Some Evangelical Leaders 'Lament' Supreme Court's Travel Ban Ruling, Others Voice Support

People protest Donald Trump's travel ban from Muslim majority countries at the International terminal at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, January 28, 2017.
People protest Donald Trump's travel ban from Muslim majority countries at the International terminal at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, January 28, 2017. | (Photo: Reuters/Patrick T. Fallon)

A few evangelical leaders have spoken out against the United States Supreme Court's decision upholding President Donald Trump's travel ban impacting a handful of Muslim-majority nations, while a leading evangelical grassroots mobilization organization has signaled its support.

Leaders from the evangelical refugee resettlement organization World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, have issued a statement of "lament" following the court's 5-4 decision Tuesday that Trump has constitutional authority to ban travelers from certain nations he believes to be a threat to the security of the nation.

"While we respect the authority of the Supreme Court on these matters, we also believe it is vital that we, as a nation, affirm our core commitment to religious liberty for all people. Though the court may have found these restrictions to be lawful, that does not necessarily mean they are right or just," World Relief president Scott Arbeiter said in a statement. "A person's religious tradition should not disqualify them, explicitly or implicitly, from being considered for a visa to enter the United States."

Many critics have accused the travel ban — which restricts refugee resettlement and immigration from Iran, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Venezuela and North Korea — of being a "Muslim ban" due to Trump's 2016 campaign rhetoric when, for example, he called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."

"While we do not profess to fully know the administration's motivation for issuing this order, given the president's campaign statements about restricting Muslims from entering the United States, it is not unreasonable that many would presume that was the intention of this policy," Arbeiter said.

African-American evangelical leader and social justice activist Lisa Sharon Harper also weighed in on the ruling, saying that court's decision was a "failure to protect a most fundamental right within our democracy." Harper, a left-leaning author and former chief engagement officer at Sojourners, founded the Freedom Road consulting group in 2017 that works with faith communities, businesses and institutions to build "engagement toward a more just world."

"Law and policy serve as sacred documents for the secular world; reflecting back to society what it believes are good and just ways to live together in the world. What message does it send to our Muslim neighbors, many of whom are fleeing persecution, when U.S. law declares that it is fine to break families and purge people groups and let them die based on fear of the other?" she asked. "What message does it send when the protection of human dignity is preserved for some and revoked from others? This is the message: U.S. law only cares about some — not all. This is not a democracy. We are not who we say we are."

While many evangelical leaders and groups that promote religious liberty spoke out in support of the court's ruling Tuesday in support of the free speech rights of pro-life pregnancy centers in California, many of those same groups have stayed silent thus far about the Supreme Court's ruling in Trump v. Hawaii.

However, the Faith & Freedom Coalition, led by influential social conservative activist and informal Trump administration adviser Ralph Reed, voiced its support for the ruling in a statement from its executive director, Tim Head.

"The Supreme Court properly ruled today that President Trump's policy to protect the nation by temporarily hitting the pause button on immigration from countries that threaten our security and also ruled that the ban is a part of his constitutional responsibility to protect the homeland," Head stated. "The over 1.8 million members and supporters of the Faith & Freedom Coalition support the Trump administration's policy of strictly vetting foreign nationals from countries plagued by civil war, terrorism and radical Islamic extremism that pose a danger to our national security."

A recent Pew Research poll found that more than two out of three white evangelicals believe that the United States does not have a responsibility to accept refugees. A Public Religion Research Institute poll released this week found that 44 percent of white evangelicals would support a ban on all refugees entering the country, while the same number would oppose such a ban. 

A poll from last February — about a month after Trump issued the first of his three iterations to his travel ban — indicated that 76 percent of white evangelicals approve of a policy that prevents refugees and people from Muslim-majority nations from entering the country.

Another conservative Christian group that praised the decision is the American Center for Law and Justice, an organization headed by Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow and known for advocating for persecuted Christians across the globe. The organization filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in defense of the executive order. 

In a statement, Sekulow stated that the ruling was a "tremendous victory in ongoing efforts to defend and protect America."

"The decision by the Supreme Court reflects what we have argued from the very start – the Proclamation is squarely within the scope of Presidential authority and represents a tremendous victory in ongoing efforts to defend and protect America," Sekulow said. "The President must be permitted to take the actions necessary to safeguard this nation and we're delighted that the Supreme Court found the Proclamation to be constitutional."

Another powerful faith group that has spoken out against the ruling is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

In a joint statement, the chairs of the USCCB committees on migration and religious liberty asserted that the travel ban "targets Muslims" and goes against the U.S. "core principle of neutrality."

"We are disappointed in the court's ruling because it failed to take into account the clear and unlawful targeting of a specific religious group by the government," the joint statement from Bishop Joe Vazquez and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz reads. "The Catholic Church takes a stand against religious discrimination, and we will continue to advocate for the rights of people of all faiths, as well as serve immigrants and refugees through our various means."

Along with World Relief, USCCB is one of nine organizations authorized to resettle refugees in the United States.

As opponents of the ban have used Trump's campaign rhetoric to claim that the executive order discriminates against Muslims, Chief Justice John Roberts addressed those claims in the majority opinion.

"Plaintiffs argue that this President's words strike at fundamental standards of respect and tolerance, in violation of our constitutional tradition," Roberts wrote. "But the issue before us is not whether to denounce the statements. It is instead the significance of those statements in reviewing a Presidential directive, neutral on its face, addressing a matter within the core of executive responsibility. In doing so, we must consider not only the statements of a particular President, but also the authority of the Presidency itself."

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith Follow Samuel Smith on Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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