By Rhonda Roumani
Muslims leaders call on Jerry Falwell to retract his statement,
and ask president, Christian
groups to speak out.
A major American Muslim group on Wednesday demanded an apology
from the Rev. Jerry Falwell for statements he made on Beliefnet
suggesting Muslims be excluded from federal faith-based initiative
money because, Falwell said, the religion is "bigoted."
The Council on American Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy
group based in Washington, sent
Falwell a letter asking that he apologize and open a dialogue
with Muslims to help prevent
future "incidents of this type." Falwell was unavailable
late yesterday and had not yet seen
CAIR's letter, according to his spokeswoman, Laura Swickard.
CAIR--the most outspoken organization for Muslim American
civil rights--is part of a coalition
that had endorsed Bush during the campaign. They also had offered
what communications director Ibrahim Hooper called "cautious
support" of the faith-based initiative.
But Hooper said Wednesday that the group will have to re-evaluate
its stance on the issue if
Christian leaders fail to speak out against Falwell and his statements.
In the letter, CAIR
called Falwell's statements "offensive" and warned
that his "rhetoric could lead to discrimination and even
physical attacks against Muslims in North America."
In defining who should receive faith-based funding, Falwell
told Beliefnet that Muslims should
be disqualified from receiving the money because their faith
"I think that when persons are clearly bigoted towards
other persons in the human family, they
should be disqualified from funds. For that reason, Islam should
be out the door before they
knock," Falwell continued.
With much fanfare, President Bush fulfilled a campaign promise
last month when he created the
White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Under the initiative, faith-based
charities would be allowed to compete for government funds, as
long as they can prove
effective in fighting social problems. But already, the plan
is devolving into a catfight between religious groups anxious
over various issues.
The two main concerns of conservative Christians: that the
money would come with strings
attached, and that such a program would have to offer money to
religions outside the
mainstream--out of both fairness and the need to pass constitutional
muster. The comments by
Falwell and others, including Pat Robertson, critical of the
initiative, show what a minefield
Bush has entered, and raise serious questions about the political
viability of the plan as crafted.
Muslim leaders on Monday said they are worried about the effect
that Christian conservatives
will have on shaping the faith-based plan. Others challenged
Bush to disassociate himself from
Falwell and Robertson--both of whom have said they do not want
minority faiths such as Hare
Krishnas and Scientologists to be eligible for the money.
- "He is such a prominent figure in the Christian community
that it makes it all the more
disturbing," said Hooper, of CAIR. "We'll wait and
see if other Christian leaders repudiate
these remarks. If there is silence, we'll have to interpret that
as an agreement." [ http://www.beliefnet.com/ ]