US Sen. Mark Warner stands for interfaith tolerance and unity

SHAFAQNA – US Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) stood with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in Richmond Friday to emphasize the importance of religious freedom in the wake of comments against and attacks on Muslims in the United States.

In front of a monument commemorating the religious freedom statute that Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1786, Warner warned that “some would say those freedoms are under attack today.”

While he did not point to any specific examples, Warner said that “we want to stand up and reaffirm the principles that make America unique.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States, and attacks on Muslims have occurred across the country. In Virginia, a meeting to discuss the expansion of a Fredricksburg mosque was disrupted by hecklers. At Virginia Tech, someone left graffiti on a campus building threatening to “kill all muslims.” A fake bomb was left at a mosque in Fairfax whose former imam left the countryand became a leader in al-Qaeda. The mayor of Roanoke, Va., said his city should refuse Syrian refugees, favorably invoking the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

“I understand that Virginians and Americans are afraid,” Warner said. He noted that he and other lawmakers are looking at improving the visa waiver program, which allows citizens of 38 countries into the United States with minimal screening, as well as visas for fiances of citizens. Tashfeen Malik, the woman accused in last week’s mass shooting in San Bernadino, Calif., came into the country on such a visa. He is also among a group of senators pushing to help the government gain better access to encrypted communication.

Taking on the Islamic State, he said, would require working with “some of the regime forces” in Syria.

“We also need to make sure that we work with our faith leaders, particularly the Muslim American community, to ensure that if you see a family member or a friend in the process of being radicalized, that you have faith enough in our law enforcement system that you can step forward in a way where someone will be treated with respect and within the due process of law,” Warner added. “But that we think about this and take on this challenge as Americans first and foremost.”

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson delivered a similar message at a large Islamic center in Sterling, Va., on Monday, asking American Muslims to “say something” when they see young people falling into radical ideology.

Virginia’s Muslim population has grown in recent years, thanks to job opportunities in the D.C. suburbs and a favorable environment for refugees. The intelligence community ranks Virginia in the top 10 states with the largest Muslim populations.

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