By: Dr. Aref Assaf
Chris Christie’s important endorsement of Mitt Romney is newsworthy. But one statement Christie made at the press conference, which got little attention, must be recognized. After endorsing Romney, the governor tied Robert Jeffress and his anti-Mormon bigotry to the Islamophobia that engulfed his appointment of a Muslim judge in New Jersey. Jeffress is a Religious Right leader who has called Mormonism a “cult.” Christie poignantly declared that “Any campaign that associates itself with that type of comment is beneath the office of President of the United States, This unequivocal linkage between bigotry and electability raises the yardstick by which candidates will be judged. American Muslims we hope will not be so conveniently sacrificed for political gains. Governor Christie will be long remembered for his unwavering condemnation of bigotry in all its forms even when its advocates are members of his own Republican party.
For his part, notably, Mitt Romney urged Texas Gov. Rick Perry to disavow the remarks of his endorser Jeffress about Mormonism, as well as his derogatory comments about Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam. We echo Romney’s appeal to Perry, but also urge both candidates to disavow endorsers who have perpetuated misinformation about and fear of American Muslims. In particular, we mention Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, ACLJ, who has endorsed Romney’s last two presidential bids and introduced him at last week’s Values Voter Summit. Sekulow has pushed dangerous anti-Muslim rhetoric. In a pamphlet titled Shari’a Law: Radical Islam’s Threat to the U.S. Constitution, for instance, the American Center for Law and Justice pushes the myth of a “Sharia” threat to the U.S. Constitution and asserts, “Devout Muslims cannot truthfully swear the oath to become citizens of the United States of America.” This thinking has even steeped into the training manuals of the FBI until it was exposed and subsequently ended.
Romney endorser Jay Sekulow’s American Center for Law and Justice has suggested that devout Muslims cannot become true citizens of the United States. Sekulow himself has perpetuated the debunked claim that the Constitution is under threat from Sharia law and was a leader of the extremist backlash against the building of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, including overseeing the ACLJ’s lawsuit attempting to stop the community center’s construction.
Yet last weekend, Mitt Romney called Sekulow a ‘treasure.’
If Romney wishes to show that he is a true champion of the American values of religious freedom and tolerance, he must apply the same standard to his own endorsers as he does to those of other candidates. Americans and especially American Muslims will find more reasons to vote for Romney. If Romney fails the test, then we hope Christie will rethink his endorsement.
Aref Assaf, PhD, is President of the American Arab Forum, a think-tank specializing in Arab and Muslim American Affairs, www.aafusa.org