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We live in extraordinary times, times of drastic and sudden changes that have shocked the nation and the world. One such change is the executive order issued by President Donald Trump, banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The order generated despair and anxiety, but it also resulted in a groundswell of goodwill and renewed hope in the brotherhood and sisterhood of all. While the controversy has been painted as a Muslim issue, we believe it is a constitutional issue.

We in the human rights community are greatly dismayed by discrimination grounded in animosity and bias against a whole demographic group. A person is responsible for his or her own actions and we should not paint a whole group with a broad brush.

Discriminatory measures, if allowed to stand, will redefine what America is and will provide rhetorical ammunition to terrorists everywhere that the U.S., and by extension the West, is at war with all Muslims and with Islam.

The U.S. is a Christian-majority country, but it is not a Christian country in the sense that the religion of the state is Christianity. The First Amendment includes the Establishment clause which does not allow establishing a preference of one religion over another. It is wrong to frame the immigration executive order as a Muslim issue. It is a constitutional issue of the first order.

We do believe that terrorism is a real threat and terrorists have in the past attacked the U.S. and will probably try again in the future. The nation and the rest of the world should remain vigilant and spare no legal and moral effort in the fight against terrorism. But we believe that respect for human rights is not in conflict with keeping the nation safe from terrorism.

Our strength as a nation is our hard power and our soft power. This soft power, a term coined by Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye, gives us great moral authority in the world as champions of human rights and human dignity. Our soft power is vital in helping us lead the world on matters of importance to us as a nation and as a country.

Trump’s executive order is a setback that debits our soft power account. But this soft power account has been greatly enriched by the throngs of defenders of human rights who spontaneously flocked to airports to demonstrate against discrimination and a biased policy that contradicts American values.

Imad Hamad, executive director

American Human Rights Council

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