimination, and it’s totally anti-Christian,” Hatt said.
La Crosse Muslim Elegbede added his disdain for the qualifier, insisting, “The fact that President Trump also said he will prioritize Christian Syrian refugees over Muslim refugees is quite alarming. There should be no favoritism between Christian and Muslims.”
Arends added a biblical tack, saying, “In our Christian practice, when our neighbor is in need, we care for our neighbor. The good Samaritan story is much more across racial and social lines than just our neighbor.”
Callahan also invoked the justice aspect, saying, “The president’s immigration plan is indeed painful for us who try to make God’s mercy our own. We must continue to engage the new administration and work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed and reunited with their loved ones.
“As people of faith, we must remain vigilant and pray that equal justice can be achieved for all,” Callahan said.
Elegbede noted that many of those the order affects have built lives in this country, as he has since he came here to attend the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
“They love America and have entrusted her with their future and are people with spouses, families, property, careers — all of which have been cut off from them in an instant by this action,” he said, also noting that most terrorism victims are Muslims.
Despite the chaos resulting from the executive order, Elegbede said, “We definitely have a tough road ahead of us, but I believe the decency of the American people will prevail in the end. I do not believe — actually, I refuse to believe this action represents the heart of America.”
Asked what he might say to the president if he were able to address him one-on-one, Elegbede said, “You are the president of all. Your rhetoric and actions are hurtful and do not keep us safe.”