Some thirty high-ranking Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders gathered in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday to address the "anti-Muslim frenzy" that has swept across the nation since plans were announced for a 13-story Islamic center to be built two blocks from the former World Trade Center.
The leaders said that they were "profoundly distressed and deeply saddened" by a fallout of intolerance that has led to the stabbing of a Muslim cab driver and the desecration and vandalism of several mosques.
"We stand by the principle that to attack any religion in the United States is to do violence to the religious freedom of all Americans," the leaders said.
Said the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches: "We denounce anti-Muslim bigotry. We identify ourselves with religious tolerance."
"We are made richer and deeper in our Christian community by our relationship with Muslim and Jewish colleagues," he added.
The leaders noted that a shared religious voice has been largely missing in the current debate about tolerance, and underscored the moral responsibility of clergy to communicate the need for solidarity and compassion, and to make plans for interfaith collaboration going forward.
"I have a great fear that the story of bigotry, the story of hatred, the story of animosity to others is going to be taken by some to be the story of the real America and it's not," said Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C. "This is not our country and we have to make sure our country is known around the world as a place where liberty of religion, where respect for your neighbor, where love for your neighbor, where these things are the most prominent in our society."
The group's remarks come as the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida is planning to burn hundreds of copies of the Quran during this year's 9/11 anniversary.
Despite criticism from dozens of religious and political figures and protests in Islamic countries overseas, the Gainesville, Fla. church, which has a congregation of about 50, plans to go ahead with its demonstration.
The religious leaders said: "The threatened burning of copies of the Holy Qu'ran this Saturday ... is a particularly egregious offense that demands the strongest possible condemnation by all who value civility in public life and seek to honor the sacred memory of those who lost their lives on September 11."
"As religious leaders, we are appalled by such disrespect for a sacred text that for centuries has shaped many of the great cultures of our world, and that continues to give spiritual comfort to more than a billion Muslims today," they added.
The Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, bluntly told Christians who were expressing anti-Muslim views or threatening to burn the Qu'ran, "you bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ."
Meanwhile, Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of America (ISNA), said Muslims in America are currently reporting the highest degree of anxiety they have felt since September 11, 2001.
"For nine years, we have been trying to get the message out that we reject the extremist views" of a few Muslims, "their justification for violence, their justification for militancy," Mattson said. "It has been difficult to get this message out because then actions of the extremists are more dramatic."
The Muslim community has been especially wary as 9/11 this year also coincides with the end of Ramadan, during which Muslims traditionally hold a festival.
"The majority of Muslims we know are law-abiding, ethical, good people," Mattson said.