An interfaith group of New York leaders sent a letter Thursday to the chairman of the House Committee on House Homeland Security, urging him to cancel the March hearings on alleged Muslim-American links to foreign terrorism.
A coalition of 80 spiritual leaders representing the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu faiths is urging Republican Rep. Peter King of New York to cancel talks they say will divide America – undermining U.S. values and jeopardizing American safety.
The leaders, hailing from King's Long Island district, say they too want to find practical solutions to stop terrorism. However, they urge representative to employ methods that are inclusive of the Muslim-American community.
"Building and maintaining trust with the Muslim community is crucial to furthering cooperation, and we fear your hearings will only sow greater distrust and division at a time when unity and moral courage are needed," the representatives wrote.
A recent survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, in cooperation with Religion News Service, shows 56 percent of 1,015 Americans interviewed approved of the March hearings to investigate al Qaeda's recruitment tactics here in the United States.
Those who identified themselves as either Republican or a white evangelical were more likely to approve the hearings, with 71 percent Republicans and 70 percent white evangelicals in favor.
However, of those questioned, over 70 percent agreed that Congress should not just focus on U.S. Muslims.
The Long Island delegation reminded Rep. King that the Muslim-American community has continually denounced terrorism, and have worked with law enforcement to stopping terrorism.
King, the chairman of the House committee since December last year, has argued that the purpose of the hearings is to learn how American Muslims are being recruited to participate in terrorist plots.
"They can't attack from outside, so they are recruiting people under the radar screen," he explained. "They bring some to Afghanistan for training, and others never leave the country."
King also revealed that he plans to invite Muslim and Arab witnesses to speak at the hearing. He told the New York Times, "I believe it will have more of an impact on the American people if they see people who are of the Muslim faith and Arab descent testifying."
However, earlier this month a group representing various Muslim organizations sent King a letter of their own informing him that the hearings are covertly sending the message that Muslim-Americans are not Americans.
"If Chairman King is suggesting that American Muslims are somehow less American simply by virtue of their faith, then that is an affront to all Americans," the group wrote. "The hearings should proceed from a clear understanding that individuals are responsible for their actions, not entire communities."
The group also denied that local mosques were hotbeds for extremism. "To the contrary," they said. "Experts have concluded that mosque attendance is a significant factor in the prevention of extremism."
Similarly, 62 percent of respondents to the PRRI/RNS survey believe that Muslims are an important part of the religious community.
The Long Island delegation hopes that their letter will remind King that anyone can lend themselves to extremist behavior, in reference to Jared Lee Loughner, who attempted to assassinate Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords earlier this year.
In reference to the deadly Arizona-shooting, delegates wrote, "As we mourn together in the wake of this painful tragedy, leaders of both parties have called for an elevated civic dialogue that transcends fear-mongering and polarization. These hearings are unworthy of that noble goal."