American Jewish movements unite to warn Trump against religious tests

"As Jews, it is an affront to our fundamental values."

Protestors hold placards during a rally supporting refugees worldwide and in reaction to Trump's travel ban, outside the US embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel January 29, 2017 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Protestors hold placards during a rally supporting refugees worldwide and in reaction to Trump's travel ban, outside the US embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel January 29, 2017
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON -- Organizations representing the three largest denominations of American Jewry – the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements – all issued warnings to the White House by Sunday night against institutionalizing religious tests at America's borders.
The Jewish community urged US President Donald Trump to tread carefully between protecting the nation and encroaching on core American values after the new president issued an executive order on Friday banning all Syrian refugees and citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States.
White House officials insist the measure does not amount to a Muslim ban, but Trump's base supporters– as well as his staunchest critics– interpreted the order as subtly discriminatory on religious grounds.
For all three denominations to align on political matters is rare; for them to confront the president together, even more so.
"The Reform movement denounces in the strongest terms the horrifying executive order on immigration and refugees," the Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis and Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism said in a joint statement.
Reform leaders offered the harshest rebuke, and had notably warned the president against proceeding with the order based on earlier published drafts.
"In the days, weeks and years that follow, we will work with our clergy, lay leaders, institutions and congregations to provide assistance and support to immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers and others yearning for the refuge and opportunity for a better life that we know the United States, at its best, can provide," the Reform statement reads.
Protestors around the US came out to object to President Trump"s recent visa bans (Reuters)
A group of organizations that together speak for the Conservative movement– the Rabbinical Assembly, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, The Jewish Theological Seminary, Cantors Assembly, Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs, Mercaz USA and the Women's League for Conservative Judaism– issued a condemnatory statement on Sunday morning, calling on the government "to reject policy proposals that would halt, limit, or curtail refugee resettlement in the US or prioritize certain refugees over others."
"Most importantly, the Conservative movement completely rejects the targeting of individuals based on their religion," their statement reads. "As Jews, it is an affront to our fundamental values."
And the Orthodox Union, an umbrella organization representing the community, issued their statement on Sunday night.
"We call on all Americans to reaffirm that discrimination against any group based solely upon religion is wrong and anathema to the great traditions of religious and personal freedoms upon which this country was founded," the Orthodox Union said. "We call upon the United States government to recognize the threats posed by radical Islamists, while preserving and protecting the rights of all people who seek peace, no matter how they worship God."
The executive order, titled "Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," sparked protests nationwide as refugees and legal permanent residents were detained arriving at international airports. The majority of the Senate, including at least 14 Republican members, have criticized the president's measure for its scope.
A line in the executive order directs the US Refugee Admissions Program "to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual's country of nationality," once the refugee inflow is resumed.
Both conservatives and liberals interpret this provision as the inception of a religious test for refugees and immigrants, based on Trump's campaign promises to institute a Muslim ban as well as a registry of Muslim Americans for security purposes. And previewing his plans, the president also said in an interview this week to Christian Broadcasting Network that he would prioritize Christians seeking refuge over other groups.
"This is not about religion– this is about terror and keeping our country safe," Trump said in a response to the crisis on Sunday. "There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order."
"America is a proud nation of immigrants," he added, "and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border."