New York Times
By Gardiner Harris and Laurie Goodstein
December 15, 2015
In an effort to battle what the White House has called hateful talk by prominent Republicans against Muslims and immigrants, President Obama will give a speech on Tuesday morning at a naturalization ceremony that includes a refugee from Iraq and a Fulbright scholar from Congo.
“The president will speak about the American tradition of being a welcoming society and the incredible contributions of immigrants and refugees to our nation,” a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the ceremony before it occurred.
The event, held on the 224th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, will feature 31 candidates for citizenship, from 25 countries, the official said. It will be held at the National Archives, and Richard W. Roberts, chief judge of United States District Court for the District of Columbia, will preside.
The ceremony comes as 25 Republican governors have vowed to block the entry of Syrian refugees into their states, including some where large numbers of Syrians have settled in recent years. Mr. Obama has condemned such comments as contradicting American values.
The governors made their vow after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last month, and fears of terrorism have risen further in the United States after the shooting this month in San Bernardino, Calif.
The White House will also hold a series of meetings with religious leaders this week to discuss ways the administration is working to address discrimination, harassment and episodes of hate while promoting pluralism and religious freedom.
Officials from both the Obama administration and the administration of George W. Bush “have observed that the kind of offensive, hateful, divisive rhetoric that we’ve seen from a handful of Republican candidates for president is damaging and dangerous,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said in a briefing on Monday.
On Monday evening, senior White House advisers met with about a dozen American Muslim leaders who had been invited to discuss the climate of rising anti-Muslim bigotry and hate. One Muslim leader who attended, Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy organization based in San Francisco, said she had left the meeting feeling “very heartened.”
“They were expressing a genuine concern about the environment of anti-Muslim hate and violence, and really wanted to hear from the community about the impact and what the federal government can do,” she said.
The White House advisers included Valerie Jarrett, a senior aide; Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the Domestic Policy Council; Melissa Rogers, the head of the faith-based initiative office; and Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.
Ms. Khera said that since the Paris attacks, her office had documented an unprecedented series of hate crimes against Muslims and Muslim houses of worship — nearly 50 episodes, or an average of two a day. She said she had asked the president’s advisers to urge the federal government to prosecute “the most egregious” attacks as hate crimes.
“We believe the level of hate violence has reached a crisis point, and that’s why it’s crucial that the federal government needs to send a message to the public, in the strongest terms, that these hate crimes will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Ms. Khera said.
She said one proposal that seemed to have traction at the meeting was for the Education Department to issue guidance to schools and educators on dealing with anti-Muslim hate, harassment and bullying of students.
The group also discussed, she said, whether federal officials should do more to explain to the public what law enforcement officials have found: that extremist beliefs and support for the Islamic State are being spread not by mosques, which nevertheless are often the targets of hate crimes, but over the Internet and social media.
A meeting with Sikh leaders was also held on Monday. And on Thursday afternoon, members of an array of religious and civil society groups will meet to discuss ways to promote religious pluralism, officials said.
In all these meetings, administration officials will emphasize their commitment to “standing up and continuing to speak out in support of the values that are central to the founding of our country, but also critical in terms of advancing our national security interests,” Mr. Earnest said.
Vandals have smashed mosque property and covered doorways with feces, and Muslims have reported being attacked in parks and being spat on while driving. Representative André Carson, Democrat of Indiana, recently reported receiving a death threat, which he attributed to anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Sikhs have also been attacked, often because they are confused with Muslims. Last week, the police in Buena Park, Calif., opened a hate-crime investigation into the vandalism of a Sikh house of worship after its members found expletive-laced graffiti referring to Islam and the Islamic State.
Donald J. Trump, who is leading polls in the Republican presidential primary race, has called for Muslims to be blocked from entering the United States. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, another Republican candidate, has said he plans to introduce legislation barring Syrian Muslim refugees from entering the United States, and Jeb Bush, a Republican rival, has suggested that the authorities allow only Syrian Christians into the country.
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