A step forward in stopping anti-Muslim policies: NO BAN Act passes House

By BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler

For more than three years, Americans have watched the “travel ban” saga play out at the White House, in the courts, and even in the streets, with disastrous effects for American Muslims and global communities. Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the NO BAN Act, legislation that would repeal President Donald Trump’s travel ban and add monthly accountability measures on any future executive order or proclamation that restricts immigration.

Importantly for religious liberty advocates, it would also add religion as a protected category in the Immigration and Nationality Act. As we have seen over the last several months of the global COVID-19 pandemic, governments, including our own, have the authority and sometimes the responsibility to limit travel from certain countries due to public health concerns. But our immigration policy should never be based on anti-religious sentiment.

I celebrate the bipartisan passage of the NO BAN Act in the House. This bill is the result of hard work by interfaith grassroots coalitions, especially Muslim civil rights groups, who have long worked for immigration fairness and a comprehensive vision of religious liberty for immigrants and refugees. Working across lines of religious and political difference, creative coalitions raised their voices against all iterations of the travel ban, a policy rooted in immoral and unconstitutional religious discrimination.

BJC urged religious liberty advocates across the nation to take action on the NO BAN Act, and our grassroots network of politically and religiously diverse faith freedom advocates heeded the call. Our national advocacy team called and emailed their representatives to urge the passage of the bill, and we will encourage them to continue doing so as it moves to the U.S. Senate.

BJC supports the NO BAN Act for several reasons. One reason is our consistent opposition to the Trump administration’s “travel ban” initiatives rooted in anti-Muslim bigotry. In 2015, when then-candidate Donald Trump announced his desire for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” BJC called the statement “un-American, unworkable, counterproductive and embarrassing.”

In the five years since Trump first proposed this ban, BJC has consistently opposed the discriminatory policy. When the White House put forward the first executive order and promoted a blatantly unconstitutional preference for Christian refugees, we stood up with groups around the country to say “no” to this violation of faith freedom for all.

After the first iteration of the travel ban faced legal challenges, the Trump administration re-worked and re-introduced the travel ban two more times over the next year. These bans, although they looked slightly different, remained rooted in bias and President Trump never repudiated his anti-Muslim statements that undergirded the push for a travel ban in the first place. Eventually, the travel ban made its way to the Supreme Court, which upheld the travel ban as an appropriate exercise of executive power in a controversial 5–4 decision.

On the day that the decision in Trump v. Hawaii was handed down, I stood on the steps of the Supreme Court with our interfaith allies to express profound disappointment in the Court’s decision. Unfortunately, this drawn-out legal battle did not bring an end to the president’s discriminatory “travel ban” policies. Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced the latest iteration of the travel ban, which many civil rights groups called the Muslim Ban/African Ban. This executive order added six countries with “substantial Muslim populations” to the travel ban list.

The NO BAN Act is a powerful and necessary repudiation of President Trump’s latest attempt to promote anti-Muslim discrimination. The Senate should join the House in standing up for the constitutional norm that the federal government doesn’t single out a religious group for mistreatment.

Standing up to immigration policy rooted in bias against a religious group is a moral and constitutional necessity. However, our work for religious liberty goes far beyond the scope of this one bill. It is not enough to say “no” to discriminatory policy. As religious liberty advocates, we also must be clear about what we are saying “yes” to.

BJC says “yes” to a nation where we welcome immigrants and refugees of diverse religious and nonreligious backgrounds. We say “yes” to a society grounded in the principles of religious pluralism, where we need not agree with our neighbor’s religious convictions to respect her First Amendment rights to freely exercise her faith. We say “yes” to a nation where Muslims live in safety and security, without fear of violence stoked by discriminatory legislation. We say “yes” to a world of expansive and inclusive welcome.

The NO BAN Act is an important bulwark against the anti-Muslim bullying and discrimination being perpetuated at the highest levels of our government. It also provides a new way forward by protecting the religious liberty of immigrants and refugees. This legislation honors our constitutional ideals of faith freedom for all, but it cannot be a solitary safeguard. Our communities and coalitions must remain in the struggle. We must continue working across political and religious divides to ensure that our nation’s promise of religious liberty for everyone can be realized by all citizens, immigrants and refugees who reside in the United States of America.

Amanda Tyler is the executive director of BJC.